Friday, April 15, 2011

Celebrity Autobio vs. Celebrity Bio

So I read Growing Pains by Billie Piper (Hodder), 2006. Billie Piper is know for, among other things, her role on “Doctor Who.” But in the nineties she was British top 40 teenage pop starlet with an eating disorder, whose songs kind of sounded like the Spice Girls. She was sort of marketed as a kind of a British Britney Spears. I enjoyed her on “Doctor Who,” but I do very little to follow her now. I loved her so much on “Doctor Who” and cried my eyes out with all of her heartbreaking adventures with the tenth doctor, David Tennant. Sidenote: I do enjoy David Tennant. I made my husband Joe get a suit like his on the show and it always tickles me when he wears it. I get swoony. Not like teenagery but more like I’m like a housewife throwing her underwear at Tom Jones. One year for the holidays Joe gave me a stack of gifts and saved the best for last, which was a wrapped box that included a signed postcard from David Tennant himself! And it said, “To Liz”! Joe said that he wrote David and asked for it and said something like, “I have been a life-long "Doctor Who" fan, and I approve of my wife’s celebrity crush.” Upon receiving this gift I squealed with delight, which was a squeal paralleled only by the receiving of a personally autographed postcard from Corey Hart when I was twelve.
To me!

I was amazed by Billie Pipers’s revelations: Janet Jackson is shy, seven laxatives at a time cause you to be perpetually constipated, a method of filling your stomach if you’re trying to lose weight is eating kleenex. This last one is especially interesting to me because I once read an interview with this guy who claimed to be a “karaoke coach” and he said that you should swallow kleenex to help warm up your voice. I tried it and gagged. Then I dry heaved. I can tell by your reaction that you are shocked and amazed by this information.
I did also recently read a book someone else gave me as a gift called Billie Piper: The Rollercoaster Life of Britian's Hottest Star by Chris Stevens (Michael O'Mara Books) 2006. It was all about her ups and downs of course: her precocious rise to fame as a fifteen year old pop star in spite of her real first love (acting), her having to grow up too fast in the spotlight,  her relationship with Ritchie Neville of the boy band Five (sometimes called rive), her fall from public grace for having the nerve to date a boy in a boy band (why would anyone care? Is there something I'm missing here? Maybe people thought that type of pairing is too precious or something? Why do people even have an opinion on something like that?), her much public collapses in public from exhaustion (and there was some public speculation about drinking/drugs), her rocky romance with her first husband, her entry into acting and then her reboot as a critically acclaimed adult actress in things like "Doctor Who."
Interestingly, I stumbled across a picture of Billie Piper and Madonna hanging out and it totally made sense to me. I mean, I don't know exactly when it was from, but I could see how they would totally know each other. For one, Madonna was married to Guy Ritchie, so there was the British connection. Also, they both were female pop stars. The age between them has to be probably at least 15 or 20 years, and Madonna was older than 15 when she got famous, but still, I could see the bonding. Here's something I find interesting. In Madonna's brother's book (Christopher Ciccone), he said that the first time Madonna went to England, when she was beginning to get famous around the time of her first album, that actually she got booed of stages and they were really horrible to her there. Just a sidetone. Maybe there's something that Billie and Madonna could talk about: having British people hate you at some point or another, whether it's earlier or later. I wonder also though, if they get on the topic if they talk about acting? The thing is that Billie has gotten lots of praise about her acting but Madonna hasn't. In fact, Madonna has been ridiculed for her acting. I don't think she's as bad as everybody says she is. I saw Guy Ritchie's remake of Swept Away and it wasn't as bad as everybody says it is -- I mean, it's cheesy etc. but it's not like the worst movie ever, and Madonna wasn't the worst actress ever in it. People are so mean about her. I heard someone say about Madonna kind of recently (and I don't remember who said this) "It must really suck to be Madonna aging in out culture." I think in one of her songs, maybe one on the "Confessions On a Dance Floor," something like "Whenever people talk about me/they're never very nice." Shit, what song was that? Anyway! Who cares? Not me! The point is, well, poor Madonna, pretty much. However, I kind of feel like Billie has more in common with Britney than she does with Madonna, mostly because of her age she got famous at, since Britney got famous super young too. Madonna seems edgier and smarter and with it at a younger age than pop stars like Britney or Billie.
Interestingly I saw some British television show where they have actors and pop stars and whoever else other celebrities on, and they drive some car around a track and it's some kind of reasonably priced sort of thing (not a sports car-- and that's sort of the gag, that it's some economy car like Ford Escort or something like that I think). And they time each person how long it takes for them to get around some track so many times. And they had David Tennant on (and also Christopher Eccleston on, the previous incarnation of the Doctor on "Doctor Who" before David Tennant. And oh! It was hilarious. They edited it in such a way that the car makes a TARDIS noise when he's starting it). So David Tennant said something about filming with Billie was fun because she was s charming and has the type of charisma that she could ask you to do anything and you just sort of do whatever she wants because you're powerless against her charm. Also this: She jokingly called him "David Ten Inch." Why do I remember that type of silliness? I can't help it.

Anyway, of course David Tennant is my fave Doctor but as much as I enjoyed Rose and Billie Piper, the truth is that my favorite companion for the Doctor was Catherine Tate's Donna Noble. She was hilarious and charming in a totally different way. Am I interested in reading a book about her? Well, if it fell in my lap, yes, but actually I'm reading so many other things right now that even if I wanted to there's so much on deck.

I wish I had something intelligent to say about the way Billie's autobio differs from the bio written by someone else. Sure, there are differences, but nothing particularly salacious. As an avid read of celebrity autobios I am more interested in approaching celebrity autobios in a way that I've been toying with. Hear me out here: so I took this class in college about Charlotte Bronte. We read some of her books sure, but we also read a biography by Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte Bronte. The teacher told us to try to forget the book was a true biography and just look at it like it was a book of fiction, and that we should consider thinking about and writing about and talking about it that way. I found that a difficult thing to do at the time but now I can see how that would be very easy as I look back now. So if you approach the idea of taking any genre and fleshing out the conventions, you can see what is some sort of universal commonality in the books of the genre. So as I think back on that, I can see how that would play out in the world of thinking of celebrity autobios as a genre. I feel like there would be a lot of similarities between the conventions of celeb autobios and the idea of the pop star "rise and fall" movies that all pop stars eventually make -- the sort of thinly veiled "here's my story" celebrity origin story, as if it was a comic book super hero origin story (which is pretty much a coming of age narrative); I did a post about this when "Burlesque" came out, if you want to back track to that one -- about the conventions of the inevitable movies pop stars make. Anyway

The idea is to think of celebrity autobiographies in that way, as a sort genre with certain perameters. What are those parameters? Well, there's certain things that a lot of celeb autobios have in common: the rise and fall, potential rags to riches, the elaboration of how one practices their craft, the hubris that leads to delusion and then losing of some sort of sanity (whether through drugs or exhaustion or emotional turmoil or tragedy or pueblo disgrace or failed relationships etc.), the comeback, the aging, the giving back to the community, etc. I think I may need to marinate on this idea of what those sort of rules are, as if there's a template for considering the study of writing about celeb autobios in some sort of meaningful way.

The new season of Doctor Who starts on the 23rd but the fact is, we don't have cable, and I hate watching stuff on my computer. So that means I either have to wait it out for the DVD or find somewhere to watch it that's not a computer and has comfortable seating. And snacks. I gotta have my snacks.

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