When I picked up this month’s issue of VOGUE, I was delighted to find Carey Mulligan on the cover. I thought she was absolutely incredible in An Education, and she just seems like a down-to-earth, level-headed lady who is serious about her craft. VOGUE‘s profile on her was very interesting, and made much of the fact that she’s very private and doesn’t wind up with her pictures in the tabloids very often, if at all. In response to these facts, Mulligan had this to say:
I don’t want to be “known”–I’m afraid of being a “personality.” On a talk show, I feel like I should just hold up a sign with the facts on it–and leave. It wouldn’t take more than a minute, and they’d have room for other guests. I want people to not recognize me, to think I’m a different actress, not remember me from what I did previously. If people have all those other pictures and stories associated with you, it’s added shit that means they have to work harder to believe you as a character.
Is it just me, or is this a really profound sentiment? I think it’s the latter. It got me thinking about the notion of “celebrity” and how so often that interferes with the creation of meaningful art. For instance, I started thinking about Mulligan’s acting versus someone with a higher celebrity status, like Lindsay Lohan (which is perhaps not an entirely fair comparison, but bear with me). And this is what makes me believe Mulligan is right: anytime I see Lindsay Lohan act, in anything, I think of her mugshot and of the alcohol monitor she has to wear on her ankle. Or I imagine her snorting coke off of a urinal. But because I have this knowledge of her personal life, it makes it near impossible to be able to believe, much less invest in, a character she’s playing. The same is true of Tom Cruise. I have a hard time thinking of him as a good actor because he almost always plays an asshole, and I’ve observed what an asshole he can be in real life, so I feel like it probably isn’t much of a stretch for him.
ANYWAY, I feel like this idea draws a distinct line between true artists and mere celebrities. A true artist, like my former writing professor Suzanne Wolfe has said, understands that their art is something so much bigger than themselves, that they are merely a vessel for their art to come to light. The concept of celebrity, however, makes a person and what they do as an individual the focus, and not what they’re creating as an artist. A celebrity makes only cheap art because they think it is about themselves, or is at least an extension of them.
And what’s disturbing is that it’s much easier, and oftentimes more desirable, to be a celebrity rather than an artist. I read an article on NPR about the new documentary by Adrian Grenier (the really attractive guy from Entourage, and no stranger to acting the role of celebrity) about a thirteen-year-old paparazzo who stays out until the wee hours of the morning, battling with adult paparazzos for a juicy photo of an in-demand celebrity. It just seems to be a really sad commentary on the mass public’s infatuation with celebrity, and how it has trickled down to the youth. I don’t read US Weekly anymore, but I used to, and there’s a regular feature called “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” that has pictures of Fergie at the grocery store or Kourtney Kardashian putting a car seat into a taxi cab. The title of this feature is pretty duh-worthy (obviously stars are just like us.. they’re human, aren’t they?!), but it just illustrates how we humble everyday people put these celebrities on a pedestal, and often for nothing that is deserving of a pedestal. And then people like Mulligan, who take their craft seriously and who become invisible for the sake of their art, go unrecognized and unappreciated. I guess Mulligan explicitly said she didn’t want to be recognized, but seriously, the artists like her deserve a little dap at least.