Celebrities and the Public Persona

I’m going to be doing something a little different this time. The last two weeks have focused on some pretty big topics, so the corresponding posts have ended up being pretty long and a little dry. To switch things up a bit, this post probably won’t reach the same philosophical depths, nor will it likely run over a thousand words.

It’s still an interesting topic — at least in my opinion — but don’t expect any life-changing revelations. Actually, don’t expect those from anything I post, because that’s setting the bar ridiculously high.

Today, I’ll be discussing how a “public persona” is part of a celebrity’s job description. For some background knowledge, take a few minutes to watch this video of Cara Delevingne (star of the upcoming movie Paper Towns) giving an interview with Good Day Sacramento.

Done? Okay, so I think it’s clear that that interview didn’t go so well. The internet has largely blamed the interviewers for any awkwardness, and there’s certainly some evidence to back up that viewpoint. Still, I want to make sure that we aren’t defending Cara primarily because she’s in a movie adaptation of a book that a lot of people like, or because she seems to have that Jennifer Lawrence-esque snark that many people find to be more real and engaging than the average celebrity’s cut-and-pasted interview responses.

In fact, I’ve watched this interview several times for more or less the same reasons that it’s impossible to stop watching a car accident in progress, and each time I watch it, I feel more and more convinced of one thing: this interview was Cara’s fault.

Not solely, of course. The interviewers were certainly the cause of some of the awkwardness, but I patently disagree with the online multitudes who have lambasted them as incompetent and aggressive.

My problem with the way Cara acted in the interview stems largely from what I believe her “job description” to be, along with that of celebrities in general. After all, famous actors, writers, musicians, or anyone else who receives some amount of public attention have two main responsibilities: they have to keep doing whatever it was that made them famous, and they have to represent themselves.

That first part is easy. Obviously, if an actor, writer, or musician has become famous, they’re likely pretty decent at acting, writing, or making music, so they can probably keep it up. The second part is a lot more difficult, though, and it might not feel like the required effort is being rewarded.

To explain this in concrete terms, let’s consider the analogy of a customer service employee working in a retail store, restaurant, or any such business. As such an employee, it doesn’t matter if you’re having the worst day of your life before you come into work. It doesn’t matter if you’re hungover, exhausted, or depressed. It doesn’t matter if the customers who approach you are frustratingly incompetent or passive-aggressive. If and when a customer talks to you, you have to be as cheerful, polite, and helpful as you can be.

Once that customer walks away, you can act however you want. But your job requires you to adopt a “public persona” and act as a glowing representative for your company and your brand in each interaction with a customer. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t doing your job.

Celebrities face a task that is largely identical, except they’re representing themselves, along with whatever movie, book, or album they happen to be associated with at the time. When giving an interview or interacting with the public, celebrities must give the appearance that they are happy to be there and act as such a representative.

There are obvious exceptions to this. Just as a customer service employee can ask an openly hostile customer to leave or get their manager to deal with it, a celebrity doesn’t have to tolerate harassment or aggression from interviewers, paparazzi, or the public at large.

But that isn’t what happened here. The newscasters on Good Day Sacramento were doing their job — perhaps not perfectly, but not reprehensibly. The female interviewer mispronounced Cara’s name once at the beginning, but it was an understandable mistake and even professionals mess up from time to time. Some of their questions were poorly worded, but they were never really combative. There was clearly a bit of hit-and-miss with Cara’s sarcastic sense of humour, but the interviewers certainly tried to establish a rapport of sorts early on.

And yet, it was plain to see that Cara did not want to be there. Her public persona began to crack, and while others have defended her for being herself and refusing to compromise her personality for an interview, I think we have to recognize that “being yourself” and “being a good representative” aren’t mutually exclusive. Two of the most popular actors in North America right now, Chris Pratt and the aforementioned Jennifer Lawrence, both portray engaging and entertaining personalities while still representing themselves effectively. In fact, Cara herself has even done so in other interviews.

Put simply, this is why I blame Cara for that interview. Just as many customer service employees are regularly faced with customers they don’t enjoy helping, she was faced with an interview that wasn’t going as smoothly as she would have hoped. Instead of powering through it and giving the best representation she could, however, she became irritated and largely derailed the interview.

In a customer service setting, an employee who behaved like this could be reprimanded or even fired. I’m not suggesting that Cara Delevingne should face some sort of punishment, but I am suggesting that we should look more closely at the public personas created (and sometimes ignored) by celebrities. I’m not asking for Cara Delevingne to give up her sarcasm or her wit, or to be 100% cheerful at every moment of the day. I’m just asking her to do her job.

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