Why Can’t We Stay Out Of Jodie Foster’s “Closet”? A Perspective On Celebrity As A Fetish

paparazzi

Let’s start by defining the word fetish, lest everyone think we are discussing a different kind of topic.

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, fetish is defined as:

a : an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence

b : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion

In the United States and most developed countries, celebrities tend to become the fetish object:  idolized,  revered as almost supernatural superheroes and held to extraordinarily high standards by right of their profession in the public eye and the often super-human paycheck that comes with it.  Celebrities have always been a central focus in consumer culture:  used as marketing tools to convince people that some of their magic-dust will rub off on them if they purchase a product they use publicly or speak for in an ad.

As a public we mostly presume the right to know anything and everything we want about celebrities as we feel it is their obligation to disclose their private lives because they “put themselves out there”.

The truth of it is, celebrities are working stiffs like the rest of us.  They do a job, whether it be acting, modeling clothes or playing a sport (let’s stick with the entertainment-oriented celebrities for the sake of this argument).  They are selling a product: their labor or looks or skill.  They are doing it for love and / or profit.  At the end of the day, the deal they are signing on for, in theory, is to co-opt their image or their skills.

However, in what may be an unpopular argument, I need to point out the fact that celebrities do not sign on to co-opt their personal lives any more than someone who works at a bank or a shipyard.  In most workplaces, we have an unspoken (and sometimes bespoke) rule that our personal lives stay at home when we are at work.  We do our jobs, we choose if we want to put pictures of our families on our desks or share stories about the weekend, but are not expected to make our personal lives part of our work lives.  It’s why there are designated work hours.

So why do we feel that celebrities owe us something more than what they get paid for?  Why do we feel that they have an obligation to let us in to their private lives?  And in the case of Jodie Foster and other celebrities who happen to be gay or lesbian, why do we feel like they ought to publicly pronounce their sexual orientation to the American public or be ridiculed as a fraud?  Speaking as flag-flying member of the GLBT community who has put in the time as an educator and activist and continues to donate time and money to related causes that promote equality and tolerance, I wholeheartedly say:  leave the celebrities alone!

Jodie Foster makes a few great points in her now all a-Twittered Golden Globe Speech:

I think it’s about time that we stopped trying to consume celebrities’ personal lives and just allowed ourselves to be customers of the work they produce – enjoying it in perspective.  If a celebrity’s sexual orientation is something they want to share because doing so helps them point to their true north, then so be it.  However, everyone should be able to reserve the right to control the labels they want associated with their metaphorical price tag.  Let’s allow a celebrity’s value to be defined by their work and the points of view they choose to put out there for public consumption, just as we allow the value of our brands to be defined by their set of distinct benefits: from what they do to what they publicly stand for.

We should be wary of the concept of privacy being for sale, lest we lose ourselves to a voracious culture of consumption rather than  finding ourselves in a culture of appreciation for the beauty and potential of our human existence.

And let’s let the famous people keep their personal lives private.

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Categories: Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Lesbians, Marketing, pop culture, sociology, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments

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51 thoughts on “Why Can’t We Stay Out Of Jodie Foster’s “Closet”? A Perspective On Celebrity As A Fetish

  1. great piece

  2. I wholeheartedly agree.

  3. In the end, celebrities are just people. It really is strange how we demand to know everything about them, isn’t it?

  4. Flag waving is OK. But asking non-rhetorical questions and leaving them unaswered is not what anthropologists do. I don’t know if you allow comments that do not support your opinion, but I would be happy if it was just you who read it, for I am interested to learn more of what you think on a different perspective.

    People form emotional bonds to celebs (just like they do to brands, which are NOT about benefits only), and that’s why people are interested in things/people to which they are emotionally bound. I am not bound emotionally to JF. I don’t care about her coming-out. But I will be interested to learn more about some other actors. People are also interested in celebs because media makes glamour the god and icon. For some, celebs and their lifestyle is a fairytale, to which ordinary folks aspire and which they envy. FOr some, whose life shows no signs of super success, it is important to know bad things about celebs that would prove the latter achieved their status via means far from honest effort and talent. It is not people’s fault that they are interested in celebs, and it is beyond their powers to control this interest. You can ask them not to as much as you like, but if you want to really change it, talk to Ms Foster first.

    I’ve made myself watch this video. It is a well-rehearsed and relatively well acted promotion, and Ms Foster played the worldwide audience as a chess champion plays a game against a 10-year old. I can’t believe you’ve bought into this performance! )

    PS I can’t press the Like button, but were there a Respect one, I’d push it )

    • I wrote the blog to encourage a dialogue: to share my interpretation of the consumer fetishization of celebrity and assert my opinion (in line with my narcissistic namesake. ;) ) As an empirical researcher at heart I always encourage different points of view. And Jodie’s speech is definitely taken in it’s due context…she is, after all, an actor selling a product. I used it as a topical example to provide an entry to the discussion. Thanks for sharing your point of view, and your respect.

  5. THANK YOU! This has needed to be said for so long!

    Celebrities are under NO obligation at all to share more with the public than they care to and the public has NO right to badger them to do so.

    If a gay celebrity, or any gay person for that matter, isn’t “out” enough to satisfy someone else, tough.

  6. I just wish some of the puking infants who are whining about her had any awareness AT ALL — and they appear not to — that some crazy dude once shot at a president to impress her. Do all of you baby “activist” fags and dykes walking around with your oppressed noses in the air even remember that? (Yeah, I’m queer too, so STFU, I get to say that.) Do any of you have any idea how a sane, well-balanced person will react to finding out that some murderous looney-bin tried to off a bunch of people violently because was obsessed with your life? GMAFB, people.

    I cannot believe that out of all of the people who have felt obligated to have some sort of Social Opinion™ on this, damned few of them were even alive when that happened and NONE of them seem to recall it or think that it might have had an impact in how firmly Foster would like to slam the door on the toes of anyone who tries to stick themselves where they don’t belong.

    Foster’s life and choices are HERS. Being an actor doesn’t mean losing all right to shut the door. Thinking otherwise is rape logic. Bitch opened the door for that other person one time, so she’s got no right to shut it on me.

    Oh yes she does. Whenever she wants, and for any reason at all. Shut up and get on with your lives, all of you.

  7. I disagree with your statement that ‘celebrities do not sign on to co-opt their personal lives any more than someone who works at a bank or a shipyard.’ It’s the nature of their business to be known, to be seen and to be talked about. Obviously I don’t include the papparazi.

    Jodie Foster’s sexual orientation is her business. I don’t give a hoot about it. But if she puts the information in the public domain, then she can surely expect all sorts of people voicing all sorts of opinions. Jodie is a brilliant actress. That’s all I need or want to know about her
    .
    We tend to relate to the roles actors play and think we know those people, that’s the problem. Some of us just can’t get enough of that gossip. .Hard as it is these days, I try not to find out about the personal lives of actors that I admire. Because sometimes when I do know, it puts me off. I may not care for their political leanings, for example. Actors mostly like the attention and many use their celebrity status to influence our opinion on an issue. There’s somehow an impression that being a celebrity makes actors experts on things outside their craft.
    Well, that’s my ramble. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  8. Did someone ask Jodi to explain her lifestyle as part of her exceptance speech? Even if something as odd as that happened couldnt she tell them to kiss her ass. Thats what I would have done. I think she might have a few issues that have nothing to do with any of us or what we think.

  9. Nice post. Thanks for presenting your opinion clearly and concisely. Though it may seem empowering when celebrities “come out,” the underlying reality is each of us has to learn to find comfort in who we are individually, regardless of whether others, with or without fame, claim to join the bandwagon.

  10. I agree 100%
    Excellent writing :)

  11. In Jodie’s case – she lives a relatively private existence considering how famous she is. But she’s probably the rarity these days. Now – it’s all about how much press you can court – whether that’s by shagging someone famous, snorting coke and stumbling out of a club, dressing your kids up and parading them (while pretending to shelter them) for the paparazzi to photograph – or setting up a sex tape and releasing to the masses. This is how it’s done now. Kim Kartrashian made an estimated $40M+ last year. Yeah – you read that right – Fourty Million Dollars – for essentially being a brainless hoe who married for publicity – and will now cash on as she grows a person and will probably give tmz exclusive rights to film the little miracle existing her twat!

    I like the way you write – you’ve got a great way with words. But i have to agree with the dissenters here. Well scripted, well rehearsed speech for the masses to gobble up Jodes.

    • I agree with much of this response. I’ve watched Jodie Foster since she was on my favorite childhood show (Courtship of Eddie’s Father) and she has always struck me as a celebrity who went to great pains to keep her personal life private, and I think we should respect that. There are so many other celebrities, on the other hand, who court publicity – aiming for multiple magazine covers, doing puff piece interviews where they discuss their relationships, selling photos of their weddings and new babies to gossip magazines. (And I’m not talking about the extreme publicity seekers like the Kardashians or any reality show stars here, either!) These celebrities then want to cry foul when things get out of hand and they are besieged by the paparazzi. Should they?

      By the way, I watched Jodie’s Globes acceptance speech twice and I still have no idea what she was talking about!

  12. *exiting* her twat. I really should proof when i rant – sorry!

  13. Great article. One of the related articles in the links at the bottom stated that Jodie “lied by omission” and I cringed when I read that. In this day and age, privacy and what we choose to do with our personal information is more precious than ever. I do not believe it is a gay celebrity’s “duty” to come out in order to make life better for the rest of the gay and lesbian population (as one author stated). Everyone has a right to privacy. Everyone.

    • Agreed 110% percent!

      The phrase “Lie by omission” carries the stench of witch hunt logic with it.

      I also consider it to be the height of hypocrisy when someone in the more vociferous end of the gay pride camp says that gay celebrities have some “duty” to come out for the greater good and stand up as “role models”. That’s every bit as bad as a homophobe who tries to push gay people back into the closet.

      It seriously beggars belief how many people think they have such dominion over another person’s life and feel they have some entitlement to use another person, famous or not, to achieve their own ends.

      • Well said.

      • What a brilliant comment. It does come across like a feeling of entitlement to dominate another human being.

        If we “vote” with our dollars by purchasing a view of Jodie Foster’s work, it doesn’t buy the right to co-op her time, or to bully her into social lobbying for personal gain.

  14. I like this article. And the old maxim stands true:
    Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself.

    If ever you are unsure of whether someone is being treated fairly, ask “would I consider it acceptable to be treated that way?” Celebrities are no less deserving of respect than anyone else. In many ways, they may be more vulnerable.

    Peace. x

  15. Agree completely! Having read other posts suggesting people in the public eye have a duty to come out, I have to disagree with them, how does starring in a movie entitle people to know about their personal lives? I’m only interested in the product of their talents, the books they write, the music they make, their performances on stage and film, why do people think we have an automatic right to know what they have for breakfast or who they sleep with. Just because many celebrities thrive on being talked about (or more to the point people who gain celebrity from doing nothing at all), this doesn’t mean everyone has to be treated with the same coverage.

    As a gay man I disagree with other writings from the gay perspective that they have a duty to come out to help LGBT relations, I couldn’t disagree more, when I came out I wasn’t influenced by openly out celebrities, I was inspired by everyday people fighting the cause, campaigning and making themselves heard when public opinion was against them from headline events such as Stonewall to people going about their daily lives. People’s right to come out when they are comfortable doing so should never be overlooked. I don’t doubt it helps integrate when more people in the public eye are open but that shouldn’t mean they should feel forced to.

    Too much emphasis exists on celebrity, unfortunately this is the case with many younger people I see who are firmly out of the closet, celebrity and image obsessed, I’ve seen them mock older gay men in my local pub just for being older, I’ve had to remind them they can be so openly out now because of the strides the older chaps made decades ago.

    If we are using celebrities as our main role models then we are barking up the wrong tree, we should be influenced first and foremost by our parents and our peers around us, people don’t accept homosexuality because an actor is out, they accept is because people they know and love are.

    • Hey, you’re so right about the contempt of younger people for their elders (I mean I’m young and I can see this) – it’s everywhere this idea that we who are young now are being so much bolder than those who have come before simply because we have had the “good sense” not to let ourselves get brainwashed. But this type of thinking, as you said, totally ignores the fact that many of the so-called risks we (i.e. young people) take are in many ways no longer very daring at all because of changes in what is acceptable in society. I wish people would realise how groundlessly egotistical it is for them think that they are simply less deluded or cowardly than people from previous generations because they do things like “sleep around” or get tattoos and piercings etc….

  16. Excellent piece very refreshing to read. you captured the human aspect of celebrity lifestyle perfectly well. enjoyed reading this.

  17. She’s “single” Wish I was.

  18. Absolutely spot on. Celebrity obsession is, in it’s own way, a form of objectification and yet nobody really seems to talk about it.

  19. Ah, FAME!

    Albert Einstein once shared a car with Charlie Chaplin and as the car was mobbed he asked ‘what’s going on?’ And Charlie said, ‘Nothing’

    Enough said.

  20. mkesling63

    This post shows a lot of respect for “Do unto others as you would have done to you” regardless of station/calling in life. Legally speaking it upholds the 14th amendment of the US constitution. These people have been victims of the freedom of the press amendment in they have no privacy rights. Their privates included for the public dirt to put down. Cheap publicity shots by the incompetent or simple I just don’t think before I act.Her speech here doesn’t surprise me at all. The New World Power protects hers too. Not just her public, fame but her private gains too. If professions were worth money, New World Orders, all making the UN, used any cheap shot they could to get it.

    Why that is, is uglier. I personally am glad she felt protected enough now to come out with it anyway she choose to. She owns her public statements and no other now.

  21. mkesling63

    Narcissistic for this blog is more like good dictator. Narcissistic is a negative mental health issue but the good self dictator is always good. Just a thought for the blog owner. People don’t follow narcissism, they follow good uncompromising dictators, and you have the makings of a great leader in inspirational, maybe translation. Both titles have a powerful uncompromising rep. meaning.

  22. I look forward to a time when no one has to “come out” at all, when you just show up at awards ceremonies with whoever you feel like bringing along, and if you keep showing up at events with the same person, the tabloids speculate wildly about how long it will last and start trying to capture an “intimate moment”–regardless of that person’s gender.

    I did not hear Jodie’s speech, but I agree with her. She has been out since the Stone Age. She’s always been private, and it’s never been a secret, and I figured she was gay since the first time I saw her on screen when I was about 8 years old. She has just always been exactly who she is, with no need to make a big deal of it. And that’s how it should be.

  23. Hey, nice to see you up on Freshly Pressed!

  24. HighlyQualified

    Honestly, it would be ok with me if movie actors/actresses kept their personal lives private. Lots of “tmi” from lots of these famous actors and actresses.

  25. Reblogged this on Life with Loder.

  26. getmikey

    Well, I didn’t know about the coming out, now that I do I could care less. DO recall that crazy guy aiming squarely at President Reagan. (Out of one of his protectors’ injuries came major gun control, something else I remember.)

    But since I hadn’t heard the speech I clicked on the Youtube video . . . and didn’t get to see it because Youtube canned the account.

    Just thought you might like to know, video’s gone.

  27. getmikey

    While I could care less about her coming out, I still wish her well.

  28. I find successful entrepreneurs more interesting as role models and icons than celebrities.

  29. Great post, excellent writing!

  30. You seem to be suggesting that the cult of personality is a recent phenomenum. Mass interest in the lives of the famous goes back to Roman times and before. The very notion of fame without celebrity is as impossible as celebrity without personalised interest.

    It therefore seems to me that your assertion that celebrity interest is fetishist in nature and therefore irrational is itself irrational, in that it ignores what seems to be a long-standing and cross-cultural trait of human nature. Is it not therefore likely that it represents a form of rational behaviour, within the context of human development? And is it not telling that interest in celebrity behaviour as role model or anti-model is suggestive of the interest that children have in the behaviour of parents and close relatives as models by which to compose socially acceptable behaviour?

    If my questions are of any value, then they lead to a further question – why is that human beings persist in behaving like children far into adulthood? And is there any truth to the suggestion that this kind of interest in others is most common in educationally and economically disadvantaged social groups? And at this point, we start to enter into the question of who is chosen to lead and why and the way in which modern education perpetuates these characteristics over generations within stable cultures.

    I would find it all rather more intreresting to see an enquiry into why the actors and actresses who deliver lines attract greater personal interest than the writers who conjur them or the directors who draw out their performances? Does it not offer an interesting reflection on the shallowness of modern education, upbringing and consciousness?

    • Great response! I wouldn’t assert that celebrity fetish is necessarily an entirely recent phenomenon, but that’s not to say it’s rational either. Perhaps the latter is more of a question, however.

  31. Great piece! I’ve always felt this way, like why do people think celebrities “owe” them something? Nobody owes anyone anything.

  32. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  33. Interesting perspective. Over the years I thought it was cool that she didn’t do a public “coming out” because she was taking a stand that she didn’t have to, and saying, “Why does it matter?” and kind of “screw you” to the press, since they wanted to talk about something other than her work. Truth is, all celebrities get asked who they are dating. If they never marry, and never say — they are exerting some kind of privacy. When people marry, they are making a public announcement of who they love.. But no one is required to marry or make an announcement, though some may choose to. I might read about a celebrity’s life and training and experience, (I like imdb), but if he/she doesn’t make some sort of announcement, I’m not mad. Your piece reminded me of something I heard Black Gay Comedian/Actress say after she was treated for breast cancer. She was apparently asked why she didn’t make her diagnosis and struggle public and she said, “I can’t be a poster child for everything!” (She already talks about the black and gay thing) Jodie Foster can choose to be or not be the poster child for whatever she wants. Hell, she could use her celebrity to help a number of worthy or even not so worthy causes. Her choice. I ain’t mad at her. Also reminds me of something my mom said years ago when Ellen came out publicly (even though at this point most people assumed she was gay). My mom said, “If she doesn’t come out soon, I’m gonna go in there and get her!”

    I heard Jodie Foster’s speech as, “You know, I know, my people know, but I absolutely refuse to say the words you want me to say because I’m badass Jodie Foster and I don’t freaking have to.”

  34. I love your statement… finding ourselves in a culture of appreciation for the beauty and potential of our human existence. I came out pretty late in life (49), and in the years before, I read and researched women who’d come out late, trying to find myself in their stories–trying to find validation. And, of course, I read bits and pieces of stories about Meredith Baxter and Kelly McGillis, but although interesting, their stories did little to validate me. I walked away thinking…they’re celebrities; they’re allowed. The permission and validation I needed could only come from me.

    Thoughtful post. Thank you.

  35. Exemplifying the cultural sickness of modern celebrity worship, Gawker’s headline “The Sheer Gall of Celebrities Demanding Privacy” is sadly hilarious. Jodie Foster is an American treasure, and gay or straight [ who cares? ] she deserves all the privacy she wants and needs. The lesbian community has known about Jodie for more than 30 years. There was a special secret contingency in Taos NM which whisked Jodie in and out of hotel rooms and helped her have some lesbian privacy whenever she came to town. I worked in a cafe owned by one of the gay locals who helped her out, so I got all the secret stories and they will never leave me. What happens in Taos STAYS in Taos. We take care of our own.

    I found it particularly distasteful that for the next few days after her speech, reporters buzzed her poor father like deranged flies, outing where he lived and even the make and model of his car. That’s truly sick. Slam your doors shut Jodie! You KNEW this was going to happen. You have given America plenty, way plenty and are beloved. You don’t have to tear off any more pieces of yourself to satisfy the gossip gluttony of a nation with nothing better to do than feast upon the details of other people’s private lives, the sheer gall of it all.

  36. Pingback: Coming out with all … powered by social media | marvalously

  37. Pingback: An Homage To Alternative Points of View: An Exercise in Objectivity | The Narcissistic Anthropologist

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