Saturday 25th March 2017,
Televisual

‘New Year’s Eve’ and the Celebrity Conundrum: One, None or All of Them?

Some people swear there’s no celebrity left in the world, no magic. Then how do you explain all of Hollywood coming together for one movie to celebrate the hope of a new year?

If star power is a declining asset, and you’re a Hollywood studio, you have a few options. One is to make it about franchises: pick a star who suits the role and offends no one. Another is to nurture non-flashy but dependable stars in safe, but somewhat conceptually interesting vehicles.

The other strategy is put all the stars in the world in one movie. And then, at the end of the trailer for that movie, say it explicitly: “there’s going to be more celebrities here than rehab!” Just like an issue of US Weekly! Or an episode of Celebrity Rehab!

It works.

I’ll probably see it.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

7 Comments

  1. aintstudyingyou July 27, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Sorry that DeNiro is in it. Intrigued that the only black male in a feature role is non-actor Ludacris — paired (racially) with bad actor Halle Berry. I think I saw Hector Elizondo’s name — the only Latino. No Asians.

    I guess I should not be surprised at the racial homogeneity of a H’wood blockbuster. But I guess it took me aback a little since it was hyped as having soooo many celebrities. I guess Phil Harper’s definition of “pop” remains in place: “contexts of play and distribution wherein African-American… influence, however prevalent in the material at hand, is not acknowledged, and the audience to be engaged is conceived as racially generic, at best, if not absolutely white.” Its the implied audience that seems most key to me here. I don’t know if that implied audience will ever change. Today, in fact, I’m feeling rather pessimistic about it.

    Have you heard of “immasculation” — Judith Fetterley’s term? She says (in simple terms) that for a woman to read canonical american literature, she must take on the woman-hating attitudes of masculinist writers and critics. When I see trailers like this one, I feel like I’m being asked to adopt assumptions about class, race, and sex(uality) that I otherwise reject. Am I nutso? Having dreams that will never come to pass in pop culture? Help!

  2. Aymar Jean Christian July 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Well I agree, but I’d bring just a little Stuart Hall/Fiske and suggest that not everyone is unaware of the dynamics you’re talking about. Not to say that the majority of Americans have a racial critique — obviously, most don’t — but that skepticism of Hollywood products is pretty pervasive. And if whiteness is silent here, “Hollywood-ness” isn’t, especially in this film, with it’s blatant pandering. John Caldwell might call this “industrial reflexivity;” he finds it in Hollywood’s underclass (camera operators, gaffers, etc.), but I think it’s everywhere. We might call it “snark” or “cynicism” among a greater proportion of Americans than we would think. There’s untapped political potential there.

    That said I also think it’s important to remember the gradations of “pop.” Film, and big budget film in particular, is a very specific medium, one that’s particularly resistant to inclusion, hence the Bechdel test. So the Cosbys and Different Worlds and Jeffersons shows can be popular on TV, so can Murphy Browns and Cagney and Laceys, or Will & Graces and Modern Familys — not that any of those are ideal (what representations are?) but we see far more inclusion on television (more leads, writers and storylines much more influenced by historically marginalized groups), and far more potential for narratives that push against hegemony (yes, I think of shows like The Wire, Friday Night Lights), than in film.

    But music too is different from film. We call “pop” that which is white, but history has shown black — even aggressive, politically potent blackness — can be pretty darn popular. I’m not sure “pop” is a useful analytic here. I think more of the modes of production and distribution in these cases (cost, desired audience, etc.).

    That’s if you’re looking for ways to avoid cynicism. But in the end, this is ‘New Year’s Eve,’ and if anything is a sign of desperation, not strength. Movies still make money, but attendance is down to historically significant lows — that’s why people always mention Gone with the Wind as the highest-grossing movie ever. The cultural power scholars like Mulvey ascribed to Hollywood cinema is still present, but differently contextualized and, in the most generous reading, very much in doubt. That’s why New Line and Garry Marshall had to pack New Year’s Eve with 50 celebrities.

  3. aintstudyingyou July 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    This was a tremendously sharp and helpful response. I hadn’t heard of industrial reflexivity or thought about the political potential of snark. Nor had I really thought of the difference between television and film. Aren’t you just a Media Studies expert now? So fluent after your exams! My “little” junior scholar is growing up so fast! Ignore my kidding, but know I am very proud of your hard-acquired skillz.

    The only place where I diverge from you is in your discussion of music where you say that aggressive blackness can be popular. Let’s call aggressiveness, for lack of a better term, black nationalism. I can’t think of any examples of black nationalist music that has been popular in Harper’s terms–which already do include one of the terms you prefer–“desired audience.” I’ll just repeat his definition: “African-American… influence, however prevalent in the material at hand, is not acknowledged, and the audience to be engaged is conceived as racially generic, at best, if not absolutely white.” Although Public Enemy, Ice-T, and Arrested Development (the band) all sold well for a time, I don’t think they were ever understood as operating within a pop genre nor speaking to the American mainstream. And if someone like Ludacris (who comes to mind since he’s in New Year’s Eve) is thought of as mainstream, he also has little to no politics (strictly defined here as a politics of racial justice). (I may be wrong there, I never listen to Luda carefully).

  4. Aymar Jean Christian July 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Yea, I think you got me on music — I was thinking of early-ish hip hop! But you’re right that we talk about them like they were huge, mostly because it was new and they were first. Yet they weren’t Madonna or Michael, nor were they the most radical kind of music around, not to downplay their fierceness.

    And you know a compliment from you is worth ten from any other scholar/writer!

  5. aintstudyingyou July 28, 2011 at 12:28 am

    You flatter me with your multiplier of ten (blushes). Now that I think about it, though, Harper would have to be revised after Eminem. Because, after all, Eminem most certainly always acknowledges the black influence on his music. Nevertheless, I think many of his white fans perceive him as speaking to and for them (and not for black hiphopheads). And I think the battle-rap tradition and the 8Mile film also set him up as achieving supremacy in a previously black-dominated field. Sort of the musical equivalent of the first white guy to win the slam dunk competition–except, of course, that everyone knows Em’s name and I can’t remember the b-ball player’s for the life of me.

    I guess time moves on and leaves all our best theories needing tinkering and revisiting. It’s humbling. But Harper was still on it in that article. It’s still a classic. But could it be (gasp!) that it’s not *postracial*?

  6. Aymar Jean Christian July 28, 2011 at 12:31 am

    That’s another discussion! Let’s consider it tabled.

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