Monday 16 September 2019

We do love a stage-managed celebrity feud

Modern life is full of potential for drama, whether it's reading online reviews or following Taylor's spats, writes Sophie Donaldson

SNAKE CHARM: Taylor Swift made up with Katy Perry
SNAKE CHARM: Taylor Swift made up with Katy Perry
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Have you ever googled the phone number of a restaurant with the intention of booking a table for Saturday but instead found yourself drawn to that little row of gold stars above its contact details?

Specifically, the single gold star that denotes a low rating. If you've ever come across the review section of any website, product or service, I'd wager you've lost time devouring the spiteful, typo-riddled, grammatically incorrect cluster of comments festering in these little pockets of the internet.

We don't read bad reviews because we need to - we're there for the drama. Humans are natural spectators and nothing piques our interest more than conflict. It's both instinctual and insatiable - the more we watch a nasty incident unfold, the more invested in it we become.

Nowhere is our desire for drama from afar more apparent than in popular culture.

The 21st Century's most dominant forms of entertainment - social media and reality television - are rooted in our penchant for catty confrontations.

Initially, social media was about sharing, connecting, friending and following - all positive signifiers. Its creators didn't anticipate our proclivity for passive-aggressive back-and-forths.

You may not have gone down the rabbit hole of bad Google reviews, but chances are you've scrolled hungrily through the comments section of an inflammatory Facebook post, watching the slanging match between users grow like a nasty case of bindweed.

Reality television was initially presented to us as a kind of social experiment in which we were privy to the mundane and the magical - but it quickly became clear to producers that ratings went up when s**t went down. Hence, reality TV 'stars' have become increasingly erratic, forced to take part in errant storylines and staged skirmishes.

This hankering for strife really emerges when we get whiff of a celebrity feud - the combination of fame and drama makes for compulsive viewing.

Perhaps the most notorious celebrity spat was between silver-screen icons Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Our interest in the decades-long spectacle hasn't waned with age - in fact, it was the plotline of last year's Emmy- and Golden Globes-nominated Feud, an eight-part miniseries with a star-studded cast that depicts that delightfully caustic relationship.

The falling out of Crawford and Davis is the stuff of Hollywood legend, and produced some of the most acerbic one-liners in entertainment history. The conflict reached boiling point in 1963 when both starred in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? but only Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.

If she had won, she would become the first actress to take home three Oscars and so Crawford allegedly set out to sabotage her chances. Davis didn't win, but Crawford had volunteered to accept the statue on behalf of the winner, Anne Bancroft, which was as close as she could get to taking Davis's place on the winner's podium.

The ensuing fight was never resolved and upon hearing of Crawford's death in 1977, Davis reportedly said: "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good… Joan Crawford is dead. Good."

The stars of today are no less drawn to in-fighting, but unfortunately the barbs tend to be far less entertaining. This is mostly due to the fact that celebrities either resort to using emojis (snakes, thumbs down) on their nemesis's social media pages or else are forced to contain their insults to 140 characters on Twitter. Usually, their legions of fans join the fray and swarm the comments section with put downs or, in the case of Taylor Swift, yet more cryptic emojis.

Throughout 2016 the singer was embroiled in a tit-for-tat with Kanye West, and by extension his wife Kim Kardashian. After Kim Kardashian made reference to Taylor Swift in a tweet illustrated with tens of snake emojis, her fans began 'spamming' Swift's social media with the same.

Last week, Swift finally broke her silence on this undeifying episode. Speaking on the opening night of her Reputation tour, Swift motioned to the stage behind her adorned with huge serpents.

"A couple of years ago, someone called me a snake on social media and it caught on," she said. "And then a lot of people were calling me a lot of things on social media. And I went through some really low times for a while because of it. I went through some times when I didn't know if I was going to get to do this any more."

It has indeed been a week of catharsis for Swift. After a year-long feud with singer and former friend Katy Perry, it seems the two have patched things up. On the eve of Swift's tour, Perry sent her an actual olive wreath with a handwritten note that addresses her as 'Old Friend'. Of course, Swift promptly uploaded this to social media - a vital piece of apparatus in perfecting the art of the celebrity feud.

Like every other aspect of modern-day fame, celebrity feuds are carefully planned and expertly manipulated. Publicised 'fights', like staged romances, are just another way to keep celebrities in the limelight.

The Swift-Perry reconciliation might have made headlines but the column inches don't come close to those generated by their spat. It seems that while some celebrities might be eager to wipe the slate clean, it's far more profitable to get dirty with some mud-slinging.

Sunday Independent

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