OFF THE GRID

Michelle Is the New Bling, as Celebs Go Broke

Apr 2, 09 | 9:12 AM   byMichael Wolff
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In our system of government, private enterprise has traditionally created the stars and icons of our culture. We like our stars rich and sexy—the opposite of government issue.

But in this depression, with riches drying up and the government exerting control over private enterprise, the whole icon standard is beginning to come under revision.

Michelle Obama is the national star, government issue. Young and black to the queen’s old and white, Michelle and the queen were nevertheless ideally matched in their studied ordinariness. It was all quaintly, reassuringly, hellzapoppin' cheesy. Mrs. O touched the Queen. She gave her the damn iPod. Jamie Oliver cooked for everyone. Mrs. O kicked Sarah Brown's butt in the wardrobe department. Carla Bruni didn't turn up because she couldn’t compete with Michelle.

And, about all this, everybody went crazy.

It’s not just that wholesomeness is back. It’s that Hollywood celebrity is dead. Or anyway, it’s broke—which is the same thing as dead in movie terms.


(AP Images)


That is, the first-dollar gross system, under which movie stars got as rich as financiers, is over with. Under that system, it didn’t matter how well the movie did, like CEOs with guaranteed-option packages, the stars got paid first, as much as 20% of the total take, before anybody else got anything. It was an incentive which paid even if the movie lost money.

Well, in Hollywood, as on Wall Street, it’s goodbye to all that.

The Hollywood studios, which for years have run loss-leader businesses, are now looking at the dwindling of their core business—DVDs—and using the depression morality to discipline their stars. Every big star is now like an auto company or bank CEO, having to justify him or herself. Steve Carell and Harrison Ford, the Wall Street Journal reports, both got cut down to back-end-deal size: they’ll get a bonus on their next films only after the people who put up the money get paid back (and given Hollywood’s famous accounting methods, fat chance of that!).

We’re creating a generation of strapped stars, which, no doubt, will make everyone in the new unforgiving culture extremely happy. Except that, without excess, there won’t be any stars, not as we’re used to them.

And, it seems, we still want stars. After years of languishing, the box office is way up. People are going to the movies. They want the silver screen experience, want to see 40-foot high faces. They want someone bigger than life. But private enterprise can’t afford to support its celebrities in the way that we’re all accustomed—they’re being brought down to size.

Hence, as with everything else, we turn to government.

Michelle Obama is what we’ve got. She’s the new celebrity power of government.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com

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