Crying in a Cubicle
I was crying in a cubicle in the interdisciplinary office space of the Walker building at Emerson College—overwhelmed by stress and a sense of helplessness. My mind was clouded with dread, anticipating the eventual thesis paper that I would need to complete by the end of the semester. I had been thinking about writing it for a long time, before it was even confirmed that I would have to write one. I knew about this course-required paper after applying to the Honors Program, and was anxious about it from the jump. I found myself talking about it way too much—especially when the acceptance letter came in.
As a young woman growing up in an ever-changing pop culture society, I found myself to be most interested in writing about celebrities. Why? I mean, I think there’s a general societal interest in that lifestyle, for one reason or another. I just happened to be curious about the effects of its evolution—the celebrity’s purpose in American culture. It started as a broad idea that would—once thoroughly researched— develop into a specific, refined thesis paper that would have left me asking, “Who wrote this?” had I still been a senior in high school.
As I sat in the office feeling helpless and honestly like I was coming down with a cold, my professor gave me the best advice. First, I needed to chill out. She said the fact that I was thinking about it so much already meant I was ahead of the game, I just needed to prioritize my health and try not to stress too much. Second, I needed to go to the library and start reading, asking myself, “What do I find interesting about this celebrity business?” With these suggestions in mind, I felt more confident about my researching capabilities.
As a young girl, I always remember seeing magazines in the grocery store checkout line—famous women on the covers and bright yellow headlines “calling out” the celebs for an “imperfect” moment on the beach or an “emotional outburst.” Having this memory ingrained in my mind, my idea evolved into a study of the dehumanization of the female celebrity, and the effects this public humiliation has on their careers, especially in the digital age where the famous have more direct contact with their fans.
Prior to the start of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, magazines and tabloids were the closest thing to a “direct line of communication” between the celebrity and the consumer. Obviously, this led to a lot of miscommunication and gave too much power to publishers, who were simply looking for more people to pick up their magazines. For example, Britney Spears is one of the pop stars who suffered most from this defamation, yet she had no way to change the narrative that had been written about her. She was cast as a young singer “gone wild” rather than a person in need of help. The following article explains that there has been a “cultural shift” since Britney’s 2007 shaved head scandal—there is more “normalizing” surrounding mental health issues. https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/09/britney-spears-2007-anniversary
Now, with social media, we see more celebrities publicly “accepting themselves” for who they are—fighting back against negative articles.
“The Inquistr posted the above article entitled “Selena Gomez Hot Or Hefty? See New Bikini Pics From Her Vacation In Mexico” which was published on April 16, 2015 to “expose '' Selena's natural body without retouching. She was later interviewed about these photos on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and said, “I don’t want them to win...everybody thinks they can bring me down and so my immediate response was I’m going to post a picture and I’m like ‘I’m happy with me y’all...that was going to be the story the next day.” The photo to the right of the article was Gomez’s retaliation against the media. She captioned it “I love being happy with me yall #theresmoretolove [insert laughing emoji]” Selena rebuts the haters, expressing comfort in her own skin and the capability to reverse the narrative.” (Me, page 5)
Today, this is commonplace. But at the start of social media, a post like this definitely had a great impact on our perception of the media and tabloids. They were no longer deemed the most reliable source—especially when we can see and hear from the celebrities themselves!
Due to this switching of the narrative, many positive changes have been made in how famous women are treated. However, Guy Debord tells us in Society of the Spectacle that it is important to remain critical of the famous. Our position as “the follower” creates an inequity of power—we remain the consumer in the celebrity-fan relationship. So, we have to be aware that celebrities want us on their side for financial gain, even when it may seem like they are being “authentic” for moral purposes.
“And by developing this self-consciousness, it will create stronger young women, who know not to look toward the female celebrity for guidance on how to accept their body image.”
(Me, the last sentence of the 15 pages)
Looking back, I can honestly say now that I’m glad I cried that day in the interdisciplinary office. If I hadn’t, my professor wouldn’t have given me the advice to go read and formulate my own opinions. That was one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences—being able to develop my own perspective by comparing it to those who had written about all this pop culture nonsense before me. It made for one very original piece that I know I’ll be proud of (hopefully) for the rest of my life. So go ahead and cry about life’s challenges and get super stressed out, but don’t do that for too long. Reach out to someone who has been there before and can give you some good advice on how to move forward. Then you’ll be able to handle whatever comes at you, especially a really lengthy thesis.
read more about Noelle here