25 September 2007

On Celebrity



And how fucking dare anyone out there make fun of Britney after all she's been through! She lost her aunt. She went through a divorce-uh. She has two fucking kids. Her husband turned out to be a user, a cheater, and now she's going through a custody battle. All you people care about is readers and making money off of her.

She's a HUMAN!!! What you don't realize is that Britney's making you all this money, and all you do is write a bunch of crap about her. She hasn't performed onstage in years. Her song is called "Gimme More" for a reason—because all you people want is more, more, more, more, MORE!

Leave her alone! You're lucky she even performed for you bastards! Leave Britney alone. Please.

[Sobs.]

[Pause. Composing himself.]

Perez Hilton talked about professionalism. And said if Britney was a professional she would have pulled it off no matter what. Speaking of professionalism, when is it “professional” to publicly bash someone who's going through a HARD TIME? Leave Britney alone! Pleeease. [beat]

[Sobs.]

Leave. Britney. Spears. Alone. Right. Now. I mean it. Anyone who has a problem with her, you deal with me, because she's not well, right now.

[Quiet sobs, then loud sobs, some choking.]

[Pleadingly] Leave her alone.

[END]

I almost always listen to music when I write. Tonight’s selection, for a variety of reasons, is Sufjan Stevens, and my least-listened to disc of his, The Avalanche. Remixes, failed attempts, favorite non-releases, and would-be B-sides. Check it out.

Chris Crocker. How is one to speak of him without resorting to phobia or condescension? Or perhaps affection? What I would like to do with this post is attempt a critique of something I believe he represents that does not have recourse to those other things. This offers a fairly fine line, between fire and tears, let us say; it is a finite walk, a balancing act. It is a highwire act, and it is up to whomever is reading to determine when and if I fall.

In all honesty, my initial reaction to the Leave Britney Alone video was a certain kind of boredom. It was my first exposure to Chris Crocker, and I fully recognize why it fascinates and could imagine how this boy has become such a phenomenon on the internet, even before his exposure reached me, the least exposed to this world except through friend and boyfriend. The intensity, the personality, the personal nature of it, which is to say the intimacy of it, is captivating. This video has the sort of thing that makes good porn captivating—the idea that you are getting a peek into something sincere and unguarded. Good porn feels like a true voyeurism, which is to say a perspective that is supposedly hidden from the object on view. As in this situation, porn is never the case of unknowing spectacle. As much as a performer "forgets" the camera, the camera's presence and its recording function is reliable precisely because this recording is intentional. Someone wants you—yes, you—to see this footage, so it is always shaped to some to degree, and this is another way of saying that there is an aesthetic involved, and that there is a desire, and this is a self-conscious desire. And there is therefore an audience—an audience of which the subject is aware. The implication of an audience means the awareness of an other watching in this case—isn’t that funny that the awareness of the self is contingent on an other watching? Yet, not so much. It is not so surprising that the circle that encloses the observing other encloses the self. Self awareness is a mirror and the mirror is the other, or, as we say, the audience. And within this doubly enclosed circle we have performance.

BOREDOM/LAUGHTER/PHOBIA
As in the tradition of a Shirley Bassey concert, Chris Crocker begins his Britney monologue at the level of 11, and he sustains that level throughout with occasional spikes to 12 and sometimes even 13. Just when you think he can’t take it up a notch, he does so, and then goes up another notch. But without the artistry of someone like Dame Bassey—and how should he have this power at such a young age when she has had a long lifetime to learn how to overwhelm us so completely?—Mr. Crocker can only hover like a hummingbird or an insect around the same high pitch. Though his attack is sustained and intense, it is this deadly consistency that is the hobgoblin of his speech, and the thing that makes it boring. But that which makes the monologue boring is, of course, the thing the makes it funny. On the level of a temper tantrum, which can only be the first way anyone apprehends this clip, it is hilarious. And I think this aspect is what accounts for a good portion of its popularity.

For me, close on the heels of the amusement, is the urge to reach into the screen and smack some sense into this kid. It is difficult to tease out the differences among the utterly vapid subject matter, the grandiose self-involvement, the chip on his shoulder, and in-your-face femininity. I’d like to say that this final factor lacks power for me, but I can’t, and that shames me. The moment that comes to mind, strangely, is from the movie Carrie—not the adaptation of the Dreiser novel starring Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones, but the movie version of the Stephen King book—in which the gym teacher played by Betty Buckley saves Sissy Spacek’s Carrie from the humiliating, locker room maxi-pad attack by Carrie’s schoolmates and in the next scene confesses that she wanted to smack Carrie too. It is this annihilating, knee-jerk demand for normalcy of which I am so ashamed. But one doesn’t have to honor that demand any more than to recognize that it is there and to therefore resist it. This is instructive. Your fears and repulsions needn’t be something from which to—or with which you—recoil, but they can teach you; they can remind you that what we learn to react to with irritation or revulsion can tell you who you are by reminding you who you would like not to be, and therefore remind you of how brave those people are who reflect these parts of yourself back at you.

They are not brave because they show you who you are, but because they are unafraid or unashamed to do precisely what society would prefer they not do. We constantly torture the feminine out of little, queer boys, and the kid who resists this is to be admired. Anyone who resists this is to be admired regardless of his or her age. This accounts for precisely why—and I don’t know if this applies to Chris Crocker, nor do I think it matters one bit if it does or doesn’t—this phobic encounter accounts, however, precisely for why the rights of the transgendered matter so deeply to the politics surrounding same-sex desire. This is not my point with this piece, but it is worth mentioning that there are gay and lesbian folks who find insult in being grouped with those who wish to become the other sex. But if you find femmey guys and butch girls offensive, is it because you were one at one point that person, and don’t you wish someone stood up for you instead of making fun of you, ostracizing you, or kicking your ass? And even if you never had this experience, how could it be any clearer that wanting to become the other sex isn’t that different, to the straightest of the world, from having a hint of the other sex in you? Since there is only one relationship that is recognized—between a man and a woman—do you really think, as a man, that you’re earning points by playing rugby and following the Yankees? You only invoke a playground pecking order by rejecting the transgendered in this way—even if you never had any interest in liquid eyeliner (or for you lipstick ladies out there, even if you did). Seeming straight will never protect you from the people who want to hurt you because you’re not straight. Just ask Senator Craig.

ON THE QUESTION OF COMPOSURE
Part of what, I think, makes Chris Crocker so fascinating to so many is his lack of composure. Whether his tearful or defiant face is a purposeful performance or not—and I cannot tell if it is or not and is therefore a composure of its own or not—Crocker’s temper tantrum is the very representative of a lack of composure. On its face, Leave Britney Alone is an uncensored display. Within a culture that is obsessed with composure, with being what you seem, with a self-identical clarity, with a hygienic fear of infection by terrorism or an untoward desire, where our politicians are supposed to be appear to say the correct things and toe a certain line, there is an exhilaration in the exhibition of someone ranting with a complete lack of composure. It matters not at all that it is about Britney Spears, in fact the serious investment in something so trivial makes it that much more delicious, that much more personal, and that much more pornographic.

The political creature in our Land is the paradigm case of this composure of which we are so tired that we turn to a screaming child on YouTube to find something—anything—that feels different from the calculated sincerity that assaults us every day on our national media. Senator Craig shows us all what it’s like to inhabit that suffocating demand to embody the joyless place of expectation that only finds its relief in an airport men’s room stall. No one can withstand that demand to please. American politics has become so willing to please on the surface—and only on its face—to maintain its place, that it has lost sight entirely of what it means to care for, to husband, to uphold, the public interest. The public interest is not what the public finds interesting, which is the domain of the celebrity, but that which is actually for the public good, what is sustaining for society, both now and in the future. I speak of civic duty, which is a grave duty, and one that has been traded for the triviality of a popularity contest, for likeability, for respectability, for a composition. We live in a nation where a politician would willingly promote laws that would punish him for his own desire only to maintain his power. This is not just a betrayal of the self, but it is the betrayal of the public trust on the most egregious level. Yet, we forgive, because we understand pressure, pressure to conform, to compose, to seem and not be, and not to lead. We forgive because this is a collective arrangement, and we understand how the collective can force the hand, force it into a handshake, a handshake deal, how it can force the face into a shape: a ghastly blissful smile.

That last line is a reference that will pass over the heads of many readers, which is a pity because it comes from a Brecht poem, which only survives in English, which Bertolt Brecht wrote about the actor, Peter Lorre, and his experience in Hollywood. I quote it now, only because our politicians are indistinguishable from our celebrities, to our great national detriment:

The Swamp

I saw many friends
And the friend I loved most
Among them helplessly sunk
Into the swamp.
I pass by daily.
And a drowning was not over
in a single morning.
This made it more terrible.
And the memory of our long talks about the swamp,
Which already held so many powerless.
Now I watched him leaning back
Covered with leeches in the shimmering,
Softly moving slime,
Upon his sinking face
A ghastly blissful smile.



Smile for the camera, Senator—Senator Craig, Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Spears, Senator Crocker. Do you vote for the world your grandchildren will live in or do you vote for the person with whom you’d most rather enjoy a beer? Smile. Smiles everyone. Smile. Smile for the camera.

RAGE
We might now, after such a long excursis, return to what should by now be the obvious topic of this post, which is clearly Chris Crocker’s deathless outpost, Leave Britney Alone.

We are, or I should say, I am, presented with a number of problems, or shall I call them, opportunities, to end this post. But instead I will invoke anger. Rage, O Goddess, sing of the rage of Chris Crocker.

When I happened upon Leave Britney Alone, I had never heard of Chris Crocker, or rather I had never heard of the videos and the phenomenon that travels under that signature. Though his name is a pseudonym, Chris Crocker is not, or does not appear to be, a fiction in the order of a J.T. LeRoy or Anthony Godby Johnson, though he bears the markers of a similar fascination. It is really in the order of an insult to invoke the names of these great fakes of the internet and the publishing world in the same paragraph mentioning Chris Crocker because 1) “Crocker” does not lay claim to any of the spectacular hardships of those ersatz Lost Boys and 2) it is the video transparency of Chris Crocker, and his meetability, that exempt him from such a distasteful hoax, or, at any rate, lends him some much-needed credence. Yet there is a striking similarity in the collective taste for such a creature. This similarity is not his fault, yet the desire for the sexually-transgressive/sexually ambiguous, uncensored child remains. The appetite for this strange configuration remains so powerful that no one has mentioned it thus far to my knowledge. Except me.

But let us speak of rage. According to an article on thestranger, Chris Crocker is a boy, somewhere in the South of our Nation, and he is supposed to be who he says he is. I am circumspect in the way I present these facts because I have been taught to not trust the media. I don’t know why I feel this way but it probably has to do with the utter inability—or perhaps lack of interest—that the media has shown of late in reporting what happens in the world. I don’t blame my circumspection. Yet, here we are, and we have this piece, and we have “Chris Crocker”’s video posts, which are no more or less real than these words you are reading now on your screen.

I did some research on the C.C. phenomenon—only a little, I promise you, because, Gentle Reader, I wanted to honor, a little, the context, or truly the contextlessness of the Leave Britney Alone experience as I first found it. You see, this single video has far surpassed any of C.C.’s previous video-posts. In fact, the last time I checked on YouTube, Leave Britney Alone has had more viewings—well over seven million—than the original cause: Spears’ appearance on the MTV music awards (which had a reported viewing audience of seven million—this number, as with all other reports, is subject to question, yet this is what I read). Try to imagine seven million. That is only a million less than what is supposed to be the population of New York City (according to the US Census Bureau). Okay, try to imagine a million people. Have you met a million people? Do a million people know who you are? (Is this circle getting smaller?) Now, are you nineteen-years-old? And are you being home-schooled by your grandmother because it is feared you’re too femmey to literally survive public high school? Is your first boyfriend someone you’ve never met in person but is—like almost all the other intimate relationships you have ever had—relegated to the internet and the telephone? Now, assuming all these factors are “true,” let’s go back to seven million people knowing who you are. Who are you now?

“Chris Crocker” is a resistance to some boy’s situation, which is to say his environment. In thestranger article he says he has always been femmey, he looks up to women, not men, not gay men, but women, specifically. He puts on eyeliner (beautifully) and posts videos titled Bitch, Please, wherein he enumerates the various useful ways of saying “Bitch, please…” (though I felt he missed a few good iterations as his performance escalated) or This and That wherein he responds to people, real and internet, who have attacked him. This appears, on the face, to be the reaction of an embattled person, a person who must resort to the internet to be credible, or at least heard. This is a person who describes the people who “friend” him on MySpace as “fans.” Fans. This is a person who believes himself—whether its true or not, according to this thestranger piece—to have fans. Do you have fans? Does he have fans? Or does he have people who watch him to see what he’ll do next? And what is the difference between having fans and being a freak show and being Edie Sedgwick?

But our topic is rage. Where is this rage? The Muse of Epics—who is even less truthful, who is much more enamored of effect, than the Muse of History—knows because in Bitch, Please, This and That, and Leave Britney Alone that rage is on view for all to see, in Epic display. What disarms these pieces—what takes them away from self-conscious, calculated performance, or in fact, what arms them entirely—is, for example, is the imperious gaze that Mr. Crocker gives the camera—his camera, his eye to the world—at the end of Bitch, Please, or his, as he states on YouTube, entirely seriously tearful defense of Britney Spears in Leave Britney Alone? The world he speaks to is so much larger and therefore so much entirely smaller and specific than his viewers might believe. The pain he imputes to Britney Spears is his pain, it seems. How else to understand the emotional level to which he rises in this defense of a celebrity he can only know through the news or what he reads and believes? He tells us that if we have a problem with Britney that we should come to him. He tells us that we should leave Britney Spears alone, and that he means it. He speaks to us as though he knew her personally; he speaks to us as though he knew us personally. Chris Crocker defends Britney Spears as though she were himself, and I have little doubt that—if this is a sincere display, as I think it probably is as much as it can be—that this is the case. Replace “Britney Spears” with “Chris Crocker” and you have the real message to the world. Seth Green hit the nail in the head far more accurately than he might have intended in a celebrity-parody of an internet-celebrity defending a pop-music-celebrity. To this imaginary personality, even to himself, called “Chris Crocker,” an attack on a celebrity like Spears is an attack on himself. In his mind, he is her equal; he is capable of accepting the blows thrown at her, in her stead. Though he is a kid in the South who refuses to reveal his real name or location—for obvious reasons—he feels capable to speak to us so easily, as though his internet fame is on the same level of the manufactured fame of a Britney Spears who has had corporations and smart managers-since-fired behind her. Mr. Crocker not only takes on the machine that produced Britney Spears, that has turned on her, but the audience that consumed her, and that now consumes him as an object of derision. His rage is a delicious internet treat that we chew on as a zero-calorie moment, which we discuss for a week or two until the flavor is gone. Then we spit it out and forget it. The joke we call History will remember Monica Lewinsky, Anna Nicole Smith, and Britney Spears longer than Chris Crocker and his undisguised tantrum about himself. It is being forgotten even as I type this. Even as he signs the contract to his reality series.

But now that we have put his rage for recognition to the side, finally, I can get to the purpose of this post, and by that I mean the title of this post, which is the nature of celebrity.

About three decades ago, Andy Warhol declared, presciently that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. When I think of statements like this, I usually think of the Frankfurt School and Walter Benjamin and wonder what they would think of the world today, because the stuff they wrote about--what Adorno called the Culture Industry--and the way media affects the populace haunts me to this day, every day. I think they would commit suicide rather than live in a world of reality television and the blogosphere. Similarly, I imagine that the men who wrote the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, if they came in a time machine to the Twenty-First Century, would be appalled by the state of the Nation, despite, or, really, probably because of, their patrician sensibilities.

We live in a time when everyone believes in the necessity of their own celebrity. The person we call “Chris Crocker” is young enough to believe that this is the way the world is supposed to be. Celebrity is now available to everyone, for a time, as Warhol said. The larger question is: do we want it? And within that question is why do we want it? It seems that in this version of reality we are stuck with is the question of if we are only real if we are on television--and that being on television has become coterminous with being on a screen, any screen, even a computer monitor. Somehow, now, being famous—which is being known—is the same thing as being real. For politicians this may be one thing—which is awful enough—but for you and me, this is something else entirely. We have entered into a time when Warhol’s whimsical prediction has taken on the quality of a curse.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


We close, appropriately, with the delicate Sufjan Stevens song playing as I write these words. In my mind, in my mind, this song is titled, "I made a lot of mistakes."


I fell in love again
all things go, all things go
drove to Chicago
all things know, all things know
we sold our clothes to the state
I don't mind, I don't mind
I made a lot of mistakes
in my mind, in my mind

I drove to New York
in a van, with my friend
we slept in parking lots
I don't mind, I don't mind
I was in love with the place
in my mind, in my mind
I made a lot of mistakes
in my mind, in my mind

you came to take us
all things go, all things go
to recreate us
all things grow, all things grow
we had our mindset
all things know, all things know
you had to find it
all things go, all things go

if I was crying
in the van, with my friend
it was for freedom
from myself and from the land
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes
I made a lot of mistakes

you came to take us
all things go, all things go
to recreate us
all things grow, all things grow
we had our mindset
I made a lot of mistakes
all things know, all things know
I made a lot of mistakes
you had to find it
I made a lot of mistakes
all things go, all things go
I made a lot of mistakes


"Chicago (Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Version)," music and lyrics by Sufjan Stevens on The Avalanche, 2006.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fame is for suckers!

d.e.g. said...

great post.

Oddly enough, I was recently in Seattle having a drink with a friend of a friend when his friends joined us, one of whom was the author of the Chris Crocker article in _The Stranger_ which you cite. This is of significance only because Chris Crocker came up and he told about going to meet him and apparently the kid is the real deal.

GayProf said...

So, it has taken me a bit of time to get over here.

This is one of the best meditations on the C.C. video that I have yet read. In particular, the comparison with porn I think is an apt one. There is something voyeuristic about the craze over that particular C.C. video (I also was in the dark about C.C. until the Brittany video became all the rage (no pun intended)).

cocopierre said...

i was somewhat disinterested in Cc per se. I was more intrigued by this phenomena of recent pop cultural history that I had missed (the VMA)- search as I may through YouTube (and finding much entertainment with Mr.K Holbermann instead) I came to discover that Britney's stellar performance had been carefully culled off the internet (or at the very least YouTube) Only paradys etc or still images remain and the occassional fragmented newsitem. This leads me to ask...who and why has this been able to happen. yes yes - we know the "form-letter" reply ie: copyright issues- but know its larger than that- it smacks of a certain manipulation we are all aware exists- but we tend to forget its thouroughness. who owns who in this conglomerate pyramid of corporations. Who owns You tube or for that matter all my searches and favorites listed on that site? what computer will put together some sythetic logic of my choices -be they "Dieux du Stade" or "John Pilger" or "Rupaul"?
Her public humiliation is now something made to be ephemeral?? perhaps Miss Goldberg (whoopie) has it correct in summizing that (paraphrasing) "Britney wants out, but doesnt know how" but she doesnt have the wisdom of age that our fave Lesbian actor Ms.Garbo mustered up at the height of her career. Paris hilton plans to go to Rawanda (we can be sure it will be a 28minute visit- long enough to take 2800 Photos) and thus the spotlight will momentarily shift to another useless spectacle.
Warmest regards from cold Berlin,
Cocopierre

bstewart23 said...

Oh, dude. No.

Anonymous said...

Um, HELLO? All of Britney Spears' crap is publicity stunts. If you haven't noticed, the divorce and the custody battle and everything else has kept her famous and in the news and making money. She is still iconic, even though she isn't making any music anymore (or not like she used to). So she really doesn't deserve your sympathy, since all this media attention is probably exactly what she wants. For all you know, she and K-Fed might never even have actually been married.