new celebrities, new cultures


Light blogging today thanks to those scoundrels at Optimum Online. This morning, in the new house, I had internet service. Then it stopped. So Optonline could come out “and turn it on.” When are they going to cease and desist this little scam?

To the business at hand. In New brands, new consumers, a couple of days ago, I reflected on the success of a perfume that had deliberately embraced an unexpected rubbery scent. I noted that a move away from the agreeable and bland opens up a vast terrain of new meanings for products and for brands.

Today, as I was shifting boxes, I began thinking about Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise. Here are two celebrities who do not appear to be following the traditional playbook.

In the old model, really big stars were scrupulously careful to remain noncontroversial. They sought flattering roles on screen, and an agreeable persona off screen. (Indeed this distinguished them from actors, people prepared to play even odious characters.)

The old model changed a little when big stars began to embrace unattractive roles on screen. Mel Gibson was all about being charismatic on his way up. But in the last couple of years he has played roles that were not especially flattering. I believe Payback and Conspiracy Theory serve as cases in point. In the same way, Tom Cruise played an assassin recently. (Sorry, I can’t think of the picture. It’s the one with Jamie Foxx. Thank you Optonline for blocking my access to IMDB.)

And now both Gibson and Cruise have gone a step further still and devoted their private lives to projects that are controversial for many and loathsome to a few. (I am thinking of Gibson’s The Passion and Cruise’s recent “exuberance” on Oprah. There isn’t enough data here, and clearly it will be a cold day in hell before we see anything like this from Julia Roberts or Michael Caine.  But if this is early indication of a new trend, perhaps we will see celebrities express themselves more frankly. 

This difference would make a difference. As it is, celebrities remain great guarantors of the uncontroversial, unmarked, unexceptional. They have suppressed their real individuality to broaden the base of their fandom. Their roles on screen may help encourage (and in a cultural sense fund) our heterogeneity as a society, but their private lies do the opposite. They suggest (and perhaps help fund) a private blandness.

Let us see whether celebrities become more forthcoming, and what difference this difference makes to the rest of us.


Thanks to my sister-in-law Michelle Goodman for helping me to identify several movie titles. Thanks to Starbucks for a remedy for Optonline’s thuggish behavior.  Thanks for the several great comments on recent posts. I promise to respond the moment I am not having to do so from the Starbuck’s parking lot. 

3 thoughts on “new celebrities, new cultures

  1. Susan

    You made me LOL today – thank you. (I needed a laugh this morning after the news…)
    Interesting observation about celebrities — do you think it applies to other kinds of stars (e.g. business celebs?)

  2. Michele

    Sorry, Grant, I forgot to tell you the Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise movie was Collateral.
    Great blog. (but I still think Cruise is a phoney with a bad publicist)

  3. Grant

    Susan, great to hear your voice, that’s a good point, I think CEOs have always had a little more latitude, perhaps because we have expected them to be leaders in the heroic manner. Which is to say they know must live with a double bind: they have to be completely uncontroversial and leaders with bold vision and great creativity. It would be interesting to know how the PR people grapple with this contradiction. thanks, Grant

    Michelle, thanks for the detail, the word is that Cruise fired all his publicists and is now flying solo. Best, Grant

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