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November 14, 2009

Foxy Lady

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.

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Bailey

You're a pretty great dude. And I'm glad you said this because you're a dude, otherwise people would just be like, "You're jealous."

I can proudly say I'm not jealous of her. Mostly because what am I supposed to be jealous of? The Brand or the person? Or are they one and the same? I don't know! It's too confusing, so I don't waste my time being jealous.

Tiffany

Excellent post, enjoyable read.

Velveteen Ballsac

Excellent summation. And you didn't even need to mock her caterpillar eyebrows. Well done.

Aaron

HELL YEA HE'S BACK AND HIS WIT IS AS SHARP AS THE POINTS HE MAKES

HELL TO THE YEAH

MIB!!!!! GALAXY DEFENDER?

Morgan

What a fantastically written essay. Well-said, sir. I think the one thing you forgot is: when one achieves the sort of fame that Megan Fox has, it was a choice. Her situation is a reflection of the business of Hollywood that she willfully and successfully sold her time to. Here's hoping she or someone in her position will reach the point where she can actually change what is and isn't marketable instead of just coasting along with the current.

Gini

Nice essay.

I like her best when she doesn't talk.

Amber

Fantastic essay. I never thought that the most rational comment on Megan Fox would come from MIB, but I'm glad it did.

As a young (and unattractive) woman, I don't envy Fox at all. While I am secure in my insecurity, so to speak, Megan Fox isn't very sure what she is. She thinks that claiming she's riddled with insecurities will in fact add dimension to her pretty 1-dimensional character, but at the same time, she clearly thrives on the attention she gets. Although I might never make the money she makes or get the attention she does, what she'll go through when she loses her brand and has to face the facts that she is no longer someone and no longer attractive will probably be harder for her than anything I could imagine. The only way to tell if she means what she says about all her self-doubt is if she learns this and saves herself now, I guess.

Steve

You're awesome.

Kristina

That last paragraph? Couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks for seeing these young women as people and not just objects or constructions or whatever. I feel like that's a problem not just in the entertainment industry, but in general. I'm not drop-dead-gorgeous, and I'm certainly not "famous," but I sometimes feel the same pressures these girls seem to face - hair, clothing, boyfriends, career status, etc. Sometimes it seems that's all anyone ever notices/asks about. I dunno, maybe that's just me. But either way, kudos to you for saying this. :)

thecitychicken

OOoohh, SOMEbody has a cruuuuush!!

Camille

I think citychicken is right. You are baiting Ms Fox, aren't you?
"I do not follow Megan Fox or any of her peers. They do not interest me very much "
Indeed, Mr. Black, indeed....

(enjoyable read,by the way)

Mark

I thought I was reading a Chuck Klosterman essay for a minute. Where's the dick jokes?

Kelly Hagg

MIB! Look, I am a huge fan but do question the seeming sympathy here. Think of all the talented actresses working at Red Lobster while MF takes over the world solely as a result of the plastic factory that is our society. So let's get this straight...Phase I - Megan lures every male and bi-curious female into the fold by proclaiming her lesbian tendencies, showing skin, exuding wildness and... we all have to endure the movies. Now, deploying further manifest destiny she attempts to lure the rest of the world with her 'simple nature'. It's all silly and stupid...let's euthanize another starlet and move on. I don't think it's horrible to be a starlet.

Reen

Thank you for this. VERY very well done.

This quote made my eyebrows go up: "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?" But, wait...isn't that exactly what you do? You have created an illusion about yourself as well. As someone in the public eye that the public wishes, no, *needs* to pigeon hole ("He's that snarky guy"), did you even have a choice?

One of the tabloids highlights a section that catalogs the normal and not so normal behavior of celebrities. As if they are a different brand of human. I can't imagine how invasive that type of scrutiny must be. Why is it attention worthy when a rich, young, perky-breasted blonde starlet lights the wrong end of a cigarette? Pudgy baggers at Walmart have been doing that for years.

You said: "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." So agreed. We're the reason that Meghans exist. We need to believe in something, in someone. So we have tossed these attractive young women and men up into the clouds and expect them to piss stars. And when they don't? Can't? Won't? Tried but failed? We sit back, read about it and smirk...we knew it all along. Let's find someone new...someone better...

Z

Megan Fox is a great go-to fantasy girl. Guys want to fuck her and women wish they could look like her, even if they say they don't. Everyone has a fantasy fuck they like to think about, just look at how many hits you get on here...

Sarah

Very well said Michael.

Jen

I love you!

Allen

I don't know much about Megan Fox but I do know this: that was the longest essay I've ever read. (bye mailbox)

Rose

well. said. Reen.
Interesting addition to the essay.

Jaime

Wow. For a moment there, I didn't recognize you. I thought this was a re-post of Hirschberg, and I mean that in the most possible nicest way.

Elegant and provocative writing Michael Ian Black. You are always doing that impressing thang.

So cool.

Jaime

And lookit Reen go too -- Everybody spinning with their smart impressive words -- So nice :)

Reen

I think I'm in love with you, Rose. Let's kiss with our tongues.

And thank you Jaime, my Jaime - you lovey-dovey Texan. You hold my heart in the palm of your soft pink hand. Don't use it like a stress ball now, ya hear?

Dangerist

You're kinda spooky when you get all smart & deep and shit.

laura Lindauer

Thanks Michael.

Edmond Dantes

What is it the pot called the kettle, Black? Don't you whore yourself out for fame at any cost? And now you chastise another for it?

I don't give a fuck about Megan Fox, but I do like you and this form of prosthelyzing seems hypocritical. If I'm wrong about your aims, forgive me.

But, before you go and pat yourself on the back, with the assistance of all the yes-women who comment here, and to obnoxiously quote to you from The State, why don't you try taking some of your own advice? Be someone you can respect. Your loyal fanbase, and I'm not talking about the one grossly and artificially enlarged on Twitter where following you is a default upon sign-in, likes you for what you're best at: acting like an arrogant prick, but with a wink of self-knowledge.

Don't be your own facade.

Love,
The Man In The Mirror

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