On Lady Gaga, Megan Fox, And The Inevitability Of The BacklashS

Ok, fine. Let's talk about the inevitable Lady Gaga backlash.

Everyone in the spotlight who reaches a point of public adoration is subject to the all-powerful backlash, though most backlashes seem aimed at the subject's obsessive fans, or, in the case of Betty White, the majority of people on the internet for their seemingly endless, patronizing, and fairly irritating need to act as if they're the only ones who have noticed that that Betty White, who has been an entertainer for most of her 88 years, is quite good at her job and deserves recognition.

Because America is essentially a giant high school, there is always a need for the country to fill the position of "Most Popular." The poor soul thrust into that position via overexposure in the media is first embraced and then loathed; the public can only stand so much of one person before they have to find someone new to get excited about, and the resentment over being "forced" to watch the adventures of a certain celebrity unfold begins to fester and turn into a universal bonding point: "You're sick of so-and-so? Me, too!" In that way, the backlash is actually just another means for people to continue to talk about someone: the initial fascination remains, even as it's buried under exasperation and annoyance.

Some people can overcome the backlash: the recent Tina Fey backlash, for example, spawned a backlash of its own, and Fey's career doesn't seem any worse for the wear. Commenters here and on ONTD were questioning a possible Gaga backlash when her recent Rolling Stone cover was released, and though it seems like an inevitability (I'd argue that Gaga's latest antics make her seem more exhausted in general than the public currently seems to be with her), Gaga will most likely survive said backlash, as she has a fiercely devoted fan base and is still creating music that gets people talking in a mostly positive way. But Gaga has to fight the same problem that many of the recent backlash victims are fighting: the speed with which they rose to international fame.

Megan Fox, for example, was all over the place last year around this time, seemingly inescapable while promoting her film Jennifer's Body and preparing, if all of the hype was to be believed, to take over the wild-child sex symbol position Angelina Jolie had left behind when she ditched the blood vial around her neck and became a UN ambassador. But Fox, who was pushed quite hard by Hollywood, has had a rough go of it over the past year or so: both Jennifer's Body and her latest film, Jonah Hex were critical and commercial failures, and she was dismissed from the franchise that made her famous to begin with: Transformers. Fox herself has always seemed a bit perplexed about her fame, admitting that she'd made up lies in interviews to throw people off from her true identity. The public had roughly a year to decide how they felt about Megan Fox, and once they decided, it seemed somewhat impossible for Fox to recover. It's not quite the same as people turning on someone like, say, Tom Cruise or Madonna, who have been in the biz for over 25 years: the star making machine runs faster and faster, and the cycle of fame to infamy seems to be spinning faster as well. We seem to want someone for the moment, because all signs are suddenly and overwhelmingly pointing to yes, but once they stay past that moment, we begin to look for the things we dislike about them.

Lane Brown and Claude Brodesser-Akner of New York recently did an assessment of Fox's career that was fairly depressing, noting that Fox's strange mix of sexuality, self-deprecation, and outspokenness might be the thing that did her in: "Fox's appeal is all about simultaneously exaggerating her sexuality and then downplaying it as just Hollywood silliness. While Fox's PR strategy made her a star, it's also the very thing that has severely limited her future." Josh Brolin might be the star of Jonah Hex, but he'll surely get another decent role. Megan Fox, as Brown and Brodesser-Akner put it, is in a trickier position, as she, like most Hollywood sex symbols, is ultimately seen as replaceable: "Magazines and blogs like this one might suffer without her. But Hollywood likely won't."

It is interesting in that aside from the outrage that surrounded Kanye West when he interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, most of the major backlashes in American pop culture as of late have been aimed at women. Even Betty White is walking somewhat close to the backlash line, even though she did nothing but entertain people and graciously accept the overwhelming adoration that seemingly came out of left field from the internet for her. It seems that sometimes we are waiting for the backlash (I have done it myself, wondering if Taylor Swift was being set up for one, and I stand by it—she was) as a means for the all-consuming tide of hype to finally break, finally separating the celebrity and his or her true fans from the obsessive nature of the general public.

Whether or not the backlash is ultimately beneficial depends on the basic sentiment behind it: if there's any reason why Gaga is headed toward a backlash right now, it appears to be overexposure and overall Gaga-exhaustion, which might ultimately lead to a reinvention that either further alienates a mainstream audience or recaptures the initial fascination people had with her to begin with. With Fox, the underlying nastiness of the backlash is as depressing as it is familiar: there's a sense that she is being "put in her place," a type of Homecoming Queen dismissal that reeks of America's inability to handle a woman who questioned and played with her own marketing as a sex object and attempted to step outside of it to no avail.

Ultimately, however, any backlash is the result of a celebrity doing something that people do not think they "should" be doing. It's like any relationship: we fall in love and start to panic, or get annoyed, or drift away when someone begins changing. The likes of Gaga, Taylor, Tina, and Megan currently have the hearts of millions in their hands: it is inevitable that they are going to break a few as they try to figure out how to evolve, for better or worse. Nobody can be universally loved without a few detractors finally breaking away. Unless you work at Pixar. And then America will punch anyone who says a single bad word about you in the face, because you have no soul. Shame on you!

The Star Market: What Is Professional Provocateur Megan Fox's Valuation In Hollywood [NYMag]
[Megan Fox Interview 'Regrets Lies' [NBCWashington]