Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Something Rich and Strange

"The Lists." This is a post about lists. And Shakespeare, eventually that is.

She thinks he hasn't got a chance. . .
"The Lists"- they read kind of like the first ten pages of your high school yearbook. You know, the pages with the cheerleaders (hey, I’m from Texas), as they’re caught walking out of Civics class, or on the bleachers snuggling in their football hero boyfriend’s letter jacket.

Just a typical day at high school-- represented page after page by that little Club of the beautiful people. Plus maybe one picture of the geek who won nationwide for the Debate team; and the guy in Band who plays tuba.

from Fresno yearbook, p. 79
Mervin Whealy & John Goss, Fresno State College,
beat USC & Stanford to win Debate championship, 1960

link is here
There’s no explaining their popularity. They aren’t the prettiest (some are), the smartest (some are), the classiest (some are). How selection works is completely mysterious. And the same thing goes for "The Lists."

These are "The Lists":

Playboy, 25 Sexiest Celebrities
Esquire, Sexiest Woman Alive
FHM, 100 Sexiest Celebrities
Details, Sexiest Woman
Stuff, 100 Sexiest Women

Of absolute fascination to an English teacher. Said without irony.
I must take this opportunity to brag proudly, that I myself have been on such a list:
My name is on the run-off ballot for "Sexiest Woman Alive 2004."
Read all about it in my post I am a Race Car Driver.

him again
I know I promised you the most beautiful MATHEMATICAL theorems of all time. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to that yet, so can you settle for these lists, for the time being?

And don't worry, Shakespeare IS coming up.
OK right now tell me the names of the first ten women or girls or ladies, on every one of those lists. Count them on your fingers right now. And ask your friends in the room.
Did you come up with the same ten as I did? Did you come up with the same ten as your friends did?
Yes you did!
Let’s start with Angelina Jolie. Don’t forget Jessica Biel and her frenemy Scarlett Johansson.

Cameron VS. Jessica, in case you didn’t know
and then [reportedly] Scarlett
I'd like to interrupt this post for a moment to ask- What the heck is the big deal about Justin Timberlake?

Anyway back to my story. Who else? YES! Jessica Alba! Eva Longoria! Megan Fox! Giselle B.! Bar Refaeli! Kate Beckinsdale! Halle Berry!

Even Jennifer Aniston! voted #2 "TV Beauty of All Time" in a British supermarket poll! Let’s even throw in Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears-- for old time’s sake! -how embarrassing!
[ANOTHER] Jessica, Scarlett, Angelina:
Choose A, B, or C
Why even bother to mention last names? Angelina! Scarlett! Megan!

While I was "studying up" for this blogpost (yes there's research, as always),  I named a desktop folder of images "Jessicas & Jennifers."
And I’m always getting my Kates mixed up. Gosh there are so many Kates.

Just like in high school, the mystery of why this girl was voted cheerleader and not that one- there are many on “The List,” face it, no prettier than any other girl passing by. The real “movie stars” aren’t always the ones on the screen, they’re the girls at the office, the bakery, the Boardwalk, every bit as pretty.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the A-list girls and I do follow celebrities and their stories, like eating candy. I get much of their news in a glance as I pass by a newsstand on the street.

Hedy Lamarr
to remind you of the old screen goddesses
Ziegfeld Girl, 1941
They are our cheerleaders, our kings and queens- heck, our gods and goddesses (along with music stars)-  of our lowest common denominator. They fill the hole of mythology that we thought we'd become too sophisticated for.

But most of all- celebrities are our FRIENDS. It feels that way because we see them on the screen and we watch their lives unfold before us.

Gossip rages over: does she have
 8 tattoos or 9? (Megan Fox, 23)
And what’s so bad about that? They are our glow in the dark. We speculate on whether they will stay together, split, adopt, secretly marry, or get a tattoo- until we lose track of the sixth degree of separation- so-and-so went out with so-and-so who ALSO went out with so-and-so before so-and-so even KNEW so-and-so. . . didn’t they? Like mix-and-match.

If you read "The Lists," I’m sure you simply cannot keep track of which one was number one in 2006, 2007, 2008-- they switch off with each other from poll to poll.

(You think I’m being ironic!)
This is not the point of this post. I’m not here to make fun. I’m here to be amazed--

Latest Fashion, bunny ears:
Louis Vuitton runway, Paris Fashion W
eek 2009 

The Guardian; Photo, Stephane Cardinale/
People Avenue/Corbis
-by Playboy’s 2010 winner of their annual "25 Sexiest Celebrities." And if you pay attention at all to this kind of thing, you have NOT forgotten which young lady was the winner. . .

Katy Perry?

I remember in the 80s walking down the street in a dress 20 years ahead of its time -and I knew it- when my eye was attracted by a black and white poster which I could barely make out from across the street. Something compelled me to cross and look.

It was a poster of Madonna, her album Like A Virgin, just out. OMG, I thought. She's a little bit like me. But very different. Not sweet like me.

That was when I realized that "Girls" were changing. Punk had swallowed rock (Madonna notwith- standing). The culture had diverged left. Me, and everything that I was, avant guard dress or no, was headed for a topple.

Katy Perry- Why?

I’m not going to claim that I am qualified to talk music. I’m a book nerd. I can’t figure out who is better, Lily or Katy or Gaga or whoever. But I do have rather strong reactions to Katy (which is why she’s popular).

Her voice is pretty enough, but is it her voice I like, or just the up-down slide of her melodic hooks? You can sort of hear her voice, she's not as digitalized as some, but she's still digital enough to hurt my ears like the clatter of metal.

just "One of the Boys"
It’s her “brand” that distinguishes her (in jargon). She gets by as “One of the Boys" girl-next-door skateboarder, who suddenly shows up at the prom in bubblegum decollete.
Rolling Stone this week claims that in her personal life Katy is the second-most innocent music star after Taylor Swift.

From her infamous interview about not posing for Playboy: "I think there's a fine line between being a tease, and just giving it away. I like to be considered more of a tease  . . ." Katy's riding the Candyland Pinup craze.
new video: California Gurls

(For the curious, I think this is her newest video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRvptTk7IbU

Yes she's sweet, like a virgin teen wearing the latest peek-a-boo: look, don't touch. But to me there’s a harshness in her sweetness. Could that be the attempt of a generation, to hop the hurdle of the cynicism around them? -with harshness as the residue. Is Katy Perry another flash in the pan, or- as the media seems to squak- she's leading the way?

I’ve seen her called “bubblegum punk,” “princess of pop,” “commercial punk-pop.” While we're talking labels, to my mind she also qualifies as "hipster."

Which explains why in my research, I discovered that one cannot read about these young ladies for long before the topic of tattoos starts popping up all over.

Which explains why a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 36% of Americans ages 18 - 25, and 40% of those ages 26 - 40, have at least one tattoo.
And why in 2002, Lycos web searches for the word "tattoos" came in as the number two most-requested search term on the internet. It was so popular, that Lycos put it on the list it has stopped counting. (More on that list another time.)
Whew I made it
I believe that 2010 is the first year the readers of Playboy chose a "Katy" over a "Megan" or a "Scarlett" (Scarlett won 2007).

I see this as a "sea change" (that’s Shakespeare. I said I would get to Shakespeare in this post).

painting: Henry Fuseli c. 1800
Ariel's Song, from The Tempest
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

tattoo stats: http://www.vanishingtattoo.com/tattoo_facts.htm

Please comment below


Jim said...

Have never been able to keep the difference between Gaga/Lindsay/Brittany/Katy et al straight and find they all tend to run together--Here's my list of celebrities most admired by middle-aged professors:

1-Glenda Jackson
2-Susan Sarandon
3-Helen Mirren
4-Meryl Streep
5-Glenn Close
6-Emmylou Harris
7-Jill Clayburg
8-Allison Krauss
9--Michelle Pfeiffer
10-Cate Blanchett

Eve Scherr said...

Absoludel, Jim! Exactly how I feel.

I just didn't realize that a guy would agree with me. That's nice to know!

I'm glad you threw the eternal Emmylou in there too. Cate's maybe a bit younger than you realize, though- she just moves kind of slow. Allison's also that young, and does NOT move slow. Glenn annoys me just a bit. You left out, let's see, Tilda Swinton for one. There are many others.

While I was "studying up" for this blogpost, I was surprised at how I finally bored myself, on a topic I thought I would find endlessly entertaining.

I prepared these 4 desktop folders for the photo images: 1)Megan; 2)Scarlett; 3)Angelina; 4)Jennifers & Jessicas.

My friend from a village in Africa told me that they have absolutely no sense of Western beauty. If we held up a photo of one of the girls in my post, they would have no idea that she was "beautiful."

When asked if a certain young woman is beautiful, they answer, "Ask me when she's 40."

When he told me that, I was pretty young and did not understand; but anyone who has watched Nicole Kidman age realizes that anyone under the age of 38 is not formed yet.

In fact when I look at these girls in this post, I mentally age them in my mind to figure out just how beautiful they WILL become! The way I think of it is, are they GOING TO BE beautiful? I'm totally with his Village Plan now! Girls look a bit unformed.

Hmm you keep giving me ideas for more posts. I have more ideas than time!

Jim, I hate to be clueless, but what is a cloud? Is that one of those computer words?

Jim said...

I don't know who Katy/Brittany/Lindsay's fans really are--teen-aged girls maybe?? My teen-aged son and his friends don't pay any attention to them...
As for my list, on reflection, I'd probably replace Cate with Catherine Deneuve--not all French women may age well, but she sure has. I don't see many movies, so I've certainly left out some deserving candidates--Tilda Swinton, among others.
The one I don't know what to do with is Madonna--she's every bit as big a publicity hound as Gaga, and I don't give much credence to her highly publicized infatuation with Kabbalah, but she's always had a surer sense of where the edge is than these younger types--Katy Perry may have kissed a girl, but Madonna pretty clearly had more advanced ideas along those lines, among others. Maybe she's just a better publicity hound, but she's lasted for a long time...Clearly more than just an aging Gaga...
I clearly agree with your African friend, though--women aren't really interesting, or beautiful, until they hit 40

Jim said...

The "cloud" may have particular technical meaning to computer geeks, but for us other geeks, it's just a metaphor for what's out there on the internet--Google was trying to scan the contents of entire libraries before they got hung up in copyright fights--if you can download literally anything, you don't have to worry about where a particular book is physically

Eve Scherr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eve Scherr said...

For sure no cool kid pays attention to these people, Britney etc. People like her do influence very young girls-but more, I think, simply through the fact that they exist at all- it's a murmur in the background of the culture. They are more of a barometer than they are drivers of the culture.

I think it's a lot of adults who pay attention, just for fun, like I do. On the other hand they really ARE like friends, we've seen them grown up, get cheated on, and we've seen all their movies.

What surprised me about the Playboy poll was that Katy Perry struck me as more like what cool kids actually might pay attention to, not just the background noise of Transformers (Megan) and Gaga.

I agree about Madonna- just like I say in my blog, she ushered in something that felt new, at the time at least. I suppose there's a whole literature about it that I'm not interested in researching.

She had imagination, which means a lot more than just trying to figure out how to be more shocking the next time. Her choices had some kind of context. a lot of people would say that about Angelina Jolie now.

She didn't try to shock so much as I think she simply went too far and at some point the culture stopped following her. Also I suspect a lot of what strikes us as weird was actually her playing to her gay fans, and I wonder if she helped gays be more accepted.

What shocked me was how much more I knew about these things than I realized. I don't usually read the magazines or watch E! television, I just absorbed it somehow.

I guess you can't absorb what you don't find interesting, though. All those stories, who cheated on who, it's addicting. It stirs up emotions from one's own life, like mythology. That's why I said they're our gods and goddesses. i think i'll add that to my post.

Also when we see a movie we like, we want to know more about who was in it, actors, directors, etc. just like wanting to know more about the writer of a book.

I think I'm going to have to make blogposts of our comments!

Eve Scherr said...

Once a star has passed 60, we begin to think in terms of "legends," and then we feel they have become "artists," which is what all the flap is about when people complain they don't like celebrities.

For ex we don't feel guilty talking about someone's looks once they have passed to "legend."

If we paid more attention to an actor's particular craft than to her face or her love life, we'd have more respect. Then it becomes talking about art and artist.

I think I'm going to write a whole post about this stuff.

Jim said...

I like to think that what we're responding to when we say we "like" someone is the art, the creation of a character, and not the "personality"--Gene Hackman is one of my favorite actors, but I have no idea what he's "really" like--what I see when I watch him is a slightly psychotic New York cop with a thing for boots, or an ex-colonel who quotes Julius Caesar before going into battle. Ditto for somebody like Helen Mirren-Jane Tennyson is an extraordinarily competent cop who has lousy taste in men and has been beaten down so many times that it's hardened her in ways that aren't terribly attractive. This works for comedy as well, like in the old Superman movies-Christopher Reeves couldn't act his way out of a paper bag, but they had GREAT villains--Jack Nicholson, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny DeVito (who I never thought could act until he played the Penguin), Hackman-- Compare these performances to the "personality" actors like Burt Reynolds or Will Smith-popular enough, but they played the same role every time and couldn't actually act if their lives depended on it.

BTW, I have to amend my original list to include Tina Turner, who beat Madonna all hollow for sex appeal, energy and everything else, and had more soul at 50 than Katy/Lindsay, et al have combined at half her age,

Jim said...

Ahem--my last post erred in placing Batman villains in Superman movies--I love my senior moments

Jim said...

From this morning's Washington Post--Lady Gaga is performing in a fund raiser for Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who's 86 and is apparently a big fan--maybe we've underestimated her??

Eve Scherr said...

You are so right. We cannot separate out the actor from the role. That layer of stardust makes them larger than life and is what binds them to us. They get caught up in our mythology because they perform our myths.

The very first time that you see an actor, can fix them for you forever.

That's why Anne Hathaway can go as modern as she likes, but she'll always be our princess.

That's why I will NEVER be able to think of Helen Mirren as ANYthing but Mrs. Stone, the desperate, aging American actress; kate beckinsdale as ANYthing but Jane Austen's earnest, meddling, dewy Emma; James Spader as ANYthing but the sweet innocent in sex lies & videotape.
Yet how different their roles have become!

Then there's Jack Nicholson, who started out as a good actor, but descended into playing Himself in every role.
But is Himself- as convincing as that is- really who he actually is? Or just another act?

(Doesn't matter- the point is that it's a one-note act!)
I couldn't stand his Joker. Heath's joker stands alone for me. Heath gave that role as much humanity as anyone possibly could.

Isn't it fun for teachers to talk hollywood!

Speaking of becoming myth, think of all the great rulers in history who have purposely cultivated the illusion of myth about them.

Think of all the rulers in history who have passed into myth, whether they did it on purpose or not.

Jim said...

I have some professional experience with the American version of this process and confess myself still mystified why we have to take unusually competent and capable people and turn them into plaster saints. George Washington fought the best professional army in Europe to a standstill with nothing more than an undertrained and underequipped army of farmers and stopped a military coup with nothing more than the force of his own personality, yet Parson Weems had to make up crap about chopping down cherry trees and not telling lies. There are plenty of other examples. We'd rather believe the dime novels and the movies (Walt Disney has plenty to answer for on this score)than what really happened. Sheesh.

Faith said...

I also wonder about celebrity women...love them but scarlett needs some speech lessons. My daughter shot me in a "series" of Lindsay Lohan courtroom shots, satire, of course. (Really nothing, but the concept cracked us up.) I wasn't wearing eyeliner so there were no makeup runs, tho'.

Faith said...

Katherine Hepburn belongs on Jim's list.