The cult of (anti-)personality

A few years back, a friend of mine recommended the movie The Mothman Prophesies, which happens to star Richard Gere (more on that film in another post). Beyond really enjoying the film, I decided that I really liked Richard Gere as an actor again. It was then that I realized that I had no idea why I didn’t like Richard Gere in the first place.

Why do I mention this? A recent post by PZ Myers on Pharyngula rather cynically, for my taste, took some shots at the Harry Potter series as a whole:

Too formulaic. I can’t get at all motivated to read any more of the books, I don’t care what happens to Harry in the final volume (I predict Harry fights the big bad guy, poof, Harry wins) so all your spoilers will leave me unconcerned, and the movies just drag on.

What does this have to do with Richard Gere? Bear with me for a few moments. After PZ’s initial post, lots of other commenters jump in to deride the HP series as vacuous crap. A telling comment comes a little later by PZ himself:

One other random thought: it’s a minor thing, but one thing that turned me off the later books is the fact that one of the characters is killed off, and that was treated as a major event. All the news was full of aghast articles where people would speculate about who it would be, etc., and even in the hype for the last one there was this dread that something irreversibly bad would happen to one of the characters.

Here’s the thing: the last straw against the HP series doesn’t seem to be the actual contents of the final books themselves (which he hasn’t read), but rather the media hype surrounding them. This is what I refer to in the title as the ‘cult of anti-personality’: a dislike and condemnation of something not necessarily on its merits, but instead on its merits relative to the hype it experiences. Lots of commenters seemed to verify this, by slamming Rowling while pointing out their particular favorite author who didn’t get nearly as much attention as they deserved:

I was just finishing Proust’s Swann’s Way when I read the 7th Harry Potter book. No kidding HP isn’t the greatest literature of all time.

Remember how much everyone hated Leonardo DiCaprio after Titanic came out? He was just an actor working with the (admittedly) limited script given to him, but his sin seems to have been the lead actor in a movie that people decided didn’t deserve to be so popular.

I’m not entirely sure what my point is here; I’m essentially making an observation of a curious social phenomenon. I don’t mean to pick on PZ or anyone else for doing this, because it is a common behavior. It’s probably worthwhile to realize that we often form our opinions of fiction based not only on its merits, but also on how those merits compare to the accolades given.

Anyway, back to Richard Gere. Once I thought about it for a while, I remembered that Gere suffered a similar anti-personality backlash (including some completely false rumors being spread) after he made Pretty Woman, which was wildly popular but evidently more popular than it deserved. I apparently just joined in on the fun without thinking about it too much. Thanks to Mothman and later Chicago, I’ve decided I like Gere after all.

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4 Responses to The cult of (anti-)personality

  1. The Girlfriend says:

    When it comes to celebrities we are left to make judgements about whether we like or dislike them based only on information that we received second-hand. Unless we have the opportunity to meet and interact with that person, we are not able to really “know” who they are. Thus, we are left to our own devices to make a decision about our feelings about that person.

    But, it is not them, per se, that is up on the screen that we have to like, but whatever character they are playing. But I don’t think many of us are capable of seeing the actor and their character as completely separate individuals. Especially when the actor starts to become a bigger celebrity, it seems you need to have an opinion about him or her. Why do we even need to decide whether we like them or not? Is it only human?

  2. skullsinthestars says:

    Personal Demon: I found the following comment on the Mothman page interesting:

    “There is one more gaff in the movie. A scene where Gere’s character is in his motel room, on the phone. You see his reflection in a mirror, but the refection is moving and doing the same things he is, about a second after he does it. They aren’t in sync.”

    This could be a gaff, but considering the whole theme of the film is that time and space are much more relative than we sad little humans can detect, it might just be intentional!

  3. skullsinthestars says:

    The Girlfriend wrote: “Especially when the actor starts to become a bigger celebrity, it seems you need to have an opinion about him or her. Why do we even need to decide whether we like them or not? Is it only human?”

    It certainly seems to be. Somehow people are unable to separate the job (acting) the person does from who the person is. It’s sort of odd, isn’t it? When I take my car to the mechanic, I don’t really care if he’s a dickhead or not, I only care if I get my car fixed well and at a reasonable price. Evidently when the job is acting or writing, and there’s an emotional stake involved, we need the actor or writer to be personally acceptable.

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