There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Bart dreams of being a rock star. Rather than picturing himself popular and swathed in adoring fans, instead, Bart pictures himself drunk, bloated and dyspeptic. In The Simpsons, it’s a joke. In Hollywood, it’s the truth. Fame is rotten, but the rot has allure. That’s why famous people find it so hard to be good, because people want them for their fame, and unadulterated want…won’t judge, even the most heinous crimes. Famous people act badly the way sinking ships set off distress flares. Every ugly scene is a warning: “I’m poison” it says. Joaquin Phoenix’s new movie, I’m Still Here, is a quasi-comedy about toxic celebrity. It’s the sort of movie Mel Gibson should watch on a loop.
Having sex in high school is so potentially fatal an exploit, it’s a wonder anyone does it. Years ago, it was bad…and that before the internet. Now, not only is there the acute embarrassment of having sex when you have no idea what you’re doing; you’ve also got the blogosphere / Facebook / text-rumour-mill to deal with. Can you (I’m speaking to those readers over-30 here) actually imagine how tough it must be to be clodhopping through your teens with ten thousand camera-phones recording every social faux pas? In the new comedy, Easy A, a girl gets a reputation as a harlot within about fifteen seconds of saying she’s slept with a guy. She doesn’t even have sex, and still everyone’s telling her she’s doing it wrong.
There’s a quote from a poem by Henry Van Dyke that I think sums up Facebook’s appeal: “…the heart’s immortal thirst to be completely known and all forgiven.” Dave Eggers quoted this line at the start of his best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Published in 2000, a few years before blogs and Facebook pages made autobiographies obsolete, Eggers book anticipated our collective need to shine a spotlight on our souls. Eggers was desperate for his every thought to be completely known (and all forgiven) in the 90s, for God’s sake. He knew the future was about splaying your life for others to read; no detail too personal, no person denied the right to judge. Facebook just digitised the process.
“You, you, you,” says the toothless holy man. “Me, me, me,” says Julia Roberts. Yes, she has returned…the high priestess of Hollywood’s true religion: the self. Behind every red ball of Kabbalah string…behind every pledge to Scientology…there’s an ego. And none is bigger or more ferocious than Julia’s. To even think of starring in Eat Pray Love, you need an ego the size of India. Based on the best-selling self-help travelogue by Elizabeth Gilbert, this is story of one woman learning to love herself, in spite of good-looks and ready access to finance. It’s an overcoming adversity story, except the “adversity” part is a load of bullshit, and Julia has about as much difficulty “overcoming” it as mustard does overcoming a hotdog.