Thursday, December 30, 2010

Whodathunkit!? 2010: The Year In Bests (Celebrities)

There's a lot of different ways I could go with this post. I could say who was The Best Celebrity in 2010 -- setting that up entirely by my own criteria. Or I could go with The Best Celebrity News Stories in 2010, or I could even use the end of the year as an excuse to publish photos of celebrity butts, a la The Superficial (which site wins the prize for best repurposing of old Star Wars quotes).

But I didn't. Instead, I asked Sweetie, last night, a question. Sweetie is very knowledgeable about celebrities; she's the kind of person who knows which Real Housewife is related to which actual actor or president. (But not the kind of person who, at my office party, could recall that Al Pacino was in a movie that had something to do with crooked cops, and also recall that the movie in question was Serpico. I did that. Me.)

So I asked Sweetie: "What do you think was the best celebrity story in 2010?"

And she didn't answer right away because she was brushing her teeth.

Then she said "Why?" And I told her that I wanted it for this post, but she still had no answer. Ultimately, she shrugged and said "I don't know."

So I had nothing to go on until about 10:30 last night, midway through one of those baffling articles in The New Yorker in which a food lover convinces the magazine to send him to Barcelona where he'll have earnest conversations about desserts using words that sound like they're talking about way more important things -- is there anything more pretentious and awful sounding than a chef talking about food as though it was significant? You're heating up meat. Get over yourself.-- midway through that article, I thought to myself, that's it.

As for what's it, you'll have to wait, because, as is the way with
WHODATHUNKIT!? 2010: The Year In Bests; The First-Ever TBOE What You Were Told, And What You Should've Been Told Instead Best Of The Year List.

I first tell you

What Everyone Else Said: As I said, Celebrity is kind of a vague, broad category that overlaps all the other categories, even, judging by The New Yorker, the food category. So I narrowed down the chatter and googled two phrases, The Best Celebrity 2010 and The Best Celebrity Stories 2010.

Even then, I got fragmented answers -- links to best-dressed celebrities (Someone named "Florence Welch," which sounds like a hipster play on Lawrence Welk), best celebrity baby names (Marky Mark's daughter Grace Margaret, because people love royal throwback names) best celebrity photos (Justin Bieber singing Jingle Bells to a fan)(here's a riddle for you: I've resolved to try to go my entire life without hearing a Justin Bieber song, but if he sang Jingle Bells and I know that song, even if I didn't hear his version, have I broken that resolution?) and even "best celebrity Tweets," at the top of which list was, of course, Kanye:

That was the best celebrity Tweet of 2010? I have to differ: I think Donnie Wahlberg's belief that the Waffle House was under attack was clearly tops:

PLEASE tell me Waffle House Armageddon starring Donnie Wahlberg is going to be a movie this year. Because I need that.

There was also a listing of The Biggest Celebrity Stories of 2010 on PopSugar, and I kind of assumed that biggest equals best, so I was disappointed when [SPOILER ALERT! BUT NOT REALLY!] the biggest celebrity story of 2010 turned out to be "the growing evidence of love between Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart," about which didn't they break up already? Or never date? I can't remember which but I'm sure it's one or the other.

All of that was somewhat surprising, other than the Kanye tweet, and I gave it some thought to decide Why I Assume They All Said That, and especially why they couldn't all agree on what was the biggest or best celebrity story -- or even what category of celebritization we're going to talk about. Unfortunately, I can't reveal this yet, so I'm going to skip to

What I Thought They'd All Say, because that at least seemed easy: I assumed that any year-end retrospective of celebrity in 2010 would have to include, at the top of any list about anything, Kanye West and/or Kim Kardashian, two people who achieved ever greater heights of fame in 2010 by doing, essentially, nothing.

Yes, I know, Kanye West "dropped" an album that was supposedly brilliant and beloved by critics, but I don't know anyone who's actually planning on buying it, and I don't know anyone who's actually heard anything off of it, but I do know that Kanye's album was more controversial/noted for supposedly being banned by Wal-Mart or something -- and for having racy covers, as though racy means anything anymore, so what I mostly know (and you and all of us, be honest) about Kanye West has nothing to do with the music he (supposedly) made in 2010; it has to do with him tweeting and getting drunk at various places and picking a fight with Wal-Mart, and that's stuff we all do, while at the same time Kim Kardashian further distanced herself from her sex-tape background and Reggie Bush and became ubiquitous, literally appearing at a bathroom opening, having a (briefly-available, probably predatory) debit card and constantly being photographed on celebrity blogs -- photographed in the act of living: shopping, coming from workouts, going to dinner... all of which brings up

What They All Should Have Said, and a continuation of Why I Assume They All Said That, which is this:

2010 Was The Year Celebrity Died.

Not celebrities, although many did. Celebrity, as a concept: the idea that there are those out there who are famous, celebrated, for doing something the rest of us have not. Those people no longer exist, at least not in the form that celebrity has taken since the 16th century, when the concept of celebrity was invented. (Along with the glockenspiel.) For the past 5 centuries, celebrities have stood apart from the human race: they were vaulted to fame and perched up there more or less comfortably, towering over us with their grace and beauty and money and inscrutable behavior, leading us to speculate about them and gossip about them and hound them for autographs when they appeared amongst us...

... but now they're always amongst us and we don't have to speculate about them because they tell us everything. They tweet everything the moment they think it. They show us how they did the stunts on their film. They rant into a tape-recording -- knowingly?-- and talk about their underwear and publish biographies that are more scandalous than the old unauthorized books we got about them, and they are filmed and photographed and Youtubed doing everything -- and mostly what they do is what we do.

The door is wider open than ever: People become celebrities by accident, by creating Youtube videos, by crashing White House parties for the sole purpose of being filmed crashing White House parties -- and the drive to become a celebrity is dangerous, or would-be dangerous, as Balloon Dad showed us -- and as more and more people get let into the celebrity compound, the people already there have to try harder to get noticed: Brett Michaels can't just keep singing Every Rose Has Its Thorn on the State Fair circuit; he has to date skanks on Rock of Love and then be a businessman on The Apprentice, working for a man who claims he might run for president because hosting The Apprentice isn't enough to keep him famous anymore. Actors become singers, singers become writers, writers become... well, they don't become anything, because they have talent... everyone's doing something else and frantically trying so hard to become, or stay, famous, that they will do anything to stay in the spotlight.

And the end result is that we know more than ever about what celebrities do and we care less than ever: we talk about their hair, for Pete's sake, and put Bristol Palin on Dancing With The Stars just so we can claim it's rigged in Bristol's favor. There are magazines with features devoted to topics like Celebrities: They're Just Like Us, and it's true, they are: We never knew that before, but we do now, and it means that we care less. It's the corollary to Warhol's famous comment: When everyone is famous, nobody is famous.

And we'll continue to care less; I can tweet just like Kanye. Maybe I don't have 7,235,654 followers and a gold tooth -- but when I see what his followers read, I don't care as much. In fact, we care so little that we've started to do things to make celebrities more interesting - -matching Kanye's Tweets with New Yorker cartoons, for example. If Kanye alone were interesting, would we have to do that? I think not.

The only way celebs get noticed now is to not exist: (Which, I note, I predicted would be the trend, all the way back in June.) They have to drop out of the limelight, "killing" themselves on Twitter to raise money or retiring from movies a la Amanda Bynes (who shortly therafter unretired) or refusing to do interviews. When Joaquin Phoenix tried to pull off the worst-disguised hoax ever, he wasn't just making a crummy home movie; he was presaging the 2010 death of celebrity and what havoc it would wreak on the popular culture as, Hunger Games like, our celebrities in the future will increasingly be pitted against each other in a deathmatch for the fragmented public attention.

Celebrity's body, like a headless chicken, is still moving around, but make no mistake: Celebrity is dead. And 2010 was the year that it died.

Previous Entries From The Year In Bests:

The Best Book I Read In 2010

The Best Short Stories Of 2010


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