I am liking chic eighties writer Bret Easton Ellis’s new catchphrase and possible party game (“Are you Empire?”). In a recent Daily Beast column about Charlie Sheen and other significant attackers of “the Empire,” Ellis praises those stars who deploy “a different kind of self-expression ... more raw, less diluted.”
The Empire, never named in this happily nihilistic treatise, is the old guard or the mainstream, or “the Establishment,” as one poster nervously conjectures. Or it is a cruel dictatorship, spanning many galaxies, that the Rebel Alliance seeks to destroy.
In the same column, Ellis praises James Franco’s Academy Awards appearance, the cast of Jersey Shore and singers Nicki Minaj and John Mayer, who all “get it.”
What do they get?
They are “REAL” – inelegant, yet authentic, and such is the conduct of the newly minted rebel army.
Leaving the bleak, nihilistic source aside, Ellis is right that we all seem to be moving toward a Network (1976) paradigm; that any day now, we will be hammering our computer when it finds Internet sensation Rebecca Black singing Friday, then howling our rage.
The catch? In the film, civilians were instructed by a mentally ill celebrity (of sorts) to act out; to express “REAL” anger.
This is the problem with rebel armies – after they have toppled the old order, they invariably usher in one that is far more cruel and uncompromising; one that despises originality and is protected by the aegis of “cool.” (Young, otherwise intelligent kids still wear Che Guevara and Chairman Mao shirts. “Why not Pol Pot?” I ask them. “Or Robert Mugabe. Problem?”) That is a lot of heaviosity, considering the topic at hand is louche celebrities, but the rebel factor, I believe, was brought to the stars by us, not the other way around, and it has consequences.
For the first time in history, stars are laying almost as low as us. When they log on to their computers, they can read reams of vile cruelty about themselves. This has caused the whimpering Selena Gomez, the jealousy-plagued girlfriend of Justin Bieber, to drop Who Says?, a ballad about “haters” online.
Listen: “You made me insecure/ Told me I wasn’t good enough/ But who are you to judge/ When you’re a diamond in the rough.”
New problem? That last smug lyric made me hate her a bit.
And surely many more stars are dreaming of a not-so-distant past when fans were a blurry abstraction; a nuisance around the limo or gates and not much else. The smart ones are dropping the illusion that they live at such a vast distance from us (look at the otherwise useless stars who have risen up by using Twitter to commune and share with just about anybody. Okay, look directly at Ashton Kutcher.)
But even kindness won’t save the celebrity rebels who, in railing against the establishment, assume they are one of us. Because hate isn’t simply en vogue, although TV programs, films and Internet shows are crueler and crueler: Due Date, as with The Hangover, is a melee of physical and emotional violence; as are Between Two Ferns or Going Deeper (the last two, interview shows, are very funny, but contain a sharp, painful edge.) Even roasts, the lowest of low humour, have returned: We were meant to laugh at the vicious and disgusting jokes told on the Donald Trump Roast; to laugh at the cyber-bullying of Rebecca Black, who has now officially trended longer than #prayforJapan.
Gilbert Gottfried’s firing by Aflac over insensitive jokes on Twitter about the Japan tragedy seems especially wrong-minded (still have to love free speech!) in the face of casual, everyday cruelty and entertainment cruelty.
Hate has been around as long as stars and well before – hate, or a mixture of envy, invidiousness and self-pity.
To love a star is, in most cases, to loathe one’s self simultaneously.
And when a star pretends he or she is “just like us!”, as the tabloid catchphrase goes, we say, quite logically: But I don’t live with two goddesses in a mansion! Or, I don’t get to ruin the Oscars because of my good looks! And so on.
Another REAL feeling, a raw, ragged emotion emerges from mob rule. (Soon to be #Mobrules!) This feeling is fickleness, an unpredictable disdain for what once briefly amused us.
The Empire is well advised to retreat, and return to making us feel powerless. Currying the favour of a mob can never go well. As one poster said to the instant superstar and total crybaby Rebecca Black recently, “We don’t hate you because you’re famous. You’re famous because we hate you.”
This pronoun, this “we,” is gathering strength online, or virtually everywhere, and it is the only reliable “torpedo of truth” available.