This week’s New York Times Magazine features a cover story by Lynn Hirschberg about the actress Megan Fox. Of course, anybody who has seen her work knows that calling her an actress is a bit of a misnomer: “I’m not one of those people who grew up studying acting or went to theater school,” and even now she says, “I don’t know if I’m talented, I don’t know what I can do or can’t do… I had it in my head that I was supposed to be doing this and I did it.”
Even though I make jokes about starlets all the time, in reality I do not follow Megan Fox or any of her peers. They do not interest me very much because they feel so artificial, like American manga characters. But what held my attention enough to read this article is Fox’s candor about her own artifice. She seems content to discuss herself as a character, the character of Megan Fox: the “wild girl,” heir apparent to Angelina Jolie, now trying to reinvent herself as a more down to earth, accessible person, the kind of person who, as the article says, goes to Red Lobster on Saturday nights with her longtime boyfriend.
I have always been fascinated with this idea of public reinvention, the idea that somebody can just decide to create a new personality out of whole cloth. How is this accomplished? In Fox’s case, the answer seems to be by doing interviews with the New York Times magazine and hosting “SNL.” But who is to say that the new Megan Fox (or the new Michael Vick or the new whoever) is any more authentic than the old? What is public authenticity, anyway?
Fox at least seems to understand what I perhaps don’t: that authenticity is beside the point. What she is selling is an idea, or maybe more accurately, an ideal. Her last film, the commercially unsuccessful girl power horror film, “Jennifer’s Body” was supposed to bring a female audience into her male-dominated fan base. It didn’t work. Where men found the old Megan Fox the ultimate aspiratonal fuck, women couldn’t relate. She was too pretty, too wild. As such, the girls didn’t seem to want to come along for the ride the way they did for some of her blonde-tressed starlet sisters. So Fox’s problem is how to bring the ladies into the fold. The answer: Red Lobster. Long-term relationships. Self-deprecation. All of it a means to end. The end being, presumably, expanding the global Megan Fox Brand.
Because films are so expensive to make and market, the only way for big Hollywood movies to make any money is to attract a global audience. As such, the film industry is increasingly a global business. So the goal of any actor hoping to break through must be to attract the largest possible swath of audience possible. Authenticity, inevitably, must go by the wayside for such people, particularly young women. Perhaps that’s not a problem for an actress best known for acting opposite giant CGI robots and Shia LaBeouf, although Fox does seems a little conflicted about all of this. On the one hand, she’s obviously complicit in the machinery of her own nascent stardom, the shop steward of a factory which manufactures, at base, sex. Towards the end of the article she acknowledges this, saying, “…I am on display for men to pay to look at me.” In the next breath, she adds, “And that bothers me. I don’t want to live in that character.”
But, of course, she does live in that character, and is doing everything in her power to propagate, develop, and market that character. The character of the vixen, the chanteuse, the siren. Would a person who didn’t want to be that character sign a deal to become the next underwear model for Armani, as Fox just did?
In fact, it is in her photographs that Fox actually seems the most genuine. The pin-up girl is the one part she seems to understand how to play. See the assured pose on the red carpet, the tossed-back hair, the coy over-the-shoulder backwards glance. See the just-so hand-on-hip, the left foot a half step ahead the right. This is the Brand of Megan Fox. This, and just this. And she knows it.
The Brand is, inevitably, unsustainable. And she knows this too. The It Girl has a short shelf life, necessitating constant (and probably exhausting) reinvention. There is an endless supply of pretty young twenty year old girls with just enough looks and talent to skate into stardom for a little while. They make a splash, and then marry (and divorce) well or sink into obscurity or take jobs on the CW, or very occasionally, make a graceful transition into more mature roles.
Fox is already feeling the pressure. “I get sent romantic comedies,” she says. “But I’m fearful of doing those. I’m twenty-three. I don’t belong in a romantic comedy yet.” By this logic, I suppose first it’s the romantic comedy. Then you’re playing the mom. Then you’re Judy Dench. Then you’re dead.
With some certainty, I feel like I can say I will never be a Megan Fox fan. But I wish her well. Soon the world will turn its attention to the next girl with pillow lips and eyes forever at half-mast. When it does, I hope she retains enough of her own self to figure out who she is separate from her Brand.
I don’t envy these girls, these pretty young things whose identity is so tightly wound up with their hair color and accessories and choice of boyfriend. It must be horrible. And ultimately, I always find myself asking “What’s the point?” To my eyes, it doesn’t seem to be about anything other than the ceaseless pursuit of fame, a pursuit which must give somebody the occasional drunken high but which ultimately must end with the worst kind of hangover. Is it any wonder Lindsay Lohan self-immolated? It’s amazing to me that more of them don’t. It is a particularly ugly business for beautiful girls.