Are we already hatha-hating J-Law?
THE LIFE CYCLE OF AN ‘IT’ GIRL IS SHORTER THAN EVER: WHY DO WE REVEL IN CHAMPIONING AND THEN TEARING DOWN FEMALE CELEBRITIES?
crows rise in frightened flocks; on a distant horizon, the ominous building of cumulous clouds… Can you hear it? Can you feel it? The Jennifer Lawrence backlash is approaching. If you’re sensitive to the dynamics of pop culture, you might have had an inkling for a while now that this was on its way. All the way back to early 2013 (another world!), when she was on the cover of Time’s ‘100 most influential people’ issue, after winning the best actress Oscar for what was essentially a role in a rom-com. Back when her every eye-roll was transformed into a doting GIF or video or meme, and CNN sent out a breaking-news alert when she cut her hair, and it seemed impossible for her to do any wrong. Did J-Law just say acting’s stupid? I love her! Did J-Law just fall over? I love her! Did J-Law just say she’s been sh*tting in her pants? I love her! What a goofball! And she’s so real, you know.
Oh man, looking back, no part of it seemed built to last. ‘Area Woman Has No Idea She Will Hate Jennifer Lawrence 7 Years From Now,’ a headline in the spoof newspaper The Onion read last year. The only thing they got wrong was the time frame. Seven years is now an aeon for an ‘It’ girl: that’s the kind of lengthy run ‘It’ girls had back in the Eighties and Nineties, when they were called ‘sweethearts’ and we still had attention spans. Nowadays, boy oh boy: We eat ‘It’ girls for breakfast. Our cars run on ‘It’ girl fuel. We use ‘It’ girls for insulation because they’re safer than asbestos. Our collective appetite has become so voracious that it’s exposed inadequacies in our language: we desperately need a past tense for ‘It’ girl. How about ‘Out’ girl? Kristen Stewart: It and Out. Sienna Miller: It and Out. Anne Hathaway: It and Out. The revolving door is in a perpetual spin, and J-Law is being shoved along.
To duly temper these proclamations: the full backlash fate could yet be avoided, especially if Lawrence and her reps are savvy enough to bypass overexposure, which it looks like they might. ‘She’s going to have a long break for a year where she won’t do anything. It’s been nonstop for her and she deserves a rest,’ Harvey Weinstein, the Silver Linings Playbook producer, told the UK’s Sun. Reports claim that Lawrence was intensely relieved not to win the Oscar for her performance in American Hustle, with ‘a source’ saying ‘she didn’t want to go through what Anne Hathaway experienced’.
Either way, the culture of J-Law adulation is palpably changing. The first high-profile backlash verdict appeared in New York Magazine in December last year. ‘Is Jennifer Lawrence Katniss-ing Us?’ the headline asked. Something about her oblivious-newcomer routine felt a little practised the second year round. You can’t be the irreverent outsider while simultaneously being the darling of the inner circle. Also, and we know this now, you’re only allowed to trip at the Oscars once. In the article a Lawrence quote is used as ominous foreshadowing: ‘ Everyone is very fickle. They like me now, but I’m going to get really annoying really fast. Just watch.’
And lo: the New York piece spawned a host of others. A sample: ‘Jennifer Lawrence Backlash Begins ( Crushable), ‘Jumping off the Jennifer Lawrence Bandwagon’ ( Flavorwire), ‘Brace Yourself for the Jennifer Lawrence Backlash’ ( Jezebel), ‘What’s behind the Jennifer Lawrence Backlash?’ ( The Huffington Post). Reports of a backlash are, in some respects, self-fulfilling (the backlash is just the reports of the backlash, after all), but only in
the same respect that the preceding reports of adulation and perfection were self-fulfilling. ‘It seems impossible – even for a social media news cycle desperate for celebrity fuel – to make J-Law into a villain just because of boredom,’ a blog post on a US glossy mused. Don’t underestimate boredom; wars have been fought for less.
So why does this happen? Why do we build them up, buttercups, just to break them down? The first thing to say is that none of us is going to stand at the pearly gates and think back proudly on our relationship with celebrities. Part of the joy of following celebrity culture is the special, dishonourable permission it affords to simply let your prejudices run riot: the Slate conversation, Willa Paskin noted that the obsession about the ‘real’ celebrity (who is the ‘real’ Jennifer?) is far greater with women than it is with men. ‘[Men] are allowed to just be actors and weirdos and whoever they are without the “whoever they are” part being analysed as another performance.’
As we’ve seen, ‘whoever they are’ is inevitably not good enough. Usually what happens in the transition between It and Out is that some new woman comes along and perfectly reveals the inadequacies of her predecessor. Part of the initial Lawrence euphoria seemed to be informed precisely by the desire to celebrate someone antithetical to Hathaway: that’ll teach you for being you, either-or is unclear, but apparently there’s only one way to be a celebrated woman at a time. Okay, so are you following? Now it’s more ‘real’ to admit that success takes work than it is to act like it’s a lark. Let’s all be like Lupita! And we can rest, for surely we will all love her forever.
But of course we won’t. Provided she stays in the limelight we’ll quickly find something irritating about her casual confidence, or decide she’s a sell-out or pretentious. By 2016 we’ll be right back to saying, ‘I wish we could see more of that chick – who was she? – so multi-talented and professional and sweet… Oh yes, Anne Hathaway.’ There’s another Onion headline, which I can’t resist here: ‘Woman’s Baseless you can wantonly love or hate celebrities with no explanation required. Here we sit, with our dead-end jobs and split ends and crappy relationships, checking if we can afford any Groupon specials for the long weekend, but when we pick up a tabloid, suddenly we feel superior to the most famous people in the world. Suddenly we’re deciding whether they live up to our supreme standards of acceptability (‘Oh, she looks like a horse, she dresses like a tart, she can’t act, she has the worst taste in men’). We’re sitting there ‘feeling sorry’ for Jennifer Aniston and thinking Jessica Simpson should hit the gym. It’s not pretty, but it’s precisely because it’s such an ungoverned cesspit that our temperamental relationships with these stars can be so revealing about cultural attitudes in general.
And what they reveal seems especially pertinent insofar as women are concerned. There’s no ‘It’ guy, as a panel of writers for Slate pointed out in a discussion on the impending J-Law backlash. The tendency to lionise and then slaughter is particular to female celebrities and (for the most part) their female fans. We like to worship them, and then we like to teach them a lesson. In Anne! It’s the grass-is-greener theory of women. We thought she was so talented and smart and hardworking, then along came Jennifer, and suddenly everything that once looked like a strength became a flaw: Anne’s false and practised and trying waaaay too hard. Jennifer is laid-back and breezy and natural. Let’s all be like Jennifer!
But, watch out, there’s always an alluring opposite to whatever someone has to offer. And sure enough: ‘I’m just so ready for someone from that elusive middle ground between Jennifer and Anne, and I think I’ve finally found it in Lupita [Nyong’o],’ wrote Alexis Rhiannon in an essay on Crushable. ‘She’s real enough to admit that she works hard… but also professional enough to acknowledge that she’s got really effing good at it.’ Why on earth we’re presented with this interminable Hatred of Anne Hathaway Reciprocated.’ The article covers Hathaway’s dislike of a woman she’s never met, named Cathy Lerro. The whole thing makes the absurdity of these relationships pretty clear. ‘You can tell Cathy Lerro’s totally in love with herself, even though she’s really just f*cking annoying,’ the spoof-Hathaway proclaims. ‘ Ugh. Just hearing her name makes me kind of ill. And that voice.’
Also, and we know this now, you’re only allowed to trip at the Oscars once
JENNIFER LAWRENCE LUPITA NYONG’O
ANNE HATHAWAY MAKING A COMEBACK
SIENNA MILLER MAKING A COMEBACK