Category Archives: Celebrities

Why we like watching rich people

INTRODUCTION

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”Mary Cybulski/Paramount Pictures, via Associated Press

Several Academy Award contenders like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” glorify white-collar criminals and scammers, and many reality TV shows embrace the wealthy, too. A new series, “#RichKids of Beverly Hills,” is the latest example of our enthusiasm for “ogling the filthy rich.”

Why are we so obsessed with watching the antics of the 1 percent?

NY Times, Feb 2014 | Alyssa Roseberg | Read more here 

America’s fascination with the ill-behaved rich, expressed in both reality television and this year in many movies that are contending for major awards, isn’t limited to the current recession. But the particular incarnation of our fascination seems intended to do something very specific: help us manage our covetousness, at a time when even basic financial security feels out of reach for many people.

It’s been fascinating to watch Bravo, which more than any other network drove the idea that programming should be “aspirational,” shift its brand from shows like “Project Runway” and “Top Chef,” which taught viewers about fashion and food, toward reality programming about the rich.

In “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett plays a wealthy socialite who falls on hard times.Jessica Miglio/Sony Pictures Classics

The purchasing power of the people who appear on the “Real Housewives” franchise may be enviable. But part of the appeal of those shows is the opportunity to judge their casts’ consumption choices and their conduct. If we had their money, we think, we wouldn’t spend it on hideous hotel suites and closets full of wigs. And when it turns out that Teresa Giudice, a star on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” is financing her lifestyle on debt and fraud, we can congratulate ourselves for not sharing her desperation to appear wealthy.

When rich people we actually envy turn out to be criminals, the idea that wealth is inherently corrupting helps take the sting out of our envy. Gordon Gekko may have declared that “greed is good” in the movie “Wall Street,” but by chasing his example, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen’s character in the film) contributes to his father’s heart attack and earns himself a prison sentence, examples that help us map the limits of what we’d do for more money. We tell ourselves that we’d never be as pathetic or myopic as the heroine of “Blue Jasmine,” who ruins her own life by marrying a scammer. And we’d never be so foolish, as the titular hero of “The Great Gatsby,” remade again this summer by Baz Luhrmann, to think that wealth, no matter how it’s acquired, can purchase class, or ease, or revise personal history.

We may never stop wanting money, the worries it eliminates and the ease it can bring. But pop culture can issue very effective reminders that we value things like our freedom and our self-respect just as much.

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African American Stars Remember Whitney Houston

By Allison Samuels, Newsweek, Feb 20, 2012

Why Whitney Houston’s fans never stopped rooting for her.

With Whitney Houston’s death in a Beverly Hills bathtub, bottles of prescription pills found in her room, it was hard to escape the reality of addiction that dominated her later years. On Fox & FriendsBill O’Reilly announced that the star had “killed herself” with decades of drug use, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fought off critics who said an addict didn’t deserve flags in her native state flown at half-mast.

 

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From left: Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991.; Houston on the cover of “Seventeen;” Houston with Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard.”, From left: George Rose / Getty Images; no credit; Warner Brothers / Courtesy Everett Collection

 

Despite Houston’s demons, her fans—2 million of whom tweeted about her in the hour after her death was announced—never stopped rooting for her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman, a black woman, receive the type of attention and nonstop press Whitney has these last few days,” says former Motown president Clarence Avant. “Everything stopped when the news of her death hit. It seemed the world paused and took note of the loss.

If the response was unprecedented, it was in part because Houston’s life and career were also unprecedented—and unmatched even today. Houston wasn’t just an incredible singer with sky-high cheekbones. She wasn’t just a charismatic modeling, music, and film star. Houston was a New Jersey–born “girl next door” who, for a short period in time, changed the way the world viewed beauty, style, and fame.

Houston instantly altered several industries when she emerged in the early 1980s. When her smiling brown face, complete with a close-cropped Afro, appeared on the cover of Seventeen in 1981, she was one of the first African-Americans to grace the cover, and the industry took notice. When she belted out a chilling and soulful version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl, the world sat back in awe of her poise and calm. And in an era when African-American actresses are often given film roles portraying them as destitute, unloving, unlovable, or just “the help,” Houston played the love interest of Kevin Costner, a white Hollywood superstar.

“Movie studios were actually creating roles for Whitney,” says noted African-American film historian and author Donald Bogle. “That really never happened for black actresses then, and it doesn’t happen now. They didn’t even do that for Diana Ross. Whitney had that something they knew people of all walks wanted to see.”

Houston could be all things to all people. She could don bright leggings and a fluffy sweater and become the quintessential “round-the-way girl.” Just hours later, she could put on a gown and dazzle the queen of England. Her uncomplicated beauty always left audiences wanting more.

“She was both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time,” recalls the Rev. Al Sharpton, a family friend. “You saw her beauty, but you weren’t overwhelmed by it because she wasn’t arrogant. You heard her talent, but you weren’t envious of it because she felt like a friend.”

“How could you not listen to that voice or look at that face?” says Denzel Washington, who costarred with Houston in her third film, The Preacher’s Wife. “The audience was drawn to her in a way that’s hard to explain.”

Of course, other African-American women have made their mark on the entertainment industry, but not in quite the same way. Halle Berry won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball but hasn’t achieved the box-office success Houston had. Some say Beyoncé is Houston’s obvious successor, but she has not yet found Houston-level audiences.

“You can’t compare Whitney Houston to anyone,” says Bethann Hardison, who represented Houston for a time in her modeling career. “Whitney was not exotic-looking in the way that Halle Berry or Beyoncé are. Whitney was just a pretty black girl from Jersey with a little Afro. She was just Whitney. No one is around today that even comes close to having what she had.”

Jeremy Lin Makes Us All American

The only Asian American in the NBA is not just breaking stereotypes, he’s also redefining his country

By Eric Liu, Time, 13 Feb 2012

Getty Images

GETTY IMAGES

After watching my first World Series in 1977, I wanted to be Reggie Jackson. I bought a big Reggie poster. I ate Reggie candy bars. I entered a phase during which I insisted on having the same style of glasses Reggie had: gold wire frames with the double bar across.

As a 9-year-old son of immigrants, I was claiming Reggie and, through him, this country. Every time I imitated his explosive swing, every time I adjusted my glasses like he did, with a thrust of the chin, a touch of swagger, I imagined that my family had been American as long as the Yankees had. Such an act of imagining, in its own little way, is what any of us means when we call ourselves “American.”

I thought about that on Friday night when, for the first time, I saw Jeremy Lin play basketball. Lin, as anyone not in a cave now knows, is a point guard for the New York Knicks, a backup who has become a Twitter-age supernova. Friday he faced off against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and prevailed, reeling off 38 points in the victory. Saturday he led them to their fifth consecutive win. Who knows how long this sensation can keep scoring. But another sensation — the feeling of awakening Lin has inspired across the country — is real and seems likely to last.

(MOREIt’s Official: Jeremy Lin is For Real)

In the stands Friday some fans wore Lin’s visage on cardboard masks. You couldn’t tell what age or race they were. You could see only how they wished to be seen: as a 23-year-old second-generation Taiwanese-American Harvard grad from Palo Alto, Calif., of late with a golden touch. These fans, first-, second-, or 10th-generation, cheered the underdog newcomer and strummed anew those chords of narrative in which anyone with grit, talent and a little luck can make it in America.

Their embrace of Lin has made millions of Asian Americans feel vicariously, thrillingly embraced. Not invisible. Not presumed foreign. Just part of the team, belonging in the game. It’s felt like a breakout moment: for Lin, for Asian America and, thus, for America.

Context is everything. Earlier this week a Senate candidate in Michigan unveiled a campaign ad using Chinese-accented broken English to suggest his opponent was doing China’s bidding. (“Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs,” says an actress bicycling through rice paddies.) Friday night in Madison Square Garden a fan waved a crude red and yellow poster with the clichéd Chinese restaurant font made of jagged brushstrokes. A sign like that could have been used to mock, to make the Asian an outsider. Instead, it was used to worship. EMPEROR LIN, it proclaimed.

There have been, in recent years, many Asian American pioneers in the public eye who’ve defied the condescendingly complimentary “model minority” stereotype: actors like Lucy Liu, artists like Maya Lin, moguls like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. They are known, often admired. But Lin is something new: an Asian American whom millions of other Americans want to be.

Identity in America is complicated but it’s also simple: it’s about whom you identify with and who identifies with you. Lin is the only Asian American in the NBA today and one of the few in any professional U.S. sport. His arrival is surely leading other talented Asian American athletes this week to contemplate a pro career. Just as surely, though, it’s leading many non-Asian non-athletes to expand their identities; to redefine, just by their rooting interest, “American.”

Jeremy Lin the point guard might transform his team and his sport. We shall see. Jeremy Lin the citizen has already changed his country.

Why musicians are plagued by early deaths

Phil McCarten / Reuters

By Touré, Time, February 14, 2012

The death of Whitney Houston has inspired some soul-searching in the music world. “I’m obsessed with why our heroes are not making it past 50,” Questlove told me on the Grammy red carpet as I interviewed him for Fuse. He sounded alarmed and said he now knows he must make changes in his life and in the lives of musicians around him. “I already gave my whole band the speech. We gotta live different. Lack of sleep, not watching what we eat, extra patron in the rider. No more. I wanna be old. This is a wake-up call like no other. And I’m obsessed with the health of everybody I know in this industry.” He’s already in the process of hiring a trainer and a nutritionist. “I’m not worried about bullets, I’m worried about strokes. Strokes are the new bullets.”

Whitney was 48 years young, and we don’t yet know why she died. She was found unconscious submerged in a bathtub, but her age links her to a slew of musicians who recently died prematurely, from Michael Jackson at 50 to Heavy D at 44 to Nate Dogg at 41 to Amy Winehouse at 27. Rock once had an ethos of live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse, but those days are long gone. We’re in a more corporate era, where artists are often business savvy and focused on building lasting careers. This year’s Grammys opened with a song by Bruce Springsteen and closed with a performance by Paul McCartney, evidence that longevity is being celebrated. So why are we still seeing singers and rappers dying prematurely of suicide, drug overdose and heart attacks that are suggestive of bodies and minds being mistreated over long periods of time?

(MORE: Whitney Houston’s Death: Hallmarks of a Battle Against Addiction)

This may not be as tragic as other societal epidemics, but there’s never an appropriate time to play “Whose Pain Is Worse?” The deaths of treasured artists are a loss for us all and send out horrible messages about what it means to be one. So what I’m wondering is, Why are so many talented musicians not making it to senior citizenship?

Before I spoke to Questlove, I interviewed Rick Ross, who recently suffered two seizures in one day. He told me he blames the seizures on “exhaustion,” (which could refer to many things). He said he had been getting two hours of sleep a night. I asked him if he’d made significant life changes. He said he was sleeping more now. Like four hours a night.

The attitude that sleeping is for losers is endemic to America and especially the music business. “I used to think there was something heroic in not sleeping,” Questlove said, “then I ended up in the hospital for four days. Happened last November. I’d planned my time on two hours of sleep a day for 20 days in a row. I’d work out, go do the Jimmy Fallon show, work on the Roots album from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., work on D’Angelo’s album from 2:30 to 6, catnap on his couch then go to the gym. Did that 15, 20 days in a row, but if you don’t sleep that long your immune system is worn out and you’re susceptible to all kinds of diseases. I got coxsackie virus, which adults aren’t even supposed to get. I couldn’t work for two weeks. Couldn’t even hold a drumstick. The result of not sleeping. You think it’s cool and rebellious, but it’s not.” Continue reading

Does Tiger Woods Have a Right to Privacy?

The New York Times, The Opinion Pages

Tiger Woods

Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesTiger Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren at the Presidents Cup golf competition in October.

In the continuing drama over his car accident last week, Tiger Woods released a statement on Wednesday, apologizing to his family and supporters after a magazine article reported that he had carried on multiple affairs.

In his statement, he said:

No matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don’t share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one’s own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.

But in the age of the Internet, when the media is not just traditional mainstream press or even the tabloids, but bloggers and twitterers, is a claim of privacy even plausible? And is there a difference between a public figure and a well-known figure when it comes to privacy?

Continue reading

Jay-Z – dropping the word ‘bitch’ doesn’t begin to cover it

By Tricia Rose, The Guardian,  17 January 2012

Jay-Z and Beyoncé

Jay-Z has said he would stop using the word ‘bitch’ after he and Beyoncé Knowles had a daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. Photograph: Reuters/Corbis

Sean Carter, who performs under the name Jay-Z, has apparently vowed never again to use the word bitch in the wake of the birth of his daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. And while I celebrate and congratulate his new fatherhood, this vow didn’t impress me.

It doesn’t begin to address his role in contributing to and profiting from the global power of a hyper-sexist brand of hip-hop masculinity. I need to hear quite a bit more about how he feels about this legacy and its impact on millions of black girls and boys before getting all teary-eyed.

Sure, hip-hop didn’t invent sexism, nor has it been the only musical genre to profit from promoting it. The vast territory that is popular music is a treasure trove of sexist ideas and images. And it is also true that racist, rightwing critics have targeted hip-hop as a way to continue the demonisation of black men while remaining silent on countless other sexist images, sounds and stories that define US culture.

As I noted in The Hip Hop Wars, just because your enemy is wrong, it doesn’t make you right. It is quite true that hip-hop has played a starring role in making sexist ideas sexy, visible and funky. Through the power of black music, style, swagger and lyrical creativity, Jay-Z and many other highly successful rappers (e.g, Snoop Dog, 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne) have expanded the visibility and value of aggressively sexist lyrics. And, frankly, if you want to find openly celebrated sexism against black women, there is no richer contemporary source than commercial, mainstream hip-hop.

This hasn’t happened because commercially powerful artists have randomly or dutifully dropped a sexist word here or there to punctuate an infectious beat. Whole identities in countless songs rely on excessively sexist behaviour and name-calling to define the protagonist’s power and importance.

More than in any other genre in the history of black music, commercially celebrated hip-hop swagger depends on a brand of manhood that consistently defines black women as disrespected objects. And fans of all racial background, but especially young white males, who make up the bulk of US consumers, eat it up.

Black women know much about the brutality of colonialism, racism, economic exploitation and incarceration and their targeted impact on young black men. In the interest of protecting black men and boys from the extraordinary violence they face, many women have spoken out on behalf of men and remained silent about the violence done to women. They worry that naming their own suffering will add to black male suffering. But the forces aligned against black men roll on anyway, don’t they? And, as Audre Lordeso powerfully reminded us, “your silence won’t protect you”.

Some members of the hip-hop generation have spoken up. Some young women have courageously responded in protest; and films Daphne Valerius’s The Souls of Black Girls and Byron Hurt’sBeyond Beats and Rhymes challenge fans on the subject. But the biggest players in commercial hip-hop – the artists and the major corporations that promote and distribute them – have shielded themselves from sustained engagement and accountability.

A progressive, feminist, anti-racist community is not born, it is made. Through widespread exchange of ideas about how these injustices are perpetuated we learn why it is in all of our interests to fight for justice for all. This is why direct engagement and accountability matters so much. It should not be about finger pointing, or separating “them” from “us”. Part of the power of sexism and racist sexism is their capacity to seem so normal they almost disappear from view: they recruit us all into participation even when we know better.

But at the same time, we cannot continue to defend or silently condone commercial mainstream hip-hop’s hefty contribution to the hostility and disrespect endured by black women. To do so is not to defend black men or hip-hop; it is to defend sexism against black women.