The International Writers Magazine:Comment
How Hollywood sets the agenda for attractiveness
As a fan of cinema, be it the knowingly
easy comfort of Hollywood product, or the more individualist styles
of other countries, one thing in particular has struck me. And
its all about the look of Hollywood. A bold subject, I think
Im not concerned with the actual look of Hollywood
the architecture, the ambience, etc (not to disrespect
that in their own right!) but the general look
of its cinematic product. In short, I mean the way Hollywood (assuming
it to be a tangible, confluent whole) is presenting itself, how
it has created an image that is particular to its product
to its films. Still not getting it?
HOLLYWOOD HAS MADE
We all know this, but look at the evidence. Charlize Theron won the
Best Actress Oscar for Monster (2003, Dir. Patty Jenkins), presenting
herself as serial killer Aileen Wournos and wearing god only knows how
much latex and makeup to make herself appear uglier in the film than
she normally is. What does this show us? That the beautiful people are
all thats needed for any role, thats what. And, more terrifyingly
I think, this means that there simply is no room for ugly hell,
even less than gorgeous actresses in Hollywood.
Look further and it starts to form a recurring trend in Hollywoods
output in (particularly) the last decade. Thirteen, featuring Holly
Hunter (in an Oscar-nominated role) also revelled in the obvious talents
of its young star Evan Rachel Wood. Yet was this, for all its supposed
grittiness, a true representation of going off the tracks?
Of course not, but why too did they have to cast a girl who, despite
giving a credible performance, looked so out of place among the images
of drug abuse Im familiar with (be it personally of through the
reported media) purely and simply because of being so pretty.
And yet, who can blame them? With both cases the Producers must have
been faced with a difficult decision: trust in the credibility of the
scripts and respect the cogency of the subject matter (each respectfully),
or bite the bullet and allude to all that uncomfortable grittiness,
and cast a stunner to make the advertising that much easier. And thats
not to say that they werent accomplished performances they
were, which is worrying still. Where does that leave a normal
actress? A sobering and compelling thought, I feel.
Thats not to say that bad things never happen to beautiful people,
but it does illustrate the way things are in Hollywood. The power of
beauty in Hollywood product sells.
Im at fault here too. Hollywood provides a product. I consume
this product. I add to the capital and ability of the Hollywood machine.
I, as with so many others, like the look of Hollywood. Beautiful
people are easy to look at, easy to follow in the gossip-column kind
of way easy to elevate to stardom. Easy to market.
So where does the fault lie? With Hollywood for simply playing their
end of the game well and giving us what, despite all our procrastinating
at the all-encompassing, consuming nature of the beast, delivers what
it promises? Surely not. Well, not really at least.
I think it lies with us, the consumer, (if it is even a matter of fault)
because nine times out of ten we prefer the look of Hollywood
precisely because they are the beautiful people (and isnt that
half the fun of it all?) just as much as them. And yet this presents
the uncomfortable realisation that in such an environment there is simply
no room for anyone who doesnt meet the impossibly high standard
of the stars of today. But is this a modern phenomenon? Hardly.
There have always been beautiful stars, more often than not simply because
they have everything I mentioned above and talent, yet I think the division
is sharper now than ever before. So much recent Hollywood output has
cast a reasonably attractive woman in a role that demands, in all honesty,
someone less pretty. And where would be the harm in simply doing that?
All That (1999, Dir. Robert Iscove) sold itself short by casting
Rachel Leigh Cook, someone who by no stretch of the imagination
could be described as ugly not even plain! Shes gorgeous,
and undermined the credibility of the entire narrative by being
gorgeous. Ok, it was always intended as popcorn fodder, but should
that really matter? And is it alone in selling out in this way?
Moving on, are we
really expected to associate Jeanine Gurrufalo with the plain, down
trodden every-girl she is nearly always cast as? Again, shes not
shy of looks herself and, although she may not be up there with the
Charizes, Jennifers and Angelinas of the world, shes simply not
So then, the watermark has shifted and we demote perfectly attractive
people precisely because their co-stars are so impossibly beautiful.
And its not just actresses actors are finding themselves
caught in this same struggle between talent and the attractiveness (and
dollar value) of beauty. And yet, you only have to look at modern leading
men to see their predicament isnt nearly as bad as that of their
female counterparts. Or, rather, look at how leading men are still succeeding
with the focus perhaps balanced between their looks and talent, to see
just how unbalanced it has become for actresses.
And, returning to the title of this article, is this the state of only
Hollywood, or is the entire media industry towing the line to this impossible
standard of beauty that Hollywood has shamelessly peddled, often to
the detriment of the product itself, to us all? Is the music industry
founded on the value of talent alone? Does the media, even in its more
serious incarnations (the news, for example) not play this
game of pairing off talent with beauty? Ill let you decided that
Nothing new here, I know, but I thought it high time the matter be addressed
again before we all succumb to the fixed smile, perfect posture, body
pumping image Hollywood suggests (and we seem to agree with) is normal,
but for the most part is simply unattainable. And who wants that? I
rest my case.
© Christophe Philipps, 16th September 2005.
(And who cast the plain Keira Knightley as Lizzie Bennet you might
ask. We should be so lucky to meet someone so plain Ed)
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