For this month’s Summer Session we’re thinking about celebrity, and today from our sister publication Art Practical we bring you Sean Uyehara’s exploration of celebrity’s affective underpinnings. Uyehara locates the tension between earnestness and irony as perhaps the core dynamic of celebrity experience, with the audience constantly vacillating between these two poles as they consider stories and lives outside of their own. This article was originally published July 9, 2014.
As I began to write this, I was informed by my social-media news feed that Miley Cyrus told a drunken Jennifer Lawrence to “get it together” after this year’s Oscar ceremony. I note it because, to my mind, one of the many tropes paraded and wrestled over in the field bordered by art and entertainment is earnestness—or, on the flipside of earnestness, camp and irony. Most readers are keenly aware of the role that irony plays in contemporary artistic practice. If not, one can catch up by reading Salon, which seems to publish an article on sincerity in culture once a week. For example, they grapple with David Foster Wallace and what he really meant when he said that irony is killing culture. So, I won’t go through the historical underpinnings of ironic development (except when convenient to my points later). But the gist at this moment is: How are we supposed to take this? Is there any way to react to Miley Cyrus telling Jennifer Lawrence to get it together at the Oscars other than ironically? And by that I mean we might say, “This headline is no headline. This news is not news,” and so on. Of course one could take it earnestly: “I care about Jennifer Lawrence. I want to know about Miley Cyrus. This is news!” And, while I haven’t done the field research, I am sure that some people do respond earnestly—one-thousand-percent sure, I guess. I have been trained by our culture to suspect that there’s something disturbed in worrying about a potential Jennifer Lawrence–drinking problem, but at its core there’s nothing wrong with earnestness itself. I’m totally serious. I guess the real deep thinkers out there can take a stance of earnest irony. I understand that. Everybody wants to be an individual, and I’m just like everyone else in that regard.