I’ve always thought it a funny cultural quirk that people seem to want to like an artist (writer, movie star, athlete, director, or politician) in order to appreciate their art. This is probably in large part because we live in an age where it’s so easy to find out everything there is to know about a person. Our 15 minutes of fame is now and the odds are you can Google just about anybody and find them.
It’s always been prevalent with movie and TV personalities. There’s probably no better current example of this than the plunge Tom Cruise’s career has taken based on his horse’s ass personality and loony tunes philosophies. I sort of feel sorry for him. I’ve always been a Brad Pitt kind of gal though, and despite the tabloid coverage of his silly global antics I’ll still watch just about anything he stars in because I think he’s a genuinely talented actor.
I started thinking about this yesterday when I talked about Woody Allen. My post didn’t include anything about the scandal with Soon Yi Previn, but I’m well aware that there are a lot of people who found his behavior so deplorable that they won’t watch his movies. Maybe to some of us, it’s a matter of principle. Maybe some of us believe supporting the industry of someone we find morally reprehensible to be socially irresponsible. I’m not sure I think that’s it though.
This trend seems to have bled over into the other arts where who the creator is should be irrelevant to how we feel about the work and how they look should matter even less. I’m not especially interested in writers’ or artists’ personal lives so I don’t associate their work with what they do. If Annie Proulx hated puppies and kittens or Dave Eggers was in love with an orangutan or Michael Chabon was a necrophiliac, I can honestly say I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t even want to know.
I care even less whether the author of my favorite book looks like George Cloony or the elephant man. I read a list of 13 writing tips yesterday on Chuck Palahniuk’s website. Number 11 was: “Get author book jacket photos taken now, while you're young. And get the negatives and copyright on those photos.” I read a post on another Blog – just yesterday -- about the impact to sales that a youthful, attractive photo on a book jacket has versus one that – well -- probably really looks like the author. If that’s not a lot of pressure, I don’t know what is. There was a time when the stereotype of either an artist or a writer was that of an eccentric who probably wasn’t overly attractive (think Gertrude Stein or Truman Capote) and was maybe anti-social or reclusive (think Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger). Now writers are thinking about glamour shots and image; as if writing well wasn’t hard enough.
It’s hard enough for me to figure out what to write and how to do it, so I’m planning ahead to save time. I’ll be auditioning body doubles to appear on my book jackets and attend book signings in my place. Once I’ve written a new classic for the 21st century and whatever pseudonym I've picked is a household name (obviously I can't use my own name and let the media find out all the dirt), you can be sure I’ll be hailed as the youngest, sexiest looking middle aged woman in