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Celebrity Meltdowns – On Opposite Day

Remember when you were a kid, the game “opposite day”? Anything you said, you meant the opposite. It’s kind of like the “lying game” from that book about using mind tricks to pick up chicks. Well, the other night, while researching for “Celebrity: The Meltdown Monologues,” I discovered that in another part of the world, celebrity meltdowns themselves were having an opposite day – in other words, there was an incredibly sensible and articulate woman making her voice heard against an authority figure who refused to, as she put it, clean his own house before criticizing hers.

Celebrity meltdowns are certainly not the exclusive province of men, but the first few monologues in this play have been from highly publicized male contributors to the “genre.” In pursuit of a female celebrity meltdown to work on, I instead stumbled across this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMnAmRa4NYw of a Pakistani actress being mercilessly castigated by a member of her country’s clergy for her appearance on the Indian version of Big Brother.

If you thought the Italians were pissed off about how Snooki and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast represent their motherland, wait till you check out what Pakistani actress Veena Malik says to Mufti Sahib when he rips into her supposedly “immoral behavior” – and casts aspersions on how she represented Pakistan abroad while on the Indian reality show “Big Boss” (a version of “Big Brother).

All I can say is, GO VEENA. Instead of submitting to the cleric’s condemnation, or losing her cool and jumping to insults and generalizations, Malik mounts an attack of her own. She stays on-message, on-point, and on fire. I watched her, thinking (well, first of all, “This woman is amazing,” but after that,) “This is like, the negative of a meltdown.” Referring to a photographic negative, which I then realized officially makes me old.

Veena Malik is coherent, articulate, and as far as I can tell, she follows all the “rules of conversation” present in this diagram of ‘how to have a rational discussion’ – or at least, as near as possible in the face of someone telling you you’ve acted with such dishonor that your future son will never want to look at a picture of you.  Her eloquence is well worth the seven and a half minutes that it takes to watch the entire clip. And yet (and I’ve struggled with how to phrase this) this woman’s actions are about as culturally acceptable in her country as the right claims the antics of American celebrities are. Aside from politics, what are the differences?

Maybe we can understand the phenomenon of a meltdown better by watching a celebrity who performs with such poise and presence of mind under such aggressive attack.


As always, if you’ve enjoyed thinking about the ideas on this blog, please consider donating to our Kickstarter fundrasing project, to take CELEBRITY: THE MELTDOWN MONOLOGUES to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Donations accepted until April 18th.

Launching CELEBRITY: Videos, Mythology and Privacy in the Digital Age

Fundraising website Kickstarter offers a great way for independent artists to find ways of funding their projects, but a peppy promo video is required. And while I’m extremely excited and enthusiastic about the idea of producing “Celebrity: The Meltdown Monologues” as part of the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival… how can I put this…I’m extremely uncomfortable appearing on camera.

Luckily, I was still able to create a sharp, snappy pitch video without actually appearing in it (check it out at the Kickstarter page), but the process gave me another occasion to think about the ideas behind “Celebrity: The Meltdown Monologues.” Some people are natural performers, they love receiving attention, and they’re happy to be documented or photographed or filmed. Many of those people aspire to become performers.

Increasingly, they aspire to celebrity.

In his article The Irresistible Charlie Sheen Slate’s Jacob Weisberg questions why, as a society, we’re so obsessed with celebs that their actions inspire screaming fans and their meltdowns inspire us to pay close attention:

“At a deeper level, celebrities may serve as surrogates for gods or heroes. [my emphasis] Not long ago, I reread The Odyssey and was struck by how much Homer’s gods resembled tabloid stars. Self-centered and vain, they go on drunken rampages, cheat on their partners, break promises, and demand constant adoration. The big difference is that the Greeks held them in awe, as opposed to the mixture of awe and contempt with which we regard most celebs. Because celebrities arrived during the early part of the 20th century, it is natural to suspect they may have filled the gap left by something that went away around the same time. In his 1962 book The Image, the historian Daniel Boorstin argues that celebrities replaced heroes. (It was Boorstin, not Andy Warhol, who came up with the idea that a celebrity was someone famous for being famous, or as he put it, “a person who is known for his well-knownness”). But because celebrities are mere projections of ourselves, Boorstin argues, the effort to fill the heroic void with them is doomed to frustration.”

Weisberg’s analysis is insightful in how it contextualizes pop culture’s ever-encroaching occupation of our collective mental real estate. Do human beings need heroes? In their absence, are we willing to accept celebrities? And what happens when a society holds its “heroes” in contempt?

From the perspective of someone who is watching the world change at a rate that makes a comprehensive understanding of current events almost impossible, I’m also intrigued by what celebs, these individuals who live in the pressure-cooker of the continuous spotlight, can tell us about the ways we might react as our own lives become ever more documented and documentable.

So far, “Celebrity: The Meltdown Monologues” includes pieces inspired by Charlie Sheen, Christian Bale, and Michael Cera – whose “Youth in Revolt” meltdown seemed barely a blip on the radar. More meltdowns are on the way. Already, I’ve noticed ways in which these celebs’ meltdowns can be reworked and re-contextualized, and how even watching an entire rant all the way through – rather than just hearing the “sound bites” that are clipped and run over and over again on TMZ – can shed new light on the issues above.

As always, if you’re interested in the above ideas and want to get a closer look at the creative process that’s bringing “Celebrity: The Meltdown Monologues” to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, please check out our Kickstarter page and think about helping fund the project – and taking part via this blog, our page, the exclusive backer updates, and our Twitter account (@CelebMeltdowns) in this crowd-sourced work of appropriated material.