Friday, March 21, 2008
They're Just Not That Into You
Let's just get this out of the way so that you can make all appropriate fun and we can move on: I love Smokey & The Bandit.
Say what you will, the 1977 Burt Reynolds vehicle (no pun intended) is a classic; it provided my friends and me with three decades worth of quotable lines and taught us to approach life with the understanding that there's no problem that can't be solved with a Trans-am, a CB radio, a big-ass truck full of warm Coors and Paul Williams in a leisure suit. Take my word for it -- the next time you're facing a seemingly insurmountable crisis, just think to yourself WWBD?: What Would Bandit Do?
While the original Smokey was probably the most mindlessly entertaining movie of all time, its sequel -- the cleverly titled Smokey & The Bandit 2 -- had not a redeeming quality to be found anywhere (unless you take into account the fact that it birthed Hollywood's gag-reel-over-the-credits trend, as the bloopers are generally the funniest part of any big-budget comedy these days). That said, I liked the movie, for reasons I'll probably never quite understand; I imagine it's the same inexplicable thought process which causes me to insist that the Backstreet Boys' I Want It That Way is the best pop song ever.
Although Smokey 2 was, I admit, almost entirely forgettable, it contained one particular scene that somehow managed to stick with me throughout the years, simply because -- believe it or not -- it actually said a hell of a lot about not just the culture of celebrity, but about celebrities themselves. And while I have no doubt that any profound theme or underlying esoterica to be found in the film was wholly unintentional on the part of the producers -- this was the same movie, after all, that played a pregnant elephant and Jackie Gleason doing a flaming gay stereotype for laughs -- that doesn't mean it wasn't there.
Hear me out: As the movie begins, the Bandit is a burned out shell of his former self. He's heartbroken over the loss of his one true love, played by Sally Field, but he's also bitter and angry because he understands that it was his own arrogance and narcissism that drove her away. The audience comes to find out that at some point after the events depicted in the first film -- and, one would have to assume, because of those events -- the Bandit became a nationwide sensation. If this entire premise isn't a textbook example of post-modern meta-fiction, I have no idea what is, given that it's impossible to imagine a bootlegger, one whose most notable achievement involved outsmarting a dimwitted Texas trooper, becoming a household name -- unless he happened to be a character played by Burt Reynolds in a hugely successful movie. Then again, I could be wrong about the ability of a Georgia beer-runner to become famous, in which case Smokey 2 isn't so much "meta" as it is the most subtle and prescient indictment of the media's growing ability to create insta-stars (because you just know that it would be the local news coverage of the Bandit and Snowman's highway antics, and the resulting traffic nightmare, which catapults them into the spotlight) since Network. As the film unfolds further, the Bandit attempts to regain not only the love and affection of his adorable inamorata, but his former notoriety. Unfortunately, these two goals are mutually exclusive, as the Bandit finds out, namely because the cocky swagger that's required to reclaim his "World's Most Famous Bootlegger" crown will drive his girl away, while the humility sure to earn him undying love will likely make him a nobody. It's the ultimate Faustian conundrum.
The whole thing comes to a head in what I think is the pivotal moment in this particular story arc -- the scene to which I'm referring.
At one point, the Bandit is forced to stop for gas -- Trans-am enthusiasts are familiar with this necessity -- and that's where he gets into a row with a clerk whom he believes is guilty of an unforgivable transgression: While the guy does, in fact, know just whose presence he's being graced by -- he's aware of the Bandit's status as a celebrity -- he doesn't give a shit. He thinks the Bandit's an arrogant asshole. This snub causes the Bandit to throw a juvenile tantrum, grabbing the clerk by the throat and shouting in his face: "Women love me! Little kids love me! Now you're gonna love me or I'm gonna kick your ass!"
That one line says everything you need to know about how those who've been in the spotlight too long -- who've gotten used to the warm and comforting glow of perpetual adulation -- can come to feel about themselves and their place in the cultural strata.
It's called believing your own hype.
Why do I bring this up?
Because Sarah Jessica Parker is furious that Maxim men's magazine dubbed her "The World's Unsexiest Woman."
In a recent interview in Grazia magazine, Parker reveals that she and her husband, conspicuously effeminate actor Matthew Broderick, were hurt and offended by the insult -- which Parker calls "brutal" -- and had a difficult time putting the whole ordeal behind them.
Feel free to take a moment to grab a tissue if you need one -- I'll wait.
Parker throws down the gauntlet in the interview, simultaneously defending her "sexiness" and attacking Maxim's core audience of 20-something, stripe-shirted potential date-rapists by saying:
“Do I have big fake boobs, Botox and big lips? No. Do I fit some ideals and standards of some men writing in a men’s magazine? Maybe not."
While Parker makes a valid argument, albeit in a referential way, about the unfortunate female ideal in our society -- to say that she's both missing the point and in no legitimate position to be making a point (not this one, anyway) is an understatement.
It's no secret that I find Sarah Jessica Parker startlingly unattractive; I state as much in my personal bio, which stands as the first thing most readers see when they visit this site. I say this not because I'm some troglodyte who's personally offended that she doesn't meet the Americanized standard of perfection that I believe all women -- certainly celebrities -- should aspire to. I don't care that she doesn't have silicone breasts or surgically enhanced lips. I don't stand on the virtual playground throwing rocks at the "ugly girl" because, when compared to a predetermined set of others, she doesn't stack up (once again, no pun intended). Parker's beauty, or lack thereof, isn't a relative thing. I just don't think she's the least bit attractive -- far from it.
What's worth noting, though, is who I'm really taking a shot at in my bio. Here's a hint: It's not Sarah Jessica Parker. For reasons I wish I didn't understand, the slavish, celeb-obsessed media have anointed Parker -- a somewhat homely, unspectacular actress -- the patron saint of high-fashion and feminism-through-sexual-empowerment. In a staggeringly audacious parlor trick, Hollywood and the media have managed to convince an impressionable public that Parker actually is the character she played on television: Sex & The City's hideously dressed bed-hopper, Carrie Bradshaw. This isn't the first time that docile consumers have plugged into the Matrix and either forgotten or chosen to ignore the line between fantasy and reality; Sex & The City in particular has turned such oversight into a cottage industry. (Case in point: Kim Cattrall surreally penning several sexual self-help books, the apparent implication being: "My character fucks a lot on TV, ergo, I'm qualified to help you with your sex life." If you follow this idiotic line of reasoning, we should be sending Stallone over to clean house in Iraq and you'll want to give Hugh Laurie a call the next time you're puking up blood.) Which begs the question: Would I be singling-out Sarah Jessica Parker for a mild amount of mockery if she were just your average actress or quasi-celeb -- and not pushed 24/7 as a style-maker and one-woman cultural zeitgeist?
No, of course not.
And neither would Maxim.
Maxim's shot at Parker, like mine, wasn't aimed at her; it was aimed at her image. The magazine doesn't truly believe that Sarah Jessica Parker is the unsexiest woman in the world. (There's no goddamn way she's less attractive than Amy Winehouse.) It's implying that she's the unsexiest woman we've all been conditioned to believe is sexy. There's no doubt that Parker doesn't fit the Maxim mold -- and that by hitting her hard, the magazine also insults Sex & The City's legion of vapid, clownish female acolytes (the women your average Maxim reader will claim to detest but who, ironically, represent the easiest targets at the bar on Friday night). But that's all sort of the point, and it's one that Parker is apparently too self-absorbed or insecure to take into account. She's not Maxim magazine's type.
So, why the hell should she let it bother her that a magazine not aimed at her -- in fact, aimed at a demographic she considers rather Neanderthal -- has labeled her "unsexy?"
Why is it necessary to be all things to all people?
For the record, Grazia magazine -- the one in which Parker's interview appears -- is a fashion glossy based out of London. This week's issue invites readers to enter a contest, the grand prize of which is an invitation to an exclusive Emilio Pucci fashion show. For the extraordinarily obtuse, allow me to rephrase: An interview with Sarah Jessica Parker appears in a London fashion magazine. If you haven't been to the grocery store lately, you've also missed Parker's airbrushed face peering across the conveyor at you from the covers of Vogue and Cosmo. Add to that the fact that the Sex & The City movie and all the accompanying publicity will soon be dropped onto America's doorstep like dogshit in a flaming paper bag, and you realize that Maxim magazine's juvenile decree hasn't hurt Parker's career one bit. Even if you think she's monstrously repulsive, she's the most successful monstrously repulsive woman on the planet -- dragging her big bag of money from her home under a bridge right to the bank. Maxim's readers and editors shouldn't even matter. Personally, I wouldn't have known about the Maxim poll had it not been for Parker's decision to, apparently, take a stand for the rights of ugly girls. While I'm willing to concede that this entire "controversy" may itself have been concocted by a clever studio publicist, it doesn't alter the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker suddenly looks like nothing more than a petulant child who's crying because the big meanies said bad things about her.
She suddenly looks like someone who's been in the spotlight for so long -- who's become so used to the comforting glow of perpetual adulation; who's become such a believer in her own hype -- that she's shocked and confused when someone doesn't see in her what everyone else seems to. Another possibility, one far more alarming, would be that she's come to believe not only that her status is a right as opposed to a privilege, but that it's also made her unassailable.
"You're gonna come out here and love me, or I'm gonna kick your ass!"
Or there's always the chance that Maxim simply reminded her of the truth that she knows full well: That under all that makeup, after all those cover shoots and fashion shows, in spite of all that acclaim and lionization -- she's really kind of unattractive.