Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Tweet and lowdown”

Posted on May 11, 2012


Celebrities on Twitter. Those poor little rich boys (and girls). The whole world against them and only their millions to cry into.

To a Marvel Comics fan (and a fan of The Avengers), the only justifiable critical reaction to the film is to jump on a trampoline and chant “It’s awesome it’s awesome it’s awesome…” And when the New York Times critic, AO Scott, didn’t reveal himself as suitably exultant – though he certainly didn’t trash the film, calling it, among other things, “a snappy little dialogue comedy”– the negative reactions were as unsurprising as Iron Man’s nattering narcissism. What was unusual, though, was Samuel L Jackson’s tweeted response to the review: “#Avengers fans,NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let’s help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!” When one of his followers tweeted, “the critic has a right to his opinion. Just because the movie has made a ton of money does not mean it is a good movie,” Jackson thundered, “Actually, sometimes IT DOES!” And to another follower who tweeted, “dude, you f***ing suck in movies. You play the same guy in every movie. Not everyone is gonna like you. #BeHumble,” Jackson issued this curt command: “Unfollow!”

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Finally, a third follower said, “Disappointed to hear @SamuelLJackson respond irrationally to negative review of #Avengers. People aren’t entitled to their own opinion? :(“ And Jackson replied, “That is My Opinion! & what’s irrational about it? They aren’t going to fire his jaundiced ass & You & I Know It!” (Jackson, in other words, was the very incarnation of the name of his character in The Avengers: Nick Fury.) When celebrities began tweeting, responding to critics and fans and lashing out at rumours and misinformation, they seemed to think that some sense of balance was restored in the universe. After all, why should they always be at the receiving end? Why not give back as good as they got? And for a while, at least when Twitter was new enough that we remained fascinated by its function as an unexpectedly open window on the gated communities of the rich and the famous, it was entertaining to be a spectator at these serve-and-volley slanging matches.

But there’s a problem with being privileged and visible. You are never going to be taken seriously as an underdog, as Ashley Judd discovered when she issued (on the web site an articulate retaliation to an Us Weekly article that began, “When Ashley Judd appeared on a Canadian talk show to promote her new television series Missing, it was speculated that injectable fillers were the cause of her puffier-than-normal face.”) Judd wrote that she chose to address this because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodied what all girls and women in our culture endure every day. “The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.” An unimpressed reader responded, “An actress getting judged on her looks is like a pro athlete getting judged on his physical skill. Go make more bad tv and cry into your millions.”

It’s like that scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant, the commoner, takes along the megastar Julia Roberts as his date to a dinner with his friends, and they all decide that the last brownie will go to the person in the room with the saddest story, and she talks about how she’s been on a diet since she was nineteen and how she’s endured a string of facial surgeries and rotten boyfriends and how, thanks to the paparazzi, her personal life is public entertainment – and for a moment, the others sit there stunned, suddenly seeing this goddess worshipped on screens the world over reduced to an average-sized human being, very much like them. But after a minute, they remember that she’s a goddess and burst out laughing. One of them says, “Nah, nice try, gorgeous, but you don’t fool anyone.” Another adds, “Pathetic effort to hog the brownie.” She laughs too, but then she has no choice. Besides, she does have the millions. And unlike Samuel L Jackson, she knows she can’t have everything.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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