I was only about ten years old when I first watched The Sound of Music as part of my e-learning class. With her iconic twirl as she sang the very first lines, “the hills are alive with the sound of music…”, I remember falling instantly in love with Julie Andrews because she was the voice to the song I have been taught to sing and play in the piano ever since I was a child. I was magnetized by her music, leading me to watch more of her musical films such as Mary Poppins and Thoroughly Modern Millie. I was so young and obsessed with her, I even recall downloading all the pictures I could find of her on the internet when I was thirteen using our very early version of a PC (with diskette drives and all). I even wrote her a fan mail once as a teenager. Beginning with an admiration of her music, I grew amazed by her beauty and elegance. She became my style icon, as I persuaded my mom to buy me more dresses like hers. As I grew up, I began appreciating her more as an artist, leading my friends and family to buy me DVDs of her films from Amazon as Christmas gifts. I watched all of her interviews, her TV stints, her broadway clips, and all possible videos of her on Youtube. And with the rise of social media, I began following all her channels and fan pages. Since then, I have been constantly updating myself with her life story, gossip and celebrity news about her, as well as her latest projects. I admired her so much as a musician, an artist and, eventually, as a person, and I can definitely say that Julie Andrews is one of the people who introduced me to and made me fall in love with the world of music and film. I still dream about meeting her someday because where I am now is partly due to the inspiration she has given me simply by just existing.
Julie is just one of the many “stars” who continuously influence people with their works and ways of living. Artists like her have a reach beyond the four corners of the screen. Through the works of art they make, we, the audience, gain access to the roles and characters they play. But it is through further technology and mass communication where we are also given access to their world in such a way that their personal lives eventually become like the films we are so keen on watching. It’s almost as if the life of a star is not hers/his alone, but the public’s, as well. Loss of privacy is, indeed, a consequence of stardom, but so is the opportunity to create an impact to communities Nevertheless, star celebrity culture is inevitable because of their contribution to both the film industry and society, two of which I will highlight below.
First and foremost, stars somewhat give an economic assurance to the films they appear in through their performance, embodiment of their roles, as well as their trademark. Patrick Phillips describes this as their “insurance” and “production” values which, both guarantees the success of the films, as well as bring something unique to the meaning of the art (Phillips, p.182, 1999).
“Trademark is more than just a sign of quality — as in a “guarantee”; it is also a condensed meaning—a communication of what the film will be about and how it will feel.”(Phillips, p.182, 1999)
By communicating how the film will look and feel, people will know what to look for depending on their own personal feelings. For example, if one is feeling hopeless and is in need of a bit of uplifting and joy, s/he may want to rekindle the child within and watch Disney films because one of their main trademarks is their theme of hope. Associating this definition with the role of stars, when a viewer wants to feel happy, s/he might opt to watch films with Eddie Murphy, Betty White, or Jack Black because they are known to produce good comedies. This way, stars are significant in the industry because of their marketing and economic value to the art they are involved in via association with certain themes and trademarks.
“In star study we are interested in the transformation of the ordinary, the presence in our lives of the extraordinary. While this is true, our interest in these figures is intensified by the sense of their ordinariness.”(Phillips, p.181, 1999)
Secondly, stars signify a transformation of the ordinary. Phillips makes a great point about this with the statement above, emphasizing the presence of the stars as the “extraordinary” amidst the “ordinary”. Stars are, realistically speaking, ordinary people. Ironically, they are only elevated to the status of “extraordinary” by the very people who desire to relate with them. They are extraordinary because society labels them as such, and they are only extraordinary insofar as we let them be. This is why stars-as-celebrities take good care of their public image so as to not lose public admiration and attention.
“A star’s commercial capacity is inextricably bound up with his or her ability to ‘be liked’ by large numbers of people from a range of cultural and national contexts.”(Watson, p.169, 2012)
When we look at stars, we seek out their life stories and highlight their ordinariness and their transformation process. We, then, label this transformation as “inspirations” to dream big or to believe in miracles. It is all basically taking a concept of the ordinary and marketing it as something beyond that. And this is all partly rooted in society’s desire to have role models. People are naturally self conscious in this very diverse and different world. They crave to have a model who they can aspire to become. We are naturally inclined to the practice of imitation and comparison. This is why we need a basis, a standard or, ultimately, an “ideal”. And the people who are more than capable to set the ideal are, generally, the ones in power—the upper class. The dominating power needs visual and physical outlets to strengthen the imposition of their ideologies. They own and control media resources so they can, therefore, dictate concepts such as the standards of beauty, standards of masculinity and femininity, as well as handpick those who fit into their self imposed categories. This is why, for a long period in early film, “black face” was acceptable in representing characters of color. Racism, in general, was acceptable, as anyone who was not white could not possibly think of being labeled as beautiful or having a lead or any role in a film, in that matter. For a time, as well, female characters have always been given roles that would make them victims of the male gaze and objects of sexual desire. Paul Watson puts this into question by asking, “Are female stars, then, somehow, less popular with audiences than male actors, or does the structure of the film industry force them, as Christine Geraghty notes, to ‘operate in a different context than their male counterparts?’” (Watson, p.168, 2012). The women were always portrayed as vulnerable, weak, and generally not vocal or opinionated. In the Philippine context, this image has been taught in society, leading them to mold and raise the Filipinas according to the image of Maria Clara, who is a damsel-in-distress and tends to faint during almost any hint of a problem.
Star studies have been known to look in terms of the economic impact of stars, as well as their objectification, cultural and societal impacts. However, I would like to suggest that, given the crucial times of media evolving, more than ever, star studies should take a look at the scope of stardom. By this, I mean eventually looking at the gates of stardom—who are we giving the shots to, as the audience with the power to bestow that which is “extraordinary”? We already know the impact of stars in molding generations. We are also aware of them being the standards of society. Therefore, it is important that the scope for stardom is more inclusive. In looking at the scope, questions like “Why are we not giving her more screen time? Or why are we hesitant on casting him?” should be proactively asked in the context of the involvement of the minorities. With the move for more inclusive opportunities, people are now questioning casting, for example. There are organizations voicing out for the production companies to consider casting PWDs for PWD roles, which have long been played by people without disabilities. A dominant argument against this claim is that the reason why it is called acting is that actors are cast to pretend to be people that they are not, so there is nothing wrong with casting straight people for LGBTQ+ roles or white people for colored characters. But this argument is very old and leaning towards the traditional point of view that refuses any form of change because it is automatically threatened by any other presence in the industry apart from theirs. The problematic argument of the definition of acting has formed a blurred line already in terms of who can take the role. But when one looks closely, this is still about the dominating ideology fighting off minor ones.
“The operations of the dominant ideology are thus a ceaseless effort to mask or displace both its own contradictions and those contradictions to it that arise from alternative and oppositional ideologies.”(Dryer, pp.2-3, 1979)
This is still about powerplay, and the refusal to let other people in due to fear of being overthrown in the industry. This is still a protest to the changing of the standards that have been the “normal” for centuries. All this is exactly why voices against the dominant ideology should be made louder. The gates of stardom should be forced to open wider. If people were to see and appreciate, they should be given the chance to see more and, therefore appreciate more. This will create a good discourse on preferences, varying role models, etc. Through this, the “ideal” will be expanded and personalized and, in effect, the “ideal” will be more real. This will not make the extraordinary more ordinary. In contrast, it will allow more aspects of the ordinary to be considered “extraordinary”.
More than any of its functions, being a star is a social responsibility. With the attention focused on the entirety of the star’s life and being, s/he is given a powerful platform to voice out her/his opinions on issues in politics, society, down to little details such as trends. In the context of film, the stars’ portrayal of people and communities is also a great responsibility because they have to do it in a way that will give respect to the people and respect to their stories. But from the perspective of the viewers and filmmakers, the duty of making a star is also a serious social responsibility. As filmmakers, it’s our job to make as many voices heard and as many faces seen. Artists and creators are elated into a platform like the dominant classes to create an ideology or to add to the discourse. We are given a voice and we should make it good, make it count, and make it heard. As a person who spent most of her life admiring one star who is undoubtedly talented, compassionate and deserving of the acknowledgement she gets, I am deeply grateful that I have been given a role model who also became my inspiration. However, as a future filmmaker, it is of my greatest desire that I will be able to contribute to enabling the future generations to see more than just one star in the sky.
- Dryer, R. (1979). Introduction. In R. Dryer & P. McDonald, Stars (pp. 1-4). London: British Film Institute.
- Phillips, P. (1999). Stars, 181-192.
- Watson, P. (2012). Stars studies: text, pleasure, identity. In Stars studies: text, pleasure, identity (5th ed., pp. 167-184). New York: Routledge.