Gone are the days when only the paparazzi washed celebrities’ dirty laundry in public. Today, it is the stars themselves who reveal their private lives. Why?
“My breasts had a great career and I just followed them wherever they went!” Pamela Anderson exclaims with a good dose of self-deprecation in the documentary “Pamela, a Love Story,” airing Tuesday on Netflix. At the age of 55, the most famous playmate of all time recounts her life in this Netflix documentary, but also in her memoir, Love, Pamela, published on the same day.
“You can ask me anything, I’ll be honest,” she says. She is at home, in the Canadian countryside where she grew up. Anderson is as blonde as she was thirty years ago, her eyebrows still thinly lined. Calmly, she confesses: she says that as a child, her guardian abused her, that she was raped as a teenager, and that she lost her first child after an abortion. What a contrast to her 90s adventures on Baywatch and her radiant pin-up image! However, she is all smiles at the mention of this time which she describes as liberating.
Naturally, she returns to the sex tape in which she stars with her ex-husband, musician Tommy Lee. The video of the young couple was stolen from their safe and broadcast without authorization, making the whole world fat. Of the 75 million dollars generated by the sex tape, the couple did not touch a penny. Lee and Anderson sued the distributors, to no avail. Since Pamela had posed many times for Playboy, it was decided that she no longer had the right to respect for her private life, which in the post-MeToo era is unthinkable.
“To survive, I mentally killed that stolen video,” she says, making the comedy “Pam & Tommy,” which aired last year on Hulu, all the more heartbreaking. Especially since the playboy refused to participate in this series in eight episodes about the theft of his sex tape. For the second time, her sex life was used for the benefit of a third person, without her consent.
“Pamela, a love story” and “Love, Pamela” are excellent examples of how stars are taking back control of their lives through documentaries, memoirs or interviews. In English, it’s called “narrative control”—we couldn’t find the equivalent in French, perhaps because celebrity scandals are rarer here than in Hollywood. And all these examples offer a glimpse into the not-so-rosy world of celebrity.
Authentic and reliable
Over the past five years, there are no shortage of examples of stars who have washed their dirty laundry in public: Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Paris Hilton, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, Matthew Perry and many others. others. the “rich, beautiful and famous” who live the kind of lives we can only dream of.
“Indeed, more and more stars are reclaiming their history. Some do this through a documentary, because this format gives the message its authenticity and credibility,” explains Sofie Van Bauwel, professor of media studies at UGent. “Celebrities today prefer to pull their own strings, and thanks to social media, they no longer depend on the mainstream media to tell their truth.”
“For many people, it’s reassuring to know that stars, despite their wealth and success, also have a number of problems.”
This is definitely their truth. “Stars like Beyoncé are seasoned and know how to influence and control the media. They decide what to share or not”, continues the specialist. Indeed: in “Homecoming”, the documentary dedicated to her performance at the Coachella festival in 2018, Queen B. exposes her vulnerability, but in a super controlled way.
“The fascination with the lives of celebrities is nothing new,” says Dan Hassler-Forest, media and culture specialist at Utrecht University. “Newspapers and magazines have always published gossip about those who appear on our screens. Maintaining that emotional connection has become even more important in the digital age. The new generation of celebrities have created a more direct relationship with their fans through social media and this is greatly appreciated.”
Harry and Meghan
Showing your inner life and vulnerabilities is an art in itself that requires stars to maintain a delicate balance. They have to show that they are like everyone else and therefore also victims of burnout, depression, eating disorders and abuse of all kinds and, at the same time, we must not forget that the stars are part of the cream of the crop : few people are more influential, more beautiful and more successful. So what are they complaining about?
This is where, according to media experts, Harry and Meghan are on the wrong track. They share a lot of information. And this overflow shows up in popularity polls: the more they unpack their dirty laundry, the less popular the British prince and the American actress are. The publication of Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spare, has raised more than one eyebrow. Who should know that he was circumcised, like his brother William, or that he was thrown by an “old woman” in a field?
“Movie stars were invented to attract audiences to theaters. The same for pop stars and royalty: they have become a promotional tool.”
But why do celebrities bare these things? So nothing more can be used against them? To avoid future scandals? Perhaps, but since their private life has also become a source of income, it is better to share as many details as possible. While the Sussexes can no longer rely on their wealthy family, they sell their life story. For Harry’s autobiography, we’re talking twenty million dollars. And the five-year contract with Netflix should bring Harry and Meghan the very handsome sum of one hundred million dollars.
Can these contemporary narratives shed light on what our society finds important? Selena Gomez’s “My Mind & Me” and Jonah Hill’s “Stutz” are subtle and sensitive explorations of their mental health. Jennette McCurdy, the child star of Nickelodeon’s “iCarly,” posted “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” where she humorously shares how her mom pushed her into Hollywood. This sad and funny book became a bestseller.
“Movie stars were invented by the movie industry in the early 20th century to attract audiences to theaters,” explains Hassler-Forest. “The same for pop stars and royalty: they have become a promotional tool. Today, these celebrities dare to show the dark side of this objectification. And the advent of social media has given the public a better understanding of this phenomenon, as it is shared: everyone is showing their best side on Instagram and TikTok in the hope of becoming a (mini) celebrity. Unfortunately, this situation doesn’t always have a positive impact on the mental well-being of those exposed, which we’re aware of, and that’s definitely why we have more sympathy for stars who show the trappings of fame.”
Documentaries and biographies also denounce the tabloid culture of the 90s and 2000s. Shameful, embarrassing, embarrassing, intrusive paparazzi: everything was allowed back then. In Pamela, A Love Story, Anderson explains how the media reduced her to a caricature. Paris Hilton, the heir to the hotel empire and one of the first stars of reality TV, has also published a documentary, “This is Paris”, to correct her image and to affirm that she has always played a role.
Are we heading for a better world, with more respect for (female) celebrities? The UGent professor thinks that this vision is a bit too optimistic: “I don’t know if it is strong enough to provoke personal reflection in the audience. Besides, on the internet, there’s always so much celebrity bashing.”
It looks like we’re just at the beginning of the celebrity confession wave, which is bad news for those already fed up with this plethora of overly detailed spills and boring confessions, but for fans, it’s good news . Many of them are eagerly awaiting the documentary dedicated to Rihanna, whose release has been postponed for four years. The documentary about K-pop group BTS will be released on Disney+ later this year, and filming for “Back to Black,” a new biopic about rising star Amy Winehouse, began earlier this month.
Why do dirty laundry and celebrity weakness continue to be so popular? “Because it makes a lot of people feel like they really know them,” Van Bauwel replies. “It’s comforting to know that, despite their wealth and success, even stars have problems.”
“Pamela, a love story” will be on Netflix on January 31st and “Love, Pamela” it will be in the bookstore the same day.