Steven Shaviro writes about post-celebrity celebrity while NBC is running trailers for the new American version of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (regrettably, due to the intervention of the courts, not starring Rod Blagojevich). The arrival of this show from the UK disappoints me a little; American TV, with the respectful celebrity reporting of Entertainment Tonight and the always-suited late-night talk show hosts, seemed like the last redoubt of the aura of celebrity, which the celebrity reality genre decisively does away with.
It’s not a surprise that the celebrity reality genre arrived in the UK so much earlier than in the US; as with so much else (Thatcher, financialization), the UK exhibits the tendencies of late capitalism in a purer form, with celebrity having been abolished over there a long time ago. Instead, there’s a continuum of decreasing glamor from the soap, to Heat, to Nuts, to the glamor model (the inclusion of the term “glamor” in the name being, of course, a sure sign of an absence of glamor in the thing). The difference between the last two categories is kind of interesting; while glamor models perform an absurdly hyperbolic version of femininity (the really quite charming Jordan being perhaps the best recent example), the lads mags put as much, if not more, effort into insisting that the version of femininity they present is not a performance at all, which is the specific performance of which Jo Guest, Donna Air, and Sheridan Smith are masters.
This reminds me, in a roundabout sort of way, of the dual descriptions that circulate on the internet of Fox News’s female anchors as looking like either porn stars or transsexuals. What I think maybe people are groping at with these misogynistic and transphobic comparisons is a sense that Jamie Colby or Megyn Kelly perform gender in a way that’s somehow too obvious. The mistake here is to think that it’s only when you’re sexy that you’re performing sex; but Tamron Hall’s no-nonsense short hair, or Brit Hume’s rumbling monotone delivery are also gendered performances.