In a 2007 interview with GQ magazine to promote “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Matt Damon came clean about why he’s such a notoriously difficult interview subject, as far as his personal life is concerned.
“The better the actor, the less you know about his life. I mean, nobody’s better than De Niro, and you don’t know anything about him, right? Look at Meryl. We don’t know sh*t about Meryl. Look at Clint. And Jack. And Brando. Marlon Brando—who f*ing knows, right?”
That certainly explains why at the peak of her fame Sharon Stone was incessantly forthcoming.
On a fundamental level, as an artist, you want the quality of your work to speak for itself but in the tabloid culture we live in there is constant demand for personal details. Some entertainers know how to conceal themselves despite that demand while others mete out revelatory dribs and drabs as it suits their career arc or affects their their bank account. (A few years ago, during the press junket to launch her new talk show, Jane Pauley revealed she was bipolar. Recently, Tyler Perry revealed on “Oprah” that he had been molested as a child while promoting his latest film “For Colored Girls.” Senator Scott Brown reveals similar abuse in his new book, timed to coincide with his re election campaign.)
Still others openly court that demand. We are now witnessing the advent of “reality stardom”, in which the otherwise talentless (housewives, baby mamas, Kardashians, New Jersey hooligans, et al) become famous precisely for divulging every sordid pathological detail of their private lives.
If you’re interested in managing your image, it’s essential that you understand in which one of the three paradigms you operate.
That of course assumes that only those paradigms I’ve outlines are the only ones which exist. Might there be more? In a recent interview with “60 Minutes” Lady Gaga details to Anderson Cooper her personal image paradigm:
“As part of my mastering the Art of fame, part of it is getting people to pay attention to what you want them to pay attention to and not pay attention to what you don’t want them to pay attention to–the Sociology of fame: how to maintain a certain privacy without feeling like you are withholding anything from your fans.
My philosophy is that if I am open [with my fans] about everything yet art direct every moment of my life, I can maintain a certain form of privacy–in a way I maintain a certain soulfulness that I have yet to give.”
In other words, art is not an end product separate from the artist’s personal life. Art is a means by which one manipulates the balancing act between revealing and concealing.
She says her music is about “self empowerment and self acceptance” though she admits the creation of Lady Gaga in all her guises came about because she felt disconnected and disenfranchised and bullied as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.
Lady Gaga, as she presents herself, teeters between being the product of the warm and fuzzy philosophy of “Oprah” and the cold calculation of Nietzsche, though from the outside looking in, the scales tip heavily toward Nietzsche.
While there is an element of sexuality to Gaga, it’s by no means conventional or even appealing. (She’s often referred to by men as “butterface”–as in everything about her is desirable but her face.) Sexuality is unmistakably present and potent in her work but it is also fraught with danger, usually mixed up in some trajectory of birth and death. Most recently, she arrived at the Grammys in a Hussein Chalayan plexiglass egg from which she later emerged on stage dressed in Mugler to sing “Born this way.” Later in the week she appeared dressed as a condom on “Good Morning America” to promote AIDS awareness.
Unlike Madonna, who used her sexuality to manipulate the male gaze on her way to superstardom, Gaga’s interest is in mining our cultural interest in the “decay of the superstar. Isn’t that the age that we live in that we want to see people who have it all lose it all? It’s dramatic. It’s a movie.” Madonna’s ability to reinvent herself was a patent career move, whereas Gaga’s creation is at once both more revelatory and more disturbing as it depends on the abandonment of Stephani–a career move perhaps but one with a decidedly psychiatric component–or a healthy dose of poker face deception.
Her fame, deception and all, can be seen as the revenge of the nerd (Stefani), something she shares in common with the other world famous 20something seeking to empower everyone, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, as portrayed in “The Social Network.”
The reality of course is that most of us don’t have the luxury of art directing our lives, certainly in the extreme way Gaga does it.
But there are lessons to be learned here and it would seem that Michelle Obama has done just that. The First Lady is widely lauded for her sense of personal style. Most people are blithely unaware of the amount of time, money and human resources that go into creating and maintaining that image.
The First Lady’s image is as art directed as Gaga’s. Her sense of style, as it has evolved with the expert oversight of the luxury retailer Ikram Goldberg, consists mainly of pieces of clothing which individually cost more than most people’s mortgage. Yet the First Lady’s style is in no way seen in to be extravagant. As a matter of fact, most women will tell you that her style is eminently approachable and affordable. How does this happen?
When Mrs. Obama dresses specifically for mass media appearances–talk shows, magazine covers–she is always careful to wear an outfit that the masses can easily find and afford. Best leave the couture for events which get far less attention. It’s a strategy which started with her appearance on “The View” before the election in a White House Black Market dress, and continued with various J Crew ensembles for other talk shows. As First Lady she donned a $395 Tracy Reese dress for the cover of People magazine and just a few weeks back, clearly mindful of the sad economic times, donned a dress from H+M on “The Today Show.” (The way she accessorized the dress, however, made it painfully clear that Ms. Goldberg is no longer officially involved in styling Mrs. Obama.)
Of course, the studied choice and the complicit PR machine from both the White House and H+M meant that the dress sold out in a matter of hours.
The more important takeaway from this story is that every woman who bought that dress ($34.95) felt that she had just acquired the exact style of Michelle Obama (priceless).
Lady Gaga appears in concert at the United Center February 28.