The Fame Monster

I’ve been thinking a lot about the overheated spotlight of fame in the last few days. 

More specifically, what it means when we see someone relentlessly splattered on our screen or are unable to avoid incessantly reading about them in the news or on social media.

Who and what exactly are these people and how do they fit into the paradigm of who and what THEY really are?

Kinda like Kim K’s recent Met Gala look, you have to wonder… who is she?

And what do our reactions to and fascination with them say about us.

Two people now all over the news and in pop culture that couldn’t be more different prompted this.  

In fact, the only thing they share in this moment, and likely for all time, is an outsized level of notoriety that IMPLORES us ALL to have an opinion on them.

1. The late Princess Diana Spencer, aka The People’s Princess.

And….

2. Kyle Rittenhouse, the now 18-year-old AR-15 rifle-toting killer of two men a year ago that was just found not guilty of committing their murder.

I know. 

You sure Chairy?

It doesn’t feel right to even carry them in the same thought, does it?

But bear with me.

Earlier this week I received the first complimentary DVD of the 2021 Hollywood awards season, Spencer.  It’s a creepy little film about a reimagined pivotal week in Princess Diana’s life in 1991 where she is secluded at the Queen’s estate to celebrate Christmas with the Royal Family and must decide whether she wants to fully embrace her public doppelganger, Princess Di, or re-emerge as her fast disappearing true self, Diana Spencer, and in the process attempt to save her two young sons from the clutches of the royal version of the fame monster.

As dramatic as its poster!

If that sounds a little pretentious, well, it is.  But that’s because this film was directed by Pablo Larrain, who unapologetically played fast and loose with the facts of Jacqueline Kennedy’s life in Jackie (2016), a movie I personally loathed and would have turned off had I not been determined to blog about how truly disrespectful and sickening I thought it was.

Still, there is something about Spencer that sadly speaks to the latter part of 2021.

Not to mention that, in its way, and with the help of a disturbingly transformational performance by Kristen Stewart, it manages to give the people’s princess a momentarily quite happy ending.

Is Oscar calling?

It also helps that at the outset the filmmakers superimpose onscreen that what we are about to see is: a fable from a true tragedy.   As we watch what seems like yet another crushingly awful exploitation of a dead person’s life we can at least relax into the idea that the filmmakers have copped to the fact that they’re cherry picking their way through a reimagined and reassembled graveyard of facts to serve their own purpose.

Not quite noble but, hey, when you’re as famous as Diana was and continues to be you’ve willingly bargained away your anonymity for the type of riches and attention that the rest of us mere mortals can only dream of.

Or have you?

So many Dianas, how can we keep up?

In a sense that is the question Spencer asks and it’s best expressed when the philandering and quite awful version of her husband, Prince Charles, finally confronts what seems like a mid-nervous breakdown Diana with a sobering fact he presumes she had to have always known.

The idea that there are two of us, the personwe really are and the other one people take pictures of.

In the film Charles is speaking of the Royal Family, trying to drum it into Diana that this is what she signed up for and to think or act in any more authentic way will indeed literally drive her crazy.

Pretty generous casting

Yet given what we’ve “achieved”(Note: Ahem) in terms of world interconnectivity in the last three decades this has now become an undeniable fact of life for all of us.  

For it’d be naive to deny that in less than 24 hours any one of us could be living out the hideous fishbowl existence of our own 2021 version of Diana, but without the designer clothes and cool sports car she drives in Spencer.

Whether we enable it, whether we plan it or if, as in most cases, it happens quite accidentally.

This brings us to Kyle, the good ole boy cause celebre or object of international hate/love of the hour.

Ugh, this guy

The moment this then 17-year-old little shit chose to travel to another state with a semi-automatic rifle he didn’t own strapped on his shoulder so he could strut around like a big bad PROUD boy, pretending to be someone he was not (Note: A military-style paramedic vs. a princess for the people) he was immediately trading in his anonymous life and willingly putting himself in the crosshairs of danger – red, white and blue style.

It might be true that he hadn’t planned murder – or well, multiple shots with a war weapon directly into the bodies or two unarmed people he would kill, though later be found not guilty of committing a felony against – but this was always in the cards.

The reason they call them military-style weapons is that they’re meant to kill people in the most efficient manner possible.  To deny this is like denying that dating a famous person from a famously Royal family can very likely make you viscous fodder for the international consumption of venal gossip.

Justice had no chance against an AR15

The difference, of course, is that young Kyle chose a potentially lethal weapon that he could aim at others for fun, frolic and effect.   Diana chose a potentially lethal arena where many of the weapons of the world would eventually be borne down on her because, well, they could.  And it’s fun.

Kyle quickly and enthusiastically became the hunter.  Diana found herself hunted. 

And it’s always better to be armed when you find yourself in the midst of a hunt.  Until, well, it’s not.

By play acting soldier and making himself a minor in a minefield of social unrest, young Kyle was living out a video game fantasy of right wing revenge on the streets of Kenosha, WI over a year ago.  But as often happens in these situations, who he truly was or could have become (Note: We’ll never know) got swallowed by the events he set in motion to hideously public effect.

More of the same…

With his exoneration in criminal court last week, it might right now seem that he’s emerged victorious and gotten away with it.  Yet recent history often has a way of George Zimmerman-ing and Dan White-ing the crap out of people like him – shooters who walk away seemingly unscathed to only years later be hoisted on their own petards (Note:  I’ve been waiting decades to use that comic book phrase from “Batman” and this is the first time it’s ever seemed appropriate).

Kyle might have physically survived a situation his victims couldn’t (Note:  Tough crap crazy Judge Schroeder, I can use that word outside of your courtroom).  But it remains to be seen if he can survive himself.

He’s scheduled to do his first post-court interview with Tucker Carlson to air on Fox Monday night and there has already been talk of him being offered an internship via accused child sex trafficker, Rep. Matt Goetz (R-FL).   

Eyeroll of the century

So, I mean, that will certainly end well for him in the long run, right?  Like, what could go wrong as the years go on?

Fame and some potentially small fortune might be currently knocking at his door but one of the things we know all too well as 2021 is coming to a close is that everything comes at a cost. 

And I’m here to tell you as a college professor with two decades of experience that few, very few, 18 year olds have what it takes to weather the kind of relentless, ongoing storms Kyle will find himself in.

It’s a dangerous drug

Fame is a harsh, relentless and unforgiving mistress as all of us adults who’ve been fortunate enough to live through Diana’s death AND the last thirty years can attest to.

No matter what side you’re on and no matter how dastardly or noble your motivations or deeds.   Stay tuned.

Lady Gaga – “Monster”

Goy to the World

It’s officially holiday season and from now until New Year’s Eve life is officially a Christmas cookie cutter Hallmark TV movie and we’re all its willing and unwilling viewers.

Just try to scroll or flip or surf in the next five weeks and NOT land on one of them. For the Hallmark brand is no longer solely on the Hallmark channel.  It’s now an official genre – more of a template, really – that’s migrated to Lifetime and Hulu and Netflix and pretty much EVERY other network, cable and streaming platform out there.

Me, 10 minutes after Thanksgiving

You know what this is even as you DENY you would EVER watch one or HAVE EVER seen one because you are just THAT cool:

– A type A career person returns to their hometown around the holidays and meets the more rugged or relaxed person of their dreams

– A big city person reluctantly finds themselves trapped in the country for a few days and Cupid’s arrow strikes as they help resurrect a dying business, usually involving decorations, party planning, hospitality, a needy relative or a tree

TINSEL FIGHTS!

– A recent widow or widower, or happily divorced or unhappily engaged person, is forced to re-engage in a job with someone they initially loathe as sparks fly.  Then, as a result, they wind up getting over the bad partner or the hurt, though not without a few serious yet not too deep, i.e. truly humanly unrecognizable, complications.

Of course, these are only a mere sampling.  There are also the ones where:

– An ordinary guy or gal meet cute with someone who turns out to be a Royal or a celebrity or a mega-gazillionaire they have somehow never heard of or at least fail to recognize.   

And probably Candace Cameron Bure

Or the others  that feature  —

– A non-threatening but engaging person with an” issue” who travels to be with their family around Christmas and somehow and in some way, find their worst childhood trauma getting resolved in less than two hours by staying in a house that would make Martha Stewart go crazy with jealousy and run out to get stoned with Snoop Dog were she not already doing so.

Of course, more than one of these plots can or might be contained in a single episode.  In fact, as a viewer, one only hopes that as many of these tropes as possible be shoved into the narrative.  It’s part of the lure for not only hate-watchers but genre appreciators alike.

Also coats… so many beautiful coats.

And I know this because:

I AM THE CHAIR and I LOVE A GREAT/BAD OR ANYTHING IN BETWEEN HALLMARK MOVIE.

And since I love you so much, here is a list of the new ones available to keep you busy for the rest of 2020 on those days when things WILL inevitably get tough.

It would seem as if a Jewish gay guy like me would be loath to confess his fascination with a large swath of films in which he or his ilk seldom, if ever, appears.  I mean, there’s as much chance of someone like me showing up for the holidays at one of these places as there is of, well – me showing up for the holidays at one of these places.

I’m on my way

Yet ever since my folks brought the young me to my first Broadway musical in the late 1960s and I heard Angela Lansbury sing We Need A Little Christmas in Mame, none of that mattered.  The sparkle from the tinsel and the colors of the tree lights (Note: Yeah and the spotlights) onstage were exciting and fun and EVERYTHING my family and me NEVER experienced in December but that I so, so, SOOO wanted to that I was hooked.

Thus I, and I suspect many non-Christian Hallmark fans, don’t ever associate anything about these movies or shows with the birthday of a historical or even vaguely religious figure. 

Ain’t nothin’ meek about this

Instead, they are candy cane fantasies delivering us from our humdrum holiday realities with dazzle and glamour and impossibly delicious deserts.  And they do this with characters and food and fashion so ridiculously out-of-our world that we can actually safely LOVE laughing AT their ridiculous simplicity as much as we will DENY ever shedding  a tear when somehow their one huge fake life problem finally manages to work itself out.

Which begs the question of how quickly and completely every single one of these characters is even able to find true love in the end.  I mean, you could do an entire network or web channel series of sequels to each of these films where you revisit the couple several years later and unleash all the dirty little secrets of just how happy or, likely, unhappy their films’ endings truly wound up being.

How am I not wildly rich?

This is why as a writer I could never, ever EVER get hired to write one of these, as much as it would certainly be fun.  I’d keep insisting things like:

-But um, who acts like that? 

-What town is this? 

-Who are these people and why don’t they tell their f’n families off instead of allowing them to pressure them that way?

OR –

Leave N.Y. or L.A. to run a bed and breakfast or family bookstore with the most boring person in the world?  Are they KIDDING?  I don’t care how good-looking they are!  

OK, but I bet the wifi is terrible

Of course, when I voiced one or all of these to my husband as we watched Hulu’s Happiest Season, the first genre movie of this kind to center on a gay couple, one of whom was played by our own openly gay star Kristen Stewart, he rolled his eyes and replied to me:

Settle down, Rossellini.  This isn’t Italy in the 1940s.  They don’t live in your world.

True.. but brutal

Well, I’ll say.  In my world, Kristen Stewart would NEVER have put up with the crap her closeted girlfriend was putting her through with her quasi-TV conservative parents played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber (Note: The latter of whom is openly gay in real life), forcing her into pretending she was nothing more than her orphaned roommate from the big city desperate for a place in WASP nirvana.

Instead,  she would’ve left her for her closeted girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend from high school that also happened to be visiting their hometown for that weekend.  That gal, now a doctor who lives and works in New York City, is actually a much better match and is played by the wonderfully snide and sassy Aubrey Plaza. 

I want a movie about them just for the suits alone

Forget that Kristen already had sassy and snide covered with her on-screen best friend, played by our current male gay du jour Dan Levy.  A life with those two A-list queers could cover enough snide AND sassy to get me through each Christmas as well as EVERY OTHER  holiday season for the rest of the twelve lifetimes I plan to live over the next 958 years.

But alas, life is NOT a Hallmark film, real or reimagined.  I suppose this is why I will now and probably forever keep watching them.  The only way to get through life, real or imagined, is to willfully and completely soldier on, especially through the chafe, ever hopeful that one day we will stumble on to the imperfectly perfect mix of our own concoction.

Barbra Streisand – “Jingle Bells”