a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Monetizing celebrity

goodie bags

Kate Hudson. Gwyneth Paltrow. Jessica Alba. Zooey Deschanel. Madonna. Jennifer Lopez. Eva Longoria. Sarah Jessica Parker. Blake Lively. Reese Witherspoon. They’re all business people more than actors now. They’re “brands.” Telling us how to live.

What happened to acting?

Well, in a way you can’t blame them. There’s a paucity of decent movie rolls today, especially for women. If you’re not willing to put on a superhero costume and fly against a green screen there are only a few movies per year you can be in. And Meryl Streep gets them all.

So what can you do? Many of today’s actresses, who like to keep the money rolling in, decided they’d move into merchandising. They’re a personification of Bloomingdales and Saks. And they all have such interesting stories to tell about how they got there. The “personal journey” is a prerequisite, and it’s usually spiritual in some way.

In 2008, the story goes, Jessica Alba was newly engaged to appropriately-named Internet entrepreneur Cash Warren and pregnant with their first child. At a baby shower thrown by family and friends, she remembers her mother advising her to use baby detergent to prewash the piles of onesies she’d received as gifts. She broke out into ugly red welts prewashing onesies she’d received as gifts, she says. So she was moved to create a company that made detergents that didn’t turn her into a scream queen from a B-movie thriller. She was concerned there wasn’t enough natural stuff in the world that would be safe for her kids, so she started a billion dollar company to change it.

They all seem to have stories as to why they’re embracing the art of the sell. The products already out there weren’t good enough. Usually they aren’t “all natural,” though Alba’s been battling allegations their products are both ineffective and not as “pure” as advertised. Even Gwynnie may have taken a shot at Alba on her GOOP page.  Sometimes, too, the sites are accused of scamming their customers.

All this time I’m wishing they were as busy acting up a storm onscreen as off. Really, do we need more natural beauty products, artisanal soaps and skin-cleansing candle scents? No. We need more great pictures at Oscar time. But it’s probably easier for these celebrities to get funding for fragrances and shampoos and diapers than for movies.

Why am I so skeptical? Just go to Alba’s site, for one. It tries to extract personal information from you and get you to sign up and start paying money before you even know what the site was about. I spent just a few minutes looking around and the damned page would not stop trying to “convert” me, to use an industry term.

I wonder how Paltrow decides which stuff gets her nod. I know it’s supposed to be what she likes, but I can’t believe she has the time to try everything. Her site has gone from a small personal blog that recommended experiences she claimed to endorse to something almost rivaling Saks Fifth Avenue.

Of course Oprah is where this started. And it’s just getting bigger every year, while the movie roles for serious actors get smaller and smaller while their desire for fame and celebrity increase exponentially, in a society that’s overloaded with celebrity. Many of these people announced at one time or another that they were starting their own production companies to create their own projects to star in, but with most of them that hasn’t had much traction. So I guess raw, unbridled commerce may be the only alternative to disappearing from the public eye—which some have actually chosen to do instead.

And for others, maybe being a lifestyle guru is just easy money.

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