I’ve gotten some really good responses to my review of the Byrne appearance on November 6, 2013. In light of his interview with Michael Desbarres from Thanksgiving that posted today, I thought my post to one of the readers’ responses to my essay would be an excellent read here on my own blog. The response to his interview is my last response, but do read my previous responses. They fit like a glove. Sorry readers–I’m not a fan, so no pictures.
Nov 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM
I have read this review several times because it gives me so many thoughts and I can learn so much from this text. But I think it is difficult to say something about it. To me it is very wise words that Turpin asked for more diversity among the males that were on this event, and that she hopes Gabriel will write more and share more with us.
I am very grateful to Turpin who gave me many things to think about!
• ￼ Cherie Ann Turpin Nov 16, 2013 at 2:25 PM Thank you, Nora. I came away from the program with a determination to discuss Byrne and NarrativeFour’s efforts as good starting points, efforts that need helpful feedback for future endeavors. If we can come away from such an event with ideas for those teachable moments, then we are inspired to continue to do the Good Work. Sharing ourselves and seeing ourselves as one big collective committed to mutual joy and social justice continues to help all of us!
Cherie Ann Turpin
Nov 26, 2013 at 9:14 PM
Celebrity: clearly not a new concept in Western civilization, but one that overlaps with many of our cherished social institutions, and tends to do two things: keeps us spending money as consumers, and keeps us pacified and distracted from the ugliness of our socioeconomic disenfranchisement.
When you are a celebrity, your name becomes a brand, and suddenly your mere presence in a coffee shop or boutique becomes an endorsement. That’s why you see people like Paris Hilton and Snooki doing paid appearances at clubs, why you see rappers like Jay-Z stamping their name on overpriced goods, and why you see weight management companies sponsoring weight loss programs for overweight celebrities. In other words, celebrity culture is selling something. Being a celebrity does not make you an artist or even talented.
So what happens to that talented artist or writer who happens to be a celebrity?
Being an artist or writer who happens to be a celebrity can complicate the best intentions in his or her efforts to connect with the audience beyond the constraints of celebrity image. Sometimes, the audience isn’t really paying attention to the work being done on that stage–they are distracted by the fantasy of their icon playing in their heads, using the live appearance of their object of worship to confirm that the fantasy must be real, that he or she will sweep them off their feet and take them away from their boring lives.
So much for celebrity culture.
I do not envy anyone living in that fishbowl, least of all that artist or writer seeking to push at the edges to present some ideas, images, concepts that disrupt social order or at least make some of us uncomfortable.
But even “celebrity” can be turned on its head, subverted, turned upside down for the sake of art–and for social justice. It’s up to the audience to see it, to be something other than a passive consumer of mental junk food. One must begin to challenge and question what one is being asked to consume. For those of us who work in humanities’ fields of academia, it’s difficult to “turn off” that way of looking at media and art, but I am a believer in empowering those who are not professional intellectuals to become a much more discerning audience that questions and interrogates, i.e., becoming resisting readers. I’m hoping readers of this response thread can discern between appreciating Gabriel Byrne’s work as an artist and writer and consuming his celebrity image as some sort of deity incapable of imperfection or flaws.
￼ Cherie Ann Turpin
Nov 26, 2013 at 9:24 PM
And just to clarify, I don’t necessarily believe Gabriel Byrne has to either be a writer or an actor. One can do both. I’ve actually heard some people say the same thing about academics, as if one cannot do research and publish critical essays and books while writing and publishing poetry and novels. It’s not easy, but I don’t get the sense that Byrne is confused by chewing gum while peddling a bike. I suppose one would have ask him why he hasn’t published much over the last few years. Ralph Ellison published Invisible Man, along with some smaller works, while sitting on Juneteenth for the remainder of his life. Toni Morrison waited till midlife to publish her masterpieces.
My critique was not to discourage or admonish, but to encourage. Byrne appears to be a man with stories that need to be told. If not now, then when? Only he can answer that question, but let’s hope the answer is soon.
Nov 27, 2013 at 5:18 AM
I think that how we treat celebrities in our society and in our minds are very interesting questions to think about. Celebrities are very different and that are we as individuals too. Some celebrities as murderes and some are heroes. They have special qualities, bad or good or both. I am glad that Turpin write about it here. Because as a Byrneholic I am certainly interested in a celebrity: Gabriel Byrne.
Why? Do I see him as a handsome hero and do I like to think about him as in a romantic movie or in a dream? Yes, I do.
Do I see him as a normal human being that have both good and bad things in his personality. Yes, I try to.
So I try to combine the two things inside my mind. Sometimes I let the unrealistic dream take me away and make me smile and feel good. And other times I smile at myself and remind myself of the real world.
Thank you Turpin, for writing about this topic here!
• ￼ Cherie Ann Turpin Dec 1, 2013 at 6:46 PM Hi Nora, Thanks for taking the time to discuss some of the points of my review. Anyone can be a celebrity, but not all of us can be artists. That being said, I don’t see celebrities as being different from the rest of us, and in fact, are often star struck by other celebrities they see as their rivals or “betters.” To me, celebrity culture is about marketing, selling products, brand names, and/or a political belief. Politicians have had a long history of using the faces and names of famous people to gain inroads on possible voters, or sometimes to promote a particular stance on a controversial issue. As we are right around the corner from the 2014 Congressional and 2016 Presidential elections, I expect to see the usual celebrity donors opening their doors to other VIPs and lobbyists to raise the billions of dollars needed to fund these campaigns. Of course, you’re probably like “what does any of this have to do with Gabriel Byrne?” Indeed, why talk about “marketing” and selling stuff in the same sentence? When it comes to celebrity, the name “Gabriel Byrne” as a brand is not the same as a person who happens to carry that name. As such, his personality, quirks, attributes, needs, flaws as a human being are not discernible to the public. The only people with access to Gabriel Byrne as a flesh and blood person are those who he deems to be relevant to his existence as a “real” human being. Everything else is either image or artistic output. As such, my review of his work is not a judgment or reflection on his personal issues, the quality of his character as a sentient being, or his soul/spirit. I focus on the product of an artist who uses the brand name “Gabriel Byrne.” Stripped down to these basics, I guess you could say that I look at “Gabriel Byrne” with academic eyes, and as a result, tend to see something different from the romanticized image of him or the characters he plays in film, TV, and on stage. While you may see him as emblematic of the strong, virile hero who comforts and dominates you, I see him as “embodying” an image based on heteronormative ideals of masculinity that continue to prevail in our collective Western cultures as a hot selling point—the leading man who has all the answers and whose voice overpowers/overwhelms the masses. It works for you because you (and I, and everyone else reading this response, including Gabriel Byrne) have been socialized to believe in those who represent this archetype. Otherwise, patriarchy would have faded into the wind long ago. I believe that men are just as caught up and trapped by this myth as are women: can you imagine what it must be like to live up to this impossible ideal? We already know what it’s like to live under the oppressive ideals of woman as submissive sex object, as well as woman as “angel of the house,” aka “cult of true womanhood” aka “Cult of Mary.” Maybe it’s time to unravel the male hero/perfect celebrity/leading man archetypes as an audience, instead of leaving it to us academics to do it in books and articles the masses won’t read. Check out bell hooks’ essay “The Oppositional Gaze” to get a better understanding of where I’m going with this discussion: http://www.umass.edu/afroam/downloads/reading14.pdf I would like to also note that many of the films (and the TV show In Treatment) Byrne has completed within the last 10-12 years begs an audience that is active in its reception of the work on screen, as opposed to an audience that simply imposes a romanticized notion of Byrne. That includes Just a Sigh. I guess that means it’s time to finish writing my review of the film. I guarantee my take on it won’t please the romantics in the room. Keep doing you, Nora—you inspired me to type much more than I expected tonight.
Dec 4, 2013 at 7:28 PM
Turpin wrote that she is looking at Gabriel with academic eyes. I appreciate that very much, because my eyes are not very academic and when it concerns Gabriel my sense often gets carried away with engagement and emotions.
Turpin wrote: Maybe it’s time to unravel the male hero/perfect celebrity/leading man archetypes as an audience, instead of leaving it to us academics to do it in books and articles the masses won’t read.
Then I have to admit that I like the old archetypes a little. Maybe I am old fashioned? People often divide the world and people who live in it in boxes, and things will be black and white, or square or round. But maybe it is easier to understand the world with boxes? For what do we have without boxes? Many questions and no answers?
I think we need the academic people to help us put things in perspective, and to teach us to question things.
So I like the archetypes and the boxes, it feels comfortable to me, but on the other side it is challenging with questions and new ways of thinking too.
So thanks again to Turpin for making me think about things like celebrities and archetypes.
￼ Cherie Ann Turpin
Dec 6, 2013 at 12:06 AM
Thanks for writing back. If you haven’t listened to Gabriel Byrne’s interview with his friend Michael Desbarres, I think you should. And then, rethink the whole concept of celebrity and fan culture, and remember what I said earlier about marketing and branding. Then ask yourself what exactly are you are consuming.
Nothing he said was particularly surprising. Then again, we are living in a post-Kanye West/Lindsay Lohan/Charlie Sheen world, culturally where we are sometimes bombarded with what some would describe as surreal responses to our collective existence in the virtual world.
No one knows why he trivialized his own audience by referring to women as “rabid female fans,” an admittedly questionable and incredibly sexist comment on his part. No one likes losing their privacy to fame, and he’s no exception to that–and here’s the real deal–his fans are not his friends or family. The only people who “know” Gabriel Byrne the human being are those he chooses as his “friends” and his family. While some celebrities, like Mo’nique (who clearly stated recently in a radio interview (Hot 97 in NYC) that respects her audience and feels a spiritual connection to them), work very hard to connect with those who appreciate their art, others see the audience as at best passive consumers of the products they produce and at worst, as irritants. One really cannot take that stance personally. It’s the nature of the business of entertainment. On the other hand, it begs the question as to why one should possess an emotional investment in strangers on stage.
That’s the problem with holding onto boxes and archetypes like the hero on the white horse–they don’t exist in the real world.
There are no heroes, at least not the ones popular media would like us to believe in existing, and as women in the 21st century, it is important that we the audience question and challenge what we are being asked to consume at the expense of our ability to be seen and heard as equals to men. To put it bluntly, we must challenge the ways in which the dominant ideological framework that produces these boxes (that you see as comforting) socialize women into worshiping male celebrities who do not respect them.
For some, it is difficult to let go of the fantastic and look at the reality because it means seeing the ugly, seeing the brutal, seeing the harsh ground of the real. I am very certain that many of your fellow fans listened to that interview and felt reaffirmed in what they believe to be a validation of their fandom. On the other hand, it confirmed for me the importance of not becoming a “fan” so to speak, when looking at an artist who lives in the public eye. It also confirmed why it was important to post something that challenges fan culture and the worship of celebrities in the midst of a fansite.
Some of you reading this post will find my words uncomfortable or perhaps offensive, but you do need to question yourselves as to why you worship celebrities, why you consume their products, and most of why you tolerate trivialization of the part you play as an audience member.
Do read the bell hooks essay, and do consider the possibility of empowering yourself with an “oppositional gaze,” one that may indeed lead you to rethink how you invest in those “boxes,” including that box named “fan.” Fan, or fanatic, means you don’t see the cracks in the public facade, means you don’t see when someone you’ve worshiped has decided to spit in your drink while smiling at you, means you haven’t noticed that the archetypes you depend upon as sources of comfort oppress you.
As an intellectual, I encourage you to enjoy his movies and his live performances, but I also encourage you to make a radical move from “fan worship” to “oppositional gaze,” one that made me a much more discerning audience member back on November 6.
Be appreciative of Byrne’s honesty in his assessment of “rabid female fans” as an opportunity to reassess popular culture as a whole. Think of it as a call for liberation from the bondage of fandom. An informed and empowered consumer is less likely to become entangled in the limits of fan culture, and as such, appreciate the art while challenging the limits of elitist and sexist attitudes encouraged by the dominant ideological paradigm that uses celebrity culture to blind you to your own oppression.
Thank you, Nora, for responding. I hope you will read this response as one sister to another using this forum to encourage you to open your eyes to the real.