Kylie Jenner has a confession: “People think that since we have a reality TV show and I show so much of my life that they know who I am. But on Snapchat I show people what I think they want to see.”
Okay I’m actually writing about a Jenner/Kardashian. Time to start looking for that Fourth Horseman.
But seriously, I thought what she had to say in the recent issue of Allure magazine (my bible, in case you’re wondering) was very relevant to all celebrities, not just those we’re sick of.
Jenner says—surprise, surprise—most of her glamorous life is made up, and that the image she puts forth on all the social media sites is “a projected image. A brand.”
She explains why: “I usually don’t show my true personality to the world, because when you open yourself up so much, there’s more room for people to say things about you.”
Welsey Shaw could relate. The notoriously reclusive star of my novel avoids letting people into her life because for the famous, privacy is the one thing they cannot buy, and at the same time the most valuable commodity.
Some celebs build up a phony social media presence, like the Jenners and Kardashians. Some avoid it all together, like Claire Danes and Jennifer Lawrence. “We work so hard to maintain some sort of life and privacy, why would we intentionally put ourselves out there?” says another Jennifer—Aniston this time.
Back to Kylie.”I can’t remember what it’s like not to be famous. So I’m able to appreciate what true happiness is all about,” she insists. That quote could have come from Welsey Shaw. In another interview, from February, she says she’d like to move out of the spotlight, as Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow and so many others have. “I want to be a businesswoman,” she says in another recent interview, “and be behind the scenes. Kylie Jenner needs to retire.”
“People think that because we have a reality TV show that they know everything, but it’s like, I’m not filming right now. That’s maybe 5 percent out of my day.”
This last quote made me think of two movies, one recent and well-known, the other older and obscure. The well-known one is The Truman Show, which had the character Truman Burbank living in a round-the-clock reality show that he thought was his real life. The movie came out just before the deluge of TV shows depicting unscripted people began to appear, and remains astonishingly prescient.
The other, older movie is called Real Life, and it was made by Albert Brooks in 1979. Like most of Brooks’ work, it has slid into obscurity, which is too bad, because it’s brilliant.
The movie is about a TV filmmaker who wants to film a Phoenix family in their everyday life. But he soon discovers that this is pretty dull, so he starts tampering with reality. This raised a question back in 1979 that people in more modern times seem to have forgotten or not realized: how do you portray your intimate “reality,” whatever that is, with a camera operator inches from your nose? The mere presence of a film crew alters how you act, what you do, whether you realize it or not. And there’s no doubt reality shows are heavily tampered with—ever notice how every episode of Masterchef or Undercover Boss follows pretty much the same structure? Brooks knew back in the 1970s that when a camera intrudes, “reality” goes out the window, and we start posing, no matter how much we might think we’re being “natural.”
And eventually it must get wearying. I really, truly believe Kylie Jenner when she says she’s sick of this facade, and wants to chuck it. But so many are drawn to it because it empowers while not really requiring any particular talents. It’s the classic Faustian bargain—give me your soul and I’ll give you whatever “riches” you want. But after a while, many decide they want to take those souls back. After all, there’s always a fresh supply.
No one has ever accomplished what Kim Kardashian has. Paris Hilton, her ex-BFF, failed. Even Brenda Frazier, that darling socialite from the 1930s, pales in comparison.
Kim Kardashian has made an empire out of being famous for no reason at all. Just as Seinfeld was the show about nothing, Kim and the other Kardashians/Jenners are the family about nothing. In an era where there’s tremendous resentment for “the 1 percent” and their lavish lifestyle, Kim and the rest of the family are raptly followed as they career from one shopping trip or expensive lunch to another and take endless selfies that flood the Internet. Apparently it’s okay to be shallow and materialistic if you’re cool and stylish.
Kimmie’s latest bid to keep her fame going is a computer program, or app, as they call them today, that lets you live her lifestyle virtually, doing the things she does and buying the things she buys, as you try to duplicate her feat of rising up from nobody to A-lister. Don’t ask me how someone who has done nothing can be an A-lister, but she is.
So in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, you travel through malls and buy virtual merchandise, go to bars to network or flirt, and attend Hollywood galas. Interestingly, this sounds very much like another virtual game that was developed years ago, The Sims, except that sims were ordinary people, though there were version of the game where they could attempt stardom in ways very similar to this game.
The Kim Kardashian: Hollywood download is free. But once you have it, to do anything you must buy her “virtual” bucks with your real ones. I’d rather use my real money to buy real goods in the real world, but that’s just silly me.
The game is a smash hit, to put it mildly. CNN reports it’s grossing $700,000 a day. Analysts estimate K-squared will make more money from it—she keeps an estimated 50% of the take—than she would from being in a megasmash movie, all for far less work. And when the game temporarily stopped functioning one day recently, her fanbase went crazy because they could not get their Kimmie fix. Some tweets were, “This Kim Kardashian Hollywood game isn’t working during my 24 hour photo shoot. I’m not tryna miss out on money & fans for this..” and, “F*** THE KIM KARDASHIAN GAME, I CAN’T EVEN GET PASSED THE SH**** A** LOAD SCREEN.”
Recently Kimmie went on The Today Show, where Matt Lauer softballed her with questions about the “dangers” of the game. Her response: “You just have to make sure that your parental controls are all set. I just think you have to be responsible, and don’t have your credit card linked to where your kid can just spend if they want.”
Phew, I’m glad she set that straight.
In a way I can’t blame her. She’s responding to a need; if she didn’t do this someone else would. (Imagine The Charlie Sheen Hollywood Game for just a second. The head explodes…) What’s fascinating (and horrifying) is how so many people would rather led a pretend life than a real one, and make the real life of someone else the sort of life that they’d like theirs to be by paying them real money for fake experiences.
The CEO of the company that makes the game says, “Whether you’re following Kim on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or watching her show, with this game, you can play all the time. You can get your Kim interaction anytime you choose.”
Isn’t modern technology wonderful?
Of the game’s runaway success the CEO opined, “We’re not surprised. Kim is a one-of-a-kind talent…” That sounds cynical, but on second thought maybe it’s not. Or perhaps it’s her mother who is the talent: she took someone who does absolutely nothing and turned her into an ATM with booty. Recently Harvey Levin of TMZ wanted to know if he could do the same thing with a family of unknowns that Kris Jenner had done with her clan. He created his own reality show, Famous in Twelve, which alas was cancelled by the CW after fewer than half its episodes ran, because apparently people weren’t as interested in Harvey’s reality-TV family as they are in Kris’ even though Harvey used his own TMZ show to hype it every night. Score: Kris 1, Harvey 0.
There’s one ironic aspect to all this, for me at least. There’s a scene in Entertaining Welsey Shaw where Welsey, her agent and some PR people all sit down to plot her career, which is in a gradual free-fall. They throw around ideas to get attention re-focused on her, to get her favorable treatment in the media, to promote her “brand,” and so on. One of the ideas I originally had was a real-time video game of her life, where players could see what she sees and do what she does.
I eventually killed that part of the scene, deciding it was too ridiculous even for something that was supposed to be part social commentary.
After reading about the Kardashian game, I put it back in. As Paddy Chayefsky (or was it Jerzy Kosiński?) observed, satire is now impossible. Or as Lily Tomlin (or was it Fran Lebowitz?) once said, no matter how cynical I get, I can’t seem to keep up. Fran Lebowitz probably never met Kim Kardashian.
How would you like to have Snoop Dogg say hello for you on your answering machine?
Or send your friends a celebrity greeting from Kendall Jenner? Birthday or anniversary wishes from James Stewart? (The motorcross racer, not the movie star.)
I wouldn’t either, but it’s a new and perhaps not-surprising trend being marketed by several companies, such as this one. In this day of digital files it’s a pretty simple idea, and I’m surprised it isn’t more wide-spread: getting celebrities to customize greetings or messages from you, mentioning your name, acting as though they’re hanging with you. I’d expect to hear the voices of Morgan Freeman (“You’ve reached Kevin’s answering machine. But Kevin is out somewhere, we don’t know where or when he’ll return. Some bids are not meant to be caged. Their feathers are too bright…”) or Gwyneth Paltrow (“Hi, you’ve reached Gwynnie, but I’m busy cooking with celebrity chef Mario Batali right now, so leave a macrobiotic message and I’ll call you when I’m finished redecorating the spare room in my fabulous New York apartment.”)
However, neither of those celebrities is part of the website. In fact, I think it’s a stretch to call a lot of these people (University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, rapper Ice-T, Real Housewives of Atlanta star Phaedra Parks, television “personality” Coco) honest celebrities at all. And there are a lot of stale or fallen celebs, such as Catherine Bach from The Dukes of Hazard and disgraced baseball star Pete Rose, whom I’ve blogged about before, incredibly. And of course, there are a couple of Jenners/Kardashians, because, well, there always seem to be Jenners/Kardashians.
But you can get messages from the likes of Justin Bieber, who was a genuine celebrity even before he started making orange the new black. I imagine a greeting from him might go like, “Yo, this is the Beebs, answering Jim’s machine because they paid me lots of money to. Jim’s not here, but give me your number and I’ll call back and spit on you.” Actually, though, you can just click on the sound samples to hear some possible messages.
I wonder what the turn-around is for these things (they are supposedly customized). I also wonder how many people on the receiving end will just assume it’s a celebrity impersonator and not be all that impressed. Many years ago, back in the early 90s, I misdialed a number and got someone doing a perfect Jack Nicholson on their machine. It was so impressive I remembered the number and would call back once in a while just for a laugh. (The guy never seemed to be home.)
It’s amazing the hold celebrities have on people that they would want one to talk on their voicemail, especially since most of them don’t leave particularly amusing or funny messages, judging by the samples. I also wonder why anyone would be impressed at this point by Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber to pay money for their voice, even if it’s only four bucks per recording. As for some of the others…well, Dr. Phil? I think anyone who wants some of these people on their answering machine needs someone like Dr. Phil. But a real doctor. Not a celebrity. Just my opinion, and what do I know? I don’t even have my own voice greeting on my phone. I just kept the generic one that came with the machine, which has all the personality of, well, a machine: Hel-lo. Leave a mes-sage at the tone—BEEEEEP.
My heroine Welsey has a fear of public places. It’s hard to blame her. It must be hard for famous stars to step out into the world with the safety and the anonymity you and I take for granted.
Many stars really have this. It’s one reason some don’t appear without an entourage even to get a Frappuchino at Starbucks. (Another is, of course, ego.) Every time they go out, people invade their space, take pictures without asking (and then slam them if they have a hair out of place or are having a bad day) and in general make what you and I would call a normal life impossible for them. Think of it: Angelina Jolie cannot go into a bakery and order a birthday cake. You can.
Of course, Angelina Jolie can fly on a private jet to anyplace on earth at virtually a moment’s notice. You can’t.
And that’s part of the point of the novel. It’s a trade-off, one most of us think we’d be more than happy to make. Sure I can deal with some annoying paparazzi if I can jet to Paris and Milan and the Riviera. I’ll take that trade.
But it may not be as easy as it appears. The paps follow you everywhere and to avoid them you have to live in a bubble. Is it any wonder a lot of stars aren’t very well-balanced?
Fans are no better. Technically they’re called fans, but given the chance, many would steal a star’s cell phone to go through it, or invade their privacy any way they can. Many have an “I-made-you-so-I-should-have-a-piece-of-you” attitude. Few are interested in the star as a person. They delight in watching both the rise and the fall.
Sylvester Stalone once told Roger Ebert that after Rocky, whenever someone tapped him on the shoulder his hand balled up into a fist. Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman tells of walking on the beach with Cliff Robertson when a fan came out of nowhere and started addressing the actor as though they were familiar friends. Robertson became distant and defensive and later told Ebert he was at a perpetual disadvantage when he was in public because “they” knew who he was but he didn’t know them. Michael Caine, in another story told by Ebert, was badgered by a “fan” who kept asking him some silly trivia question just to get to talk to him.
Stars never know if the conversation is going to be followed by a punch, an attack, an embarrassing photo, or what. And in this age of Facebook, Twitter, et al, it’s worse than ever.
Of course some seem to court celebrity. The Salahis and Kardashians and Paris and Nicky Hiltons of the world can’t seem to get enough flashbulb retina burn. I have a feeling they enjoy paps “ruining” their nights out, ambushing them after meals and pressing their lenses into the tinted limousine windows. It makes them feel important, the way checking one’s cell phone used to make some people feel important before everyone over the age of 12 got their own cell phone.
Maybe those idiots don’t know what they’re getting into. I wonder how many people really enjoy the sort of “attention” illustrated in these two videos:
Some stars know how to handle paps well. Katherine Heigl is just amazing at this, as these two samples illustrate. She actually seems to enjoy interacting with the paparazzi:
Notice how in the second video she actually gets the paps working for her. And in the first she calls the pap “doll.” Smooth she is.
Few people hate the paps more, however, than Julia. The pretty woman has a fiery redhead’s temper.
But seriously, imagine trying to live day-in and day-out in this kind of world:
(I like the street guy who comes to her “rescue.”)
This is what the Salahis and Kardashians of the world seem to want. Do they know what they’re getting into?
Maybe Kate and Sienna should sit down with them and have a talk…