Is it me, or is celebrity endorsement back? There was a time when it seemed to flourish, then a moment in which it fell from favor. And now it seems to on the climb again. Too bad we don’t "get" it any more successfully that we did the last time it made itself a feature of popular culture.
For the train ride home, I bought a copy of Interview Magazine. What a brainless exercise this is. The notion, devised by Andy Warhol, is that celebrities should interview celebrities, and in the present issue, Mark Wahlberg interviews Andre Benjamin and Hugh Jackman interviews Rachel Weisz.
I am quite sure that Mr. Jackman outstrips me on every dimension known to man and God, but interviewing? Good lord, his interview of Ms. Weisz is pretty awful: good hearted when it should be forthright, celebratory when it should be a little more Martian, but worst of all, it manages to render the mysterious banal.
Is there a more precious resource for an actor? Is there anything more life giving, more artistically endowing than indeterminacy? The moment I believe I know exactly who Rachel Weisz is, this is the moment when there are some roles she can no long do, some places she can no longer go, certain powers she can not call down from the heavens. Oh, Hugh.
Which brings us to celebrity endorsement. I scanned the WSJ and found an ad for Lincoln Financial Group that featured Donovan McNabb. It’s really quite good. And let’s face it, any ad that can transfer meanings between an NFL quarterback and the princes of capital has really got the gods of metaphor working over time. (Of course, they consult. You knew that.)
But the copy of Interview Magazine. There is Uma Thurman for Louis Vuitton, Demi Moore for Versace, and Juliette Lewis for J. Lindeberg. First, this threesome makes it clear why endorsement is so much more powerful than the work of mere models. There are all those meanings rushing about that models cannot have: erupting from the personal life (Ethan Hawke then Quinton Tarantino, Bruce Willis then Ashton Kushner), previous roles (Kill Bill, Charlie Angel’s and the sensational movie in which Juliette Lewis worked with Uma Thurman, and between the two of them they managed to map and capture aspects of life in New Jersey, some of which would not otherwise ever have made it onto celuloid), the position all of them end up taking and helping to define in contemporary culture. In fact, each of these women defines aspects of femaleness we haven’t seen before. (Not bad. And we call them merely celebrities.)
In sum, each of these brands gets to lay claim to cultural meanings that are rich, interesting and very much in process. We grasp who each of these women is, and we have a vague sense that we know where they are going. But finally, there is a quite marked indeterminacy here. And this is a brand property that we have yet fully to think through. We have been so busy trying to be unmistakably clear, we have yet to learn how to work indeterminary as any great actor has always done.
And the actresses? Did they give more than they gave? Did they, curse of the errant interviewer, actually have to give up indeterminacy to lend face, name and meanings to these brands? I think actually that Demi Moore might have done this. The ad is trying as hard as it can but I detect no meanings flowing from celeb to brand. Moore is made to hemmorage meanings. (And this is odd.)
Thurman and Lewis on the other hand appear to come out of the deal pretty well. The Thurman treatment is a little arch and the Lewis one, a little predictable, but otherwise, there is something happening in the moment of endorsement that makes them more present, more interesting, than they would otherwise have been.
But enough flannelling on. This evening Pam and I must fight a battle for the remote control. She is keen to watch, House, a local favorite. I would like to look in on My Name is Earl. Perhaps we will skip back and forth between them. Hugh Laurie and Jason Lee are celebrities making meanings they will someday make available to the brand. It’s good to get there early.
This is not a memorial that befits him but we must somehow remember the man who helped us to remember. Simon Wiesenthal died today in Austria. He was 96. He was a survivor of five concentration camps and two suicide attempts. He was a scourge of fugitive Nazis.