Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tripping the Prom Queen

Jessica Simpson Goes After Angelina Jolie in A Public Affair

Current B-list celebrity Jessica Simpson and her C-list friend Christina Applegate dis Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah Winfrey in the beginning of Simpson's new music video, A Public Affair. The roller-disco-themed video starts with Simpson, Applegate, and, oddly, Eva Longoria -- arguably a celebrity out of Simpson's and Applegate's league, were it not for her very appearance in their company -- dreaming of international fame during a limousine ride.

Applegate asks, "Could we be any more famous?"

Simpson responds, "I wanna be so famous that every time I fall in love Oprah does a special about it."

Applegate banters back, "I want to be so famous that I have to have my babies in Africa."

Okay, what I want to know is, why do the women who write books like Queen Bees and Wannabes, Tripping the Prom Queen, and Odd Girl Out -- books about, in a nutshell, forms of aggression among girls -- need to conduct years of research studying anonymous preteens and teenagers when they've got reams of celebrity catfights to draw from to perfectly illustrate their points?

The pop star Pink's first single from her new album is called "Stupid Girls." In it she takes potshots at every B-list "porno paparazzi girl" she'd secretly like to top: In the video, Pink role-plays everyone from Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan, to a distressed, stumbling Olsen twin (presumably Mary-Kate, as tabloid aficionados would know). Appropriately, the title of Pink's album on which this track can be found is I'm Not Dead, meaning, of course, that her 15 minutes of fame were indeed over a half hour earlier. As for the rest of this B-list pack, even I don't bother to follow the Lohan-Simpson-Hilton-Olsen feuds; it's enough to know that they're all sleeping with each others' ex-boyfriends or publicly flirting with them and driving each other insane in both this competition and the bigger one regarding who has a bigger name in the fame game.

But people do follow these feuds -- a form of female aggression that's attention-getting for the instigator, which is no small part of its appeal to certain celebrities and high schoolers -- and even door-knob dull politicians are aware that these fights resonate in the public consciousness on some level. Take Al Gore, for example, who astutely observed the public interest such feuds ignite and used it to his advantage in promoting his global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth. On the Tonight Show, Gore denied he'd make a second run for the presidency; Jay Leno then joked that Gore's political aspirations are taking a backseat to his newfound "movie star status." Gore joked that leading the life of a Hollywood star isn't all fun: "For instance, I have this huge thing with Lindsay Lohan now," he said. Leno asked how the feud started and Gore demurred, saying only, "She knows what she did."

It's hilarious, you have to admit. And yet, it's also part of the game -- this surface appearance of it all being very funny (in some situations), just a joke, not serious, when in fact it's deadly so. Jessica Simpson publicly has professed her lust for Brad Pitt and made a pitch to movie producers that she play Pamela in the new Dallas movie and that they cast Brad Pitt as hubby Bobby. (No, I'm serious, this really happened.) At one point she considered adopting a baby from Africa and wanted to talk to Jolie and Pitt (but Pitt being key) about it. What we are witnessing is a barely concealed effort on Jessica Simpson's part to seduce Brad Pitt away from Angelina Jolie. When girls/women bring out the big guns they tend to engage in what the authors of the above-mentioned books might as well call -- and at least one does call it -- "plausible deniability." It can be a very effective and devastating form of aggression -- and if Simpson succeeds in getting under Angelina Jolie's skin, the result will be to instill a sense of insecurity and maybe even paranoia in the star. Because hey, it's actually Christina Applegate -- not Jessica Simpson! -- who makes the crack about wanting to be so famous she has to have her babies in Africa, for example. If Angelina Jolie pays any attention she might think she's reading too much into it, that she's paranoid. Her lover might even tell her that she's overreacting if she makes the mistake of so much as even trying to discuss Jessica Simpson's antics with him. But of course, Angelina Jolie wouldn't be unreasonably concerned by Jessica Simpson's aggression. It is indeed intended to be a potentially deadly attack against her, and if any woman would understand this it would be Angelina Jolie, who stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston. And before that stole Billy Bob Thornton from fiance Laura Dern.

Another interesting aspect of Jessica Simpson's catty exchange with Christina Applegate in the new video is the attack-by-gang strategy among women/girls. It defuses the responsibility for the attack that any one individual involved otherwise would carry. Jessica Simpson's target is Angelina Jolie; Christina Applegate's target presumably is fellow one-time television bombshell Jennifer Aniston -- and definitely Eva Longoria falls into this category currently, nevermind famously having been caught wearing a t-shirt that said, "I'll Have Your Baby, Brad," back when Aniston and Pitt were still married. Jennifer Aniston has as much reason to be on edge as Angelina Jolie; the very presence of Longoria in the video while Simpson takes pot shots at the unnamed Aniston is indeed nasty high-school-type hostility. The joke of it is, of course, that Simpson, Applegate, and Longoria are not in the same league of Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie -- and they know they are not, which his why they have no fear of brining Oprah into it, because they know Oprah in fact will never take any interest in them (and if she does, it will be to give them more publicity by lobbing a return potshot at one or all of them). At the same time, by attacking Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston publicly, these women *are* putting themselves into the same league forcibly; all of the women are now linked as a result of the feud Simpson/Applegate/Longoria have instigated. And to the aggressor, that alone is half the battle already won.

The tabloidesque edge of pop culture is informative when it comes to understanding what kinds of behavior the public is interested in following or empathizes with or copies. What we see are larger-than-life personalities engaging in the pettiest of pedestrian behavior; all of this tells us something about our own society's interactions and yes women's behavior -- especially in regard to women's aggressive behavior -- toward women. And men's, too. Here's an example of how men's aggression toward men differs from women's aggression toward women: When aging lothario Michael Douglas publicly wondered how long the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt union could possibly last, sniping that Pitt sooner or later would get tired of holding orphans for his lover, Pitt and pal George Clooney took immediate and definitive action. Showing Douglas who has more testosterone, Pitt and Clooney not only yanked Douglas's wife Catharine Zeta Jones from the third installment of the Ocean's Eleven trilogy, they had the scriptwriters summarily kill her character off so she could never return to the saga. Michael Douglas later issued a limp nonapology apology for his comments. Here's another recent example plucked from the tabloid pages of absurdity: fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger photgraphed fighting Guns 'N Roses frontman Axl Rose at a New York nightclub. Hilfiger reportedly was annoyed by Rose's attempts to move his girlfriend's drink on a table and told him to put the beverage back. According to Rose, Hilfiger just kept "smacking" him. Hilfiger says Rose "was being rude and obnoxious" and maintains "I was just protecting myself. ... I went after him before he could get me."

But back to the women: don't think there is any class or age of women above this behavior. Take, for example, the Star Jones-Barbara Walters kerfuffle. I could say more on that one but this post already is too long. Suffice it to say that in the heat of that blowup people could not get enough, viewers ate that feud up. And neither Star Jones, a lawyer, nor Barbara Walters, a journalist of reknown, could refrain from taking pot-shots at each other once the feud went public. Barbara Walters had the most to lose by engaging the battle -- in fact, by engaging at all her shiny reputation has been tarnished. Which is no small part of the reason Star Jones took this ugly battle with her boss public. In that case, regardless of the future direction of either woman, Star Jones won.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i COUNted 15 different celbritie`s named in that piece (both first name and last name), 16 if you count the second unnamed Olsen twin. I would list them all right here first name and last but that would be exhausting and too dense a paragraph for you to read it. I'm starting to think Layla really might have some sort of talent. Show me another writer who could pull that off in a piece of only a few paragraphs and most readers not even notice?

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're incorrect. By my count there are 21 named celebrities:

1 Jessica Simpson
2 Christina Applegate
3 Eva Longoria
4 Angelina Jolie
5 Jennifer Aniston
6 Oprah Winfrey
7 Pink
8 Paris Hilton
9 Lindsay Lohan
10 Mary-Kate Olsen
11 the unnamed twin Ashley Olsen
12 Al Gore
13 Jay Leno
14 Brad Pitt
15 Billy Bob Thornton
16 Laura Dern
17 Michael Douglas
18 George Clooney
19 Catharine Zeta Jones
20 Star Jones
21 Barbara Walters

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot Tommy Hilfiger and Axl Rose

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Layla is it even possible for you to write without including inappropriate and offensive sexual double entrendres? There was no need to write about the female celebrities "Pink would like to top" or the "limp" response Michael Douglas had to the testosterone-fueled actions of Brad Pitt and George Clooney. I can't take your writing seriously until you start writing like an adult.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

War is breaking out all over but all Layla wants to write about is how Axl rose "just kept smacking" Tommy Hilfiger.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh for the love of God. Is there a neverending supply of this incoherent crap chez Layla? Make it stop! Make it stop!

12:29 AM  
Blogger Laylalola said...

What? This is one of my better posts, in my opinion.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, wait, hold on a minute, I think Layla might be right, this might be one of her better posts...after all, this is the first post of hers I've seen that doesn't spend at least a paragraph bashing feminists. On a supposedly feminist blog.

Now we just have to work on improving Layla's self esteem so that she can start to feel good about herself without having to spend hours typing up nasty screeds at celebrity women. Layla, honey, this whole celebrity thing has just gone from annoying to sad.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t think Star Jones got the better Laylalola. I think she got clobbered. Down for the count. Out. Walters was/is the big stack; all Jones could ever do was bluff. You can’t bluff the big stack!

I saw her talk on Larry King a bit back, and she seemed overly explanative on the whole affair. And Larry King being the situational show, she’ll practically have to run over Walters in an SUV, just to push the Mid East conflict, a bit, to the side. She’s done.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Laylalola said...

I agree, Star Jones lost the war -- but she won that particular battle. Like I said, the fact that Barbara Walters even publicly engaged the battle tarnished her sterling reputation. (Whether she's deserving of such a sterling reputation in journalism in the first place is another question, right after her classic hard-hitting "If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" question.) Honestly, what made that blowout such compelling drama for those two or three days was not the fact of Star Jones this or that or anything, really, so much as it was an audience glued to the tube waiting for Walters to make herself look even more foolish, whether it be knowing that during the entire Larry King hour she was on the phone talking in his ear or her silly scripted responses to the allegations. I mean for three days people ate this up, and it's because of the classic thing of wanting to see Barbara Walters fall. That's where the juice was.

Anyway. In d.c. I heard stories about the old days when Walters used to stomp on men's toes in her high heels to get to the front of the press pack to ask her questions. It sounds like I'm speaking metaphorically but I'm speaking literally. Not that I have a problem with that, but I guess another part of the whole media lust over this thing was of course the behind-the-scenes thrill in seeing some of her not-quite-perfect characteristics making it onto live tv, glimpses of the truth behind the facade exposed to the world.

Also, the latest tabloids say Walters, not Star Jones, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as a result of the stress of this whole episode. True or not, she had a lot more to lose by engaging the battle -- and (1) she knows it and that's why it's still upsetting her, if the reports are true or 2 the media knows it and that's why such a tabloid tidbit, true or not, at least seems plausible.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you have to look no further than this comment thread to see the catty gang mentality that Laylalola mentions in her posts.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, if you're looking for catty gang mentality, you need look no farther that Layla's writing itself - and I don't mean the cast of characters in her little charade. I mean the fact that she comes here only to dish dirt about women she's never even met...if that's not an example of catty gang-pile mentality, I can't imagine what is.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Laylalola said...

Well I would like to explore the explosion in all these nonfiction girl/women aggression books containing analyses of how this all works. It's fascinating. And you see it everywhere in pop culture playing out too, whether it be in reality in what the celebrities do to each other or in Mean Girls or Heathers. I mean I feel like this is a really rich area to explore that still hasn't been plumbed to its ugliest depths yet.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Laylalola said...

I mean I find it riveting in a perverse sort of way. I want to watch it, I want to see just how far people will go in these charades -- and it's interesting that, as in the Jessica Simpson-Christina Applegate-Eva Longoria example where they trash Jolie-Aniston-Winfrey, the instigator often is the wannabe, not the Queen Bee. Well not always. But I think it holds for the Pink example and for the Star Jones example too. The most viscious public disses are initiated by the wannabe against the Queen Bee, in one sense elevating the wannabe to the same status -- they are now spoken of together as a result of the battle -- and if the Queen Bee engages the battle in these situations then she almost always comes out the loser by the very fact of lowering herself to that wannabe level. But anyway.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Sarahlynn said...

I don't see this piece as "dishing dirt" as much as I see (what I think is) the larger point that Layla's exploring here.

I don't always agree with Laylalola, but this is hardly incoherent.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous thirdwaver said...

I was recently clued-in that "Laylalola" is actually a parody - a hybrid of Camille Paglia and Joan Rivers.

Knowing that it all becomes less baffling and a bit more entertaining. Still stupid overall though.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Sarahlynn said...

I don't buy it.

If it's true, she's been at it for years. And seems quite earnest.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of us have met Layla. Don't be an ass.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you’ve sent that off somewhere Layla...after a bit of name pruning, of course.

I can tell which incident you know more about than others, AND, I like more your analysis than the numbers. I do think you’re right in using many, instead of a few. A few removes the view of the mechanics of the entertainment - that being that you do need many running at the same time, to be entertaining enough to battle Supernova Rockstar.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Laylalola said...

I didn't realize people were still reading this post and responding! :) We need to update this page more often but I sometimes worry that there seem like only two of us contributing, and sometimes I secretly worry I've chased away everyone else from posting -- I hope that's not the case! Lately I've been obsessed with fraud in the mainstream media (photo fraud incidents lately) and I don't know if I can connect all that close enough to feminism to post on it all. I mean I'm really as much a news junkie (and tabloid junkie, obviously) but there's as much reporter still in me as there is feminist in me. I suppose I could post about those frauds here without even trying to link it to feminism directly...?

(But yes I find it fascinating to watch what stories the tabloids run, and they run them because people love them, and they contain all the classic elements of female aggression toward women and male aggression toward men and who has power in whatever form etc. I mean it really is instructive.)

2:05 PM  

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