In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle talks about why she doesn’t like watching interviews of female celebrities. It ain’t pretty.
I don’t really like celebrity interviews. There basically seems to be no world in which they end well. Either the person being interviewed is inauthentic, simply pushing their movie or their chosen persona, or they are authentic and then either something goes wrong (like Robert Downey Jr. storming out of an interview) or they are authentic — and do something that makes me think less of them (like Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans joking about Black Widow being a slut). It seems like either I learn no new and important information, or I learn information that I didn’t want to know about the celebrity.
There are some rare exceptions to these rules — for instance when celebrities take the opportunity provided by an interview to talk about significant subjects, like when Jesse Williams talks about racial issues, or Emma Watson talks about feminism — but as I say, they’re rare.
And then there are the interviews that take the basic, if unpleasant, authenticity/inauthenticity dichotomy, and make it pale in comparison to the supernatural levels of “sexist” and “creepy” they generate.
Gawker put together a montage of David Letterman interacting with his female guests, and it made me want to take a shower while also fighting for parachute pants to come back into fashion because no one should talk about a stranger’s legs that much. Some of the women play into it, some of them are obviously uncomfortable. Blake Lively became so famous for playing into it, and for overall adopting the “alluring interview subject” persona, that Amy Schumer made fun of her, and of the idea of the “Cool Girl” in general, for it. This is not necessarily meant as disrespect towards Blake Lively. She’s doing what she feels she needs to do to stay relevant as an actress in Hollywood, which is a thankless task full of enough double standards for women that it makes me physically tired to think about them. But I also have a strong desire for anyone who is playing into a sexist system to become aware of (a) how her choices are affecting her own life and (b) how her choices are affecting the lives of others. Maybe if more actresses had told David Letterman that he was creepy and weird for talking about their legs instead of giggling and talking about how they had a crush on him, he would have gotten the message at some point in his career that he should just stop talking about women’s legs. Maybe somewhere between Cybil Shepard and Taylor Swift, Letterman would have had to start talking about his female guests’ careers and projects instead of their appearance.
This has become a relevant topic to me this week because, despite my own dislike for the celebrity interview, I am still tangentially aware of the world, and thus receive some notice when male interviewers take their work down a notch from “professional and inconsequential” to “weird, creepy, and downright bizarre.” (Full disclosure, I usually learn about these things from Jezebel. Jezebel is the filter between myself and celebrity knowledge.) Three interviews over the past few weeks have waved cheerily at the line between “normal” and “crazy” and then plunged over the edge into “crazy.”
First, we have Cara Delevingne, who brought the full-force of British sass upon the interviewers at Good Morning Sacramento (and since when was Sacramento a big enough city that they got to interview supermodels in upcoming movies?) Delevingne reacted sarcastically to a question about whether or not she read the book her movie is based on (which, to be fair, is a somewhat pertinent question in the age of Twilight). The cohost’s follow-up, which boils down to “is it easier to focus because you’re really busy?” got a skeptical look and an “I don’t know where that comes from” and when a third interviewer was basically like “hey, why aren’t you excited to be talking to us right now?” and then the first host pointed out that she seemed irritated. The interview ended with an awkwardly long focus on Delevingne while the hosts chattered.
It felt like watching Arrested Development only in real time, it was that awkward. In the wake of the interview, Delevingne tried to downplay things, saying that some people just didn’t understand sarcasm or a British sense of humor. Which could read as a burn on the interviewers if you squint, and that is how the interviewers seemed to take it — one of them tried to translate sarcasm to the internet using LOL (so we know he’s joking! He gets sarcasm, young people!) and the other posting a video of Ian McKellan to show how a “class act” deals with multiple interviews. (As opposed to that sarcastic meanie-head Cara Delevingne, for pointing out things like “being tired” and “having an emotional night” and “it being early in the morning” as reasons that she wasn’t the bundle of sunshine and kittens that the interviewers had expected.) On the “sexism and creepiness in an interview” scale, this rates about a 5, or the equivalent of a stranger on the street insistently telling you to smile, and then calling you a bitch when you don’t.
Let’s move on to a 9 on that scale, when two Atlanta DJs interviewed Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell about their upcoming Fantastic Four movie. To be honest, I hadn’t been that excited about the film, but now I feel the urge to go see it on opening weekend, if only as an indirect apology to Mara and Jordan for the utter ridiculousness they had to go through in this interview. The fun got started with some good old fashioned racism, when the following exchange between one of the DJs and Jordan took place:
“From what I’ve seen, you’re brother and sister,” he asked.
And the DJ, who has apparently never heard of interracial marriage, adoption, the foster system, step-families, or any one of the many, many, many reasons that it is totally possible for a white woman and a black man to be sister and brother (and apparently also missed the online furor when Jordan was first cast) just keeps going, asking “You’re white and you’re black. How does that happen?” He kept speaking over the cast members as they attempted to answer, bringing up the last film, “they’re just brother and sister, there’s no backstory.” When Jordan tried to explain that the same thing was happening in this film, that the characters were just brother and sister, the DJ answered with the kind of skepticism you reserve for moon landing truthers. Jordan and Mara handled the questions with more calm and tact than can be expected of human beings.
There is a blessed respite for a bit, when they actually ask questions about why the story is being rebooted (even if they were a bit confrontational about that) before attention was turned to Mara. After briefly complimenting one of her roles, the DJ told her “You’re way, way hot…. Why’d you cut the hair? Your hair was beautiful.” She explained that she had cut her hair for a role (bypassing what would have been my response of “back up, sparky, it’s my freaking hair.” The Hair Issue wove itself through the rest of the interview, popping up again after a question about sequels and a quick discussion of what women have to do for roles. The cohost showed a brief spark of humanity and common sense, asking Mara if the “hair thing” was creeping her out. Before Mara could fully respond, the OG sexist creep pointed at her toes, saying “I’m a toe guy, your toes are fine.” Mara only managed a shocked and slightly sarcastic “wow” before the DJs were rushed out. Then, to add insult to “quite possibly the creepiest interview I’ve ever seen” injury, the racist DJ (apparently named Jason Bailey) defended his racism, and simultaneously defended and shrugged at the sexism of his partner (apparently named Southside Steve.) The really winning quote was,
“As for him complimenting her toes and why people are upset about that…sorry…no idea. Steve likes girls’ toes. People should be appreciative when they get complimented.” [emphasis all mine, disgust hopefully shared]
First of all: if that is Bailey and Steve’s idea of an interview, they not only have no business being on the radio, they have no business being in media, period. I wouldn’t trust them to deliver my paper, let alone talk to living, breathing human beings that are trying to promote a movie. That isn’t how you talk to anyone ever. Jordan, Mara, and the mostly-silent Bell had to act with incredible composure, knowing that if they blew up at the interviewers or even acted sarcastically in response, they’d be torn apart for it (as Delevingne was.) They went above and beyond the call of duty for not kicking out the two idiot DJs after the first question.
Second of all: screw anyone who uses the “people should be appreciative when they get complimented” defense. No, seriously. Do this to yourself. That is the defense of catcallers everywhere, and it is total BS. Telling Kate Mara you have a sexual interest in toes, and then pointing at and “complimenting” her toes, is invasive, dehumanizing, sexual objectification and entitlement. Telling Kate Mara that she should feel appreciative for having a grown man act entirely unprofessional towards her is being an absolute jerk and again, entitlement.
Sadly, that is not the weirdest interview I learned about in the past week. We finally have the interview that pushes the scale up to Spinal Tap levels: the music journalist who pretended his interview with Natalie Imbruglia was a date. Gimme a minute, I have to go hit my head against something multiple times in order to gain the kind of brain damage that it takes to believe that this is a good idea.
Cunningly titled “I Went on a Date with Everyone’s Crush, Natalie Imbruglia,” the journalist in question, Dan Ozzi writing for Vice’s music site Noisey, is the new poster child for “Nice Guys.” Fedora-clad neckbeards, bow down to your new god. Ozzi apparently got a special feeling in the 1990s when he was watching Imbruglia’s video for “Torn,” and that feeling hasn’t left him in the intervening decades. So when he got a chance to pitch a meet-cute version of an interview with Imbruglia for her new album, Male, he went for it. What follows is possibly the least self-aware “intereview” I have ever seen. Ozzi describes feeling heartbroken and upset any time that the issue of Imbruglia’s actual music is brought up — any time his fantasy bubble is punctured and he’s reminded “Oh, yeah, I’m doing my job.” He meets Imbruglia for breakfast, describes her physical appearance in detail, asks if she’d ever deign to date a music journalist, discusses their hypothetical engagement party, and takes photo booth pictures with her. Imbruglia, to her credit, seems to be charming, and plays along with Ozzi’s little faux-girlfriend scenario with aplomb. She is probably a lovely woman who has a higher tolerance than me for absolute weirdness.
Do you know what doesn’t happen in this piece, ostensibly about Natalie Imbruglia, musician, and not Natalie Imbruglia, Dan Ozzi’s Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada?
Ozzi doesn’t talk about Imbruglia’s new music. Not once. Not a syllable, after Imbruglia’s new CD is handed to him.
Imbruglia, who was a very good sport about being made this man’s Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, probably did so believing that she would receive some kind of exposure for her new album. Some kind of attention from the American media for her new work. What she got was a fawning love letter to a version of her that exists mostly in Dan Ozzi’s mind. The focus of this piece wasn’t Natalie Imbruglia. It was Dan Ozzi’s fantasy about Natalie Imbruglia. The man got paid to write fanfiction. Nice work, if you can get it, except for the part where he is completely objectifying, and constructing elaborate fantasies about, a woman that he holds some measure of control over, in that Imbruglia needed something (good publicity) from him in exchange for agreeing to play Hipster Barbie and Ken for a morning… …Words are kind of failing me when I try to think of ways to describe how creepy I find this.
It reminds me of scenes from horror movies, when the serial killer insists that his victim ignore the fact that she’s shackled to the table, and instead play along with his fantasy of a loving relationship. (I’m looking at you, Gotham. Way to make affection the creepiest thing possible.) “No, Natalie.” I imagine Ozzi crooning earnestly. “We don’t need to talk about your music. This isn’t an interview. It’s a date.” Nope nope nope nope.
What is possibly most horrifying to me about all of these situations is that this is how famous women, in positions of public attention, are being treated by people who supposedly have some training in being members of the media. This is what people, on their best behavior, say to women who have some measure of exposure and have some recourse (though that recourse is likely limited by their relative levels of fame, etc.) when they feel that something has gone bad. This is the best case scenario.
We have reached a level of human interaction where someone pitches a story about “date-erviewing” Natalie Imbruglia, and that person’s editor says “sounds great buddy, go for it.” I am not naïve enough to think that this is the only time that an interview—publicity, job, or otherwise—has turned into an impromptu date, and the woman being interviewed has had to pretend like it’s the most fun she’s ever had. Imbruglia is just famous enough that her experience got published. There are thousands, probably millions, of women who have gone on bad dates, or bad interviews, or had awkward, creepy conversations, or been told to smile, by men who think that they are being courteous and affectionate and professional. They aren’t, but these women are often not in a position that they can tell the men that, or even necessarily tell anyone else about their experiences. For every Jason Bailey or Southside Steve who has to half-heartedly walk back their remarks, there are a dozen men who never have to do that.
Maybe one of the reasons I don’t like celebrity interviews is that I don’t like being reminded of that fact.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to explain how to treat a woman with dignity and respect, she studies gender in popular culture.