The Jennifer Lawrence Effect

Did you catch [insert any late night talk show]? Spoiler: it involved another slim, probably white, cisgender star sharing quirky anecdotes about their “awkward” adolescence.

We need to talk about the celebrity identity crisis. Sure, it’s a little late to challenge the concept of celebrity idolization, but just because we’re image-obsessed skin bags doomed to wander the earth aimlessly until the next scoop leaks online, doesn’t mean the stars we fetishize have to be this boring.

The crisis is that there are very few identities to be found. Fearful of polarizing potential fan demographics, celebrities edit themselves until they possess all the singularity of the color beige. Naturally, it’s about bankability. Celebrities and the interests they represent quite literally cannot afford to offend people; quirky sells better than bold. Admittedly, celebrity and candor have never mixed (Dixie Chicks controversy, anyone?), but after 100 years of plastered-on smiles and suppressed opinions, we seem to have forgotten what personality actually looks like.

Let’s call it the Jennifer Lawrence Effect.

Celebrity self-censorship has gotten so bad that the public considers the Hunger Games star audacious for talking about peeing on national television. Throw in a few tripping incidents, and suddenly she is the shining example of individuality in Hollywood. And isn’t that the most depressing thing you’ve ever heard? A thin, blonde, white woman who stars in romantic comedies is the posterchild for celebrities with spunk.

Perhaps this phenomena is a result of an oppressive trend: continually serve conventional, the moment someone with a pulse pops up, they’re slipped into a mini-dress and declared original. Nowadays charm passes itself off as personality, censorship as composure. We’ve been conditioned to buy into the whole Girl-Next-Door act, which we should not forget, at inception, was created as form of propaganda.

During World War II, cinema and music evoked the image of the ideal “all-American” woman: feminine, modest, thin, and white. The Girl-Next-Door was a supposed embodiment of the “goodness” the country was fighting for. But by glorifying these qualities, a subliminal message was sent that this was what an American should look like, and everything else, in turn, became less American.

But why does this matter? Can’t we just let JLaw lead her Amy Schumer-bestie, jetskiing existence in peace?

It matters because Hollywood’s external and internal homogeneity trickles down. Cultural visibility is tantamount to societal visibility. So when the system of Hollywood — and it is a system — promotes a normative, the public consumes it readily. By internalizing this normative we confine, demean, and devalue one other and ourselves. Do not underestimate the profound affect of having the culture you’re within refuse to celebrate your differences, meanwhile bolstering ideals you are not.

Damaging effects of celebrity homogeneity aside, it’s also just fucking dull. If we’re programmed to put celebrities on a pedestal, the very least they could do is give us something to look up to. Because as of right now, the defining trait of most celebrities appears to be politeness.

Polite is for Midwestern soccer moms.

Granted, some celebrities just want to excel in their field and steer clear of politics altogether, but their position is inherently political due to the cultural power they possess. Fame can come at a great cost, but it also allots its beneficiaries with great privilege. Even if the role of celebrity is bestowed against an individual’s will, a responsibility comes with that post. It’s time for those who walk the red carpet to use their platform effectively for the greater good of the culture they dominate. Hope comes in the form of outspoken celebs like Nicki Minaj, who called out MTV for body shaming women of color, and in turn, made the public aware of an ongoing media bias.

Yet, as tempting as it is to place all the blame on the establishment, we as consumers need to acknowledge the role we play in perpetuating this cycle. While Hollywood has been recycling the same archetypes for decades — different hairstyles on the same culturally-acceptable bodies– we are likewise guilty for readily swallowing what they spoon-feed us.

Meanwhile, the little diversity that does manage to break through is exclusionary and non-representational. You get conservatively stomachable examples of disenfranchised populations, sending the message: It’s ok to be different as long as you stay within the bounds of normalcy. You can be queer, as long as you don’t defy gender normatives. You can be a beautiful POC, as long as your features still comply with Eurocentric beauty standards.

The Millennial Hollywood should look like the generation it aims to inspire: the most racially diverse generation in U.S. history. Identity politics and long-standing social issues are finally being discussed in the mainstream. Politics is swayed just as much by culture as culture is by politics. We need leaders in the entertainment world speaking to these critical issues, not crowd-pleasers trying to walk the line between wholesome and edgy. Under an administration that continues to threaten the existence minorities, diversity in film, music, and television has never been more important.

And if the media refuses provide platforms for different perspectives, we need to find them ourselves. Redirect the normative from the ground up by seeking out the unorthodox, supporting their work, and cheering for them as loudly as we can.

Then we might have chance to kill the damaging concept of the Girl-Next-Door for good.

Words: Jacob Seferian, Images: Blakey Bessire