I don't read tabloid gossip magazines, okay? I just walk
past the news agency and glance at the headlines. That's something
interesting about our modern society,
so immersed in celebrity culture that you can't walk down the street
without knowing whether Kirsten Dunst wore a baggy sweater the other
day and some people are wondering about whether maybe it's a baby bump.
That's the deal that you sign when you become a famous person - money,
adoration and eternal life, in exchange for never having a single
moment of privacy ever again, because the common people need somebody
to live vicariously through. It's my theory that we don't actually love
celebrities - we despise them, because we're not them. Who we think we
love is the fiction that we build around them, a fiction we can get
inside, so that we can actually wear their skin like some kind of
metaphorical Buffalo Bill.
I came up with an interesting ontological idea about
actors. Well, everybody really, but actors most notably. People are all
actors, to a point. There is an inner reality, somewhere deep inside,
our true selves if you will. Then there is the outer shell,
the person we project onto the world, kind of the mask that we wear
when we walk around among other people. That's the character that we
play, and everyone has one, because sometimes we don't like something
about that person deep inside and because we're imaginitive beings
we're able to construct, and play the part of, the person we really
wish we were. Actors are interesting because they have this extra layer
on top of it all, the character that they are really playing
on stage or screen, but unlike their private character, they want you
to know that this character is fiction. That's the social
contract that we sign when we participate in fiction - a story is
literally a lie, but one that we temporarily agree to pretend is true.
But sometimes, I think, this contract can get smudged, and an
interesting phenomenon occurs when all these different characters get
muddied up together...
Too much? Sorry about that. Let's back up a
bit. I want to talk about Twilight.
There's this series of books you may have heard about,
but maybe not, they're pretty obscure. It's a story for teen girls that
got popular because it's basically engineered to push all the right
buttons. The protagonist, Bella, is essentially a manifestation of the
character that a lot of girls want to be. She's almost flawless, her
biggest problems in life being that she's just too pretty and too
popular, with all the complications that come with being both really
smart and really beautiful. One day, she meets this guy, who just so
happens to be the perfect boyfriend. He's also a vampire. His character
traits include being completely loyal to her, being crazy psychotic but
never inclined to turn his anger against her, while at the same time,
willing to talk about his feelings and hear about hers.
Later, she meets this other dude. He's basically the
same character except that he's rugged and outdoorsy, has a rock
hard sixpack, and the ability to transform into a wolf. He's also
the perfect boyfriend, and also falls for her. Naturally, werewolf and
vampire don't get along with each other, and it's not just because
modern culture has invented this idea over the last decade or so that
vampires and werewolves are sworn natural enemies. Beyond the fact that
they're monsters, they develop a macho rivalry against one another, and
poor Bella is faced with the problem that all teen girls must face at
one stage or another - will she hook up with the tall, brooding,
handsome, mysterious guy? Or with the rugged, masculine bucket of sex?
People got obsessed with these books to the point of
psychosis. If there's one thing Stephenie Meyer got absolutely spot on,
it's the secret fantasy of the average white heterosexual middle-class
teenage girl. Then the movies came out, and that's when things started
to get strange.
This is Kristen Stewart. She's an actress by trade, and
let's face it, we don't know much about her, because we don't know her.
A lot of people think they know her, though, because of the various
masks that lie on top of whatever reality might exist. In our withdrawn
third-hand account of Kristen Stewart, this is what we think we have
sorted out: She's your average teenage girl, adored by everyone, whose
biggest problem in life is deciding between two men. Robert Pattinson,
completely loyal and genuine and caring but by all accounts a total
psycho, and Taylor Lautner, a rugged, masculine bucket of sex.
I know what you're thinking about me right now - the
observation that tabloid gossip magazines make up all their "news" is
neither original nor interesting. I might as well suggest that water is
wet. Still, I think there's something particularly interesting about
this one case, and maybe something, dare I say, philosophically
significant. That's this: People are actually confusing the actors in
the Twilight films with the
characters they are portraying. Whether it stems from an
extraordinarily powerful desire for Twilight to be really real, or just a simple
processing error in the brains of diehard fans, the tabloid narrative
of Kristen Stewart's life almost matches that of her character, Bella.
She falls for Pattinson, he dumps her, she runs into the arms of
Lautner, then she dumps him when Pattinson shows interest again. Then
she gets knocked up.
Not pictured: Truth.
This gets back to the ontology of film actors, and why
it's complicated. We're not looking at two layers of reality, here, but
four. The actual
story of Twilight, the story that the fans make up, the story that the
actors project, and the truth. Now, if I really want to get trippy and
risk accusations of hitting the bong too hard, I could point out that
someone like David Hume would deny that the deepest layer exists at
all. That it's really fiction all the way down. Of course, Hume could
never imagine a world in which we instantly know all the details of
someone's life from the other side of the globe, but he would
definitely point out that those details are always necessarily fictional.
So, which fiction is better? What can we say is true about Kristen Stewart? The one
we made up, or the one she
makes up? Maybe the fans should just submit to their desires and
actually believe that Twilight is real. Why not? Some of them probably
do already. And if everything is fictional already, then it's hard to
pinpoint exactly what's wrong with that.
Twilight is like an ogre:
It has layers.
Am I thinking too much into it? Absolutely. That's part
of the fun. If I was to get back to pragmatism and speculate on the truth beneath the fiction, it would
probably look something like this: At the risk of being crude, of course they're all fucking.
They're all attractive young people, and their job,
literally what they're paid to do, is to generate sexual tension for
the duration of four big budget Hollywood films. They're flirting,
cuddling, smooching and dry-humping each other, probably for thirty
takes in every scene of every film. The most shocking revelation would
be to find out that they didn't
spend their few off-set hours relieving hormonal tensions frantically
in the back of someone's trailer. And that's just another example of
fictions melting into one another. Making movies has an interesting
psychological effect on actors. That's what supposedly killed Heath
Ledger - when you're forced to literally adopt a new personality for
months at a time, you can start to forget what's real.
Ever noticed that actors who play couples in films often
wind up married a few months later? Then they divorce a year after
that? The unnatural state that they inhabit, having a relationship
essentially forced upon them, creates some kind of temporary confusion.
Some actors are repeat offenders, dumping each spouse as a new role
comes along and they get hung up on the fiction again and again. But
then, to what point can I say that any of these relationships are
really fictional? Maybe the fiction goes all the way down.
Or, god damn, maybe I need to stop drinking and writing