Two very different views (or maybe the same view, with different conclusions) about new forms of celebrity and entertainment. First, Marc Meyers of JazzWax bemoaning the emergence of radio singles with the word “fuck:”
Once upon a time there were grownups in the music business. They were around to insist that artists meet standards and to step in when they went too far. Artists, by definition, don’t have limits. Many also don’t have taste or restraint, nor do they care about such things. Which is why there were record producers some years ago. They were there to set standards and draw the line…
Four-letter words in conversation and song offend me—not because I’m uptight but because they are senseless and bereft of creative thinking. They also are lazy and have little meaning or flavor. Adults on lines and in the music business used to know better.
Post-Empire started appearing in full-force just about everywhere last year while Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” gleefully played over the soundtrack. The Kardashians so get it. The cast (and the massive audience) of Jersey Shore gets it. Lady Gaga arriving at the Grammys in an egg gets it, and she gets it while staring at Anderson Cooper (Empire!) and admitting she likes to smoke weed when she writes songs—basically daring him: “What are you gonna do about that, bitch?” Nicki Minaj gets it when she sings “Right Thru Me” and becomes one of her many alter-egos on a red carpet. (Christina Aguilera starring in Burlesque doesn’t get it at all.) Ricky Gervais’s hosting of the Golden Globes got it. Robert Downey Jr., getting pissed off at Gervais, did not. Robert De Niro even got it, subtly ridiculing his career and his lifetime achievement trophy at the same awards show….
Post-Empire isn’t just about admitting doing “illicit” things publicly and coming clean—it’s a (for now) radical attitude that says the Empire lie doesn’t exist anymore, you friggin’ Empire trolls. To Empire gatekeepers, Charlie Sheen seems dangerous and in need of help because he’s destroying (and confirming) illusions about the nature of celebrity.
The tidiness of Ellis’ argument smells a little bit like bullshit, but the situations that he contrasts ring true enough to me to give it some credibility (it really is a great piece).
What this whole debate reminded me of is a passage from Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, introduced to me by Kartina Richardson of Mirrorfilm.com in what looks to be like the beginning of a great series comparing Brook’s ideas about live theater to cinema. Brook breaks all theater down into four categories: Deadly, Holy, Rough and Immediate. He writes this about the Rough theater:
Of course, it is most of all dirt that gives the roughness its edge; filth and vulgarity are natural, obscenity is joyous: with these the spectacle takes on its socially liberating role, for by nature the popular theater is anti-authoritarian, anti-traditional, anti-pomp, anti-pretence. This is the theater of noise, and the theater of noise is the theater of applause.
The only thing that has changed in the last five years is the newly public way that we–and therefore celebrities–live our lives. Social networks, personalized content, omnipresent video cameras… maybe our lives have become the theater of noise.