Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Do females in the media have a duty to be 'Role Models'?

The rise and fall of starlets in the media can be traced all the way back to the 1920s, when young actresses like Louise Brooks were heralded as 'new faces' and 'ones to watch'. For someone most infamous for her short bobbed haircut and declaration that she 'hated Hollywood', it is no surprise that she was blacklisted by Paramount for refusing to transition to sound films. Her rebelliousness translated to her style of hair and clothing, her short hair and daring dress confusing the traditional notions of femininity. In her (IMO) most beautiful role, Pandora's Box, she both dresses up in male clothing as a disguise, and wears low cut, diaphonous dresses that leave little to the imagination (for the time period of 20s Weimar Germany, anyway) It is hard to imagine that her personal life off screen: she enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, was said to have been an alcoholic, and once filed for bankruptcy, did not contribute to her and Paramount Studio's fallout.

Comparing Brooks to young stars of the moments such as Taylor Momsen ('Little J' on CW series Gossip Girl) and Miley Cyrus ('Hannah Montana' on the Disney channel) may seem like a leap, but the placing of young women on a pedestal, only to pull it out from under their feet is a depressing normality of Hollywood. 'Little J's appearance at just 14 years old on the series gave some credibility in the face of a lot of 24 year olds trying to pass as 16. She was fresh-faced, naturally extremely pretty, quiet and demure. Now, if to you these sound like qualities more akin to a 19th century booklet on 'The Angel of The Home', congratulations! In the subsequent two years, 'little J' did something that seems to confuse a lot of us, despite the passing of time being a pretty normal phenomenon. She grew up. My argument is not that this is what happens to every girl when she hits her teenage years! Chill out, everyone! There are a lot of girls, and will always be a lot of girls, who grow up without deciding to dress provocatively or rebel in other ways.

Then there are those other girls who, like it or not, decide to 'act out' as I believe the Americans say. Some of Taylor's heinous crimes? Caught on set smoking a cigarette. Being the frontwoman of a band. Wearing too much eyeliner. Wearing visible garters. Wearing skirts that are too short, or *snicker* no skirt at all. The way some media outlets report it, you would think she had shot up on stage at the MTV Movie Awards. Perez Hilton especially is viciously cruel when it comes to actresses like Cyrus and Momsen. On Momsen, the inevitable white scrawls that are plastered over her photo accompany text that reads: 'Makeup is supposed to make a girl look good, not like a hot tranny mess'. Makeup that makes a statement, whether it be an avant-garde one like the work of backstage beauty guru Pat McGrath, or the overloaded eyes of Momsen, is a truth clearly lost on Perez.

Miley Cyrus, ever since that Annie Leibowitz photo, has been the fodder for many a lazy tabloid mid-week filler: DISNEY STAR IN HOTPANTS or something of that nature being a predictable headline (newsflash: she lives in Tennessee! From what I gather, it's pretty hot there, people) Her performance at infamous G.A.Y nightclub in London attracted more vitriolic press, Perez Hilton again being one of the outlets that called her out on the promiscuity of 'Slutty Cyrus's' performance, where she was' groped' by dancers and simulated a lesbian kiss with a dancer.

That Hilton, a gay Cuban man and supposed activist for gay rights and minorities is questioning any deviation from a hetero-normative sexuality or from standardized notions of beauty is sad to say the least. Yes, these girls are 'role models', whatever that means any more. However, their first and foremost duty is to be true to themselves, not some cliche of a virginal Disney starlet. Miley's previous claim of abstinence can probably be refuted after the revelation came that she was living with her boyfriend, Liam Hensworth, but she should be allowed to change her mind, and to make mistakes. I would rather, for instance, that Taylor Momsen go out with no knickers on than to make another statement about her disinterest in Haiti (sample quote: “Um, right now I’m trying to just finish my record and getting through the last season of Gossip Girl for right now. So not so much thinking about that.” Yes, that was an ignorant and obnoxious thing that came out of her mouth, and maybe she should be getting called out on that rather than the length of her hemlines.

Even if these girls are rebelling against the Hollywood norm by pre-packaged, media-manipulated actions....it's a start, at least.