Saturday 17 February 2018

The stars we love to loathe - from Kristen Stewart to Gwyneth

After Kristen Stewart was booed for no reason at Cannes, Ed Power asks why we just can't abide certain celebrities

Out of favour: Kristen Stewart rubbed the Cannes crowd up the wrong way as she walked the red carpet.
Out of favour: Kristen Stewart rubbed the Cannes crowd up the wrong way as she walked the red carpet.
Anne Hathaway
Taylor Swift
Gwyneth Paltrow
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala 2016.

Kristen Stewart has provoked a strong reaction at the Cannes Film Festival, though it was probably not the response she had hoped for. The Twilight star endured humiliating boos at the premiere of her new movie, Personal Shopper, as cineastes gathered at the Riviera reacted badly to her typically understated performance.

It would be comforting to think that the jeers were for the film rather than for the 26-year-old actress. But let's not deceive ourselves - something about Stewart rubs people the wrong way.

It could be that once up upn a time she was linked to a married man. It could be that once upon another time, she was linked to Robert Pattinson. Who knows? But she looks to have joined the ranks of an exclusive club of A-listers we actively enjoy hating upon, a group that also includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Bieber, Bono and Anne Hathaway.

Why do we enjoy channelling our negative emotions towards individuals we have never met? And why is our venom directed overwhelmingly at women?

The factors at play are at once complicated and straightforward and say a lot about the degree to which people nowadays live vicariously through celebrities. Let's start with the obvious reasons.

Some celebs get on our nerves because they are clearly trying too hard to ingratiate themselves and thus come across as condescending. Top of the list in this regard in Gwyneth Paltrow, whose attempt to pass herself off as a regular working mother serves only to lay bare just how privileged she is.

This tone-deafness is clear from her Goop website, which, with its vegan treasure hunts and quinoa recipes, reads like a lifestyle manual for one percenters.

Yet far from demonstrating gratitude for her wealth and advantage, Paltrow seems entirely oblivious to it and appears to believe she can pass herself off as one of us.

Also in the "trying too hard" column is Taylor Swift, whose Little Miss Perfect routine serves only to make us aware of our own flaws. She has it all: a posse of knock-out friends, an apartment overrun with cutesy cats and rocket-propelled career. Moreover her life is so vacuum-packed in its perfection it feels stage managed, even a little fake. Nobody gets to the top by being sweet and considerate all of the time, yet that is the face that Swift presents to the world.

At the opposite end are the celebrities whom we dislike because they can't be bothered. Kanye West genuinely does not care what we think about him. Ditto Justin Bieber, for whom public disapproval is one more thing to sulk about and Lindsay Lohan a talented actress who has sometimes given the impression of squandering her career simply to spite us.

Of course, these are skin-deep responses. Under the surface, our reasons for feeling positively or negatively towards celebrities are more nuanced. Psychologists believe that we judge celebrities according to two distinct criteria. On the one hand they are aspirational figures. If a girl-next-door such as Swift can become wildly successful in their chosen field, what's to stop the rest of us excelling in our own lives?

But we may eventually come to take their success as a personal slight. Kim Kardashian has achieved wealth and ubiquity through sheer, narcissistic willpower. If that's all that is required to get ahead, what are the rest of us doing with our lives?

Her fame can feel like a mockery of the thankless hours we, the toiling masses, are putting in - of course we are going to hate her for that.

Fuelling the trend towards celebrity hate is social media. No longer do celebs feel like divine figures gazing down at us from Mount Olympus. Twitter and Instagram foster the illusion of intimacy while making us feel a little celebrity-like ourselves.

On social media, you don't have friends and acquaintances - you have followers. This appeals to our vanity and gives us a sense of what it might be like to be a celebrity - a change in the discourse that informs how we look on famous people.

"It would be hard to explain the power of the celebrity cult without reference to two factors: social media and the rise of narcissism levels," wrote business psychology professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in the Guardian last year.

"Social media enables users to broadcast their lives as if they were celebrities, creating an alternative reality that turns friends, acquaintances and strangers into fans and followers.

"Crucially, the same media platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - are used by actual celebrities, reinforcing people's perceived emotional proximity and intimacy with the stars, who, in turn, share details of their personal lives with fans directly, just like their real friends do."

It is often pointed out that female celebrities tend to inspire more venom than their male counterparts. Women were certainly over-represented in a widely discussed 2013 survey of most-hated celebrities by Star, the American celebrity magazine.

Gwyneth Paltrow was ranked number one, followed by Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lopez. The only men in the top 10 were full-time ladies man / part-time singer John Mayer, American morning host TV Matt Lauer and angry quiff Justin Bieber.

But in hating these women we may be paying them a back-handed compliment.Psychologists believe that celebrities in whom we are emotional invested serve as cultural touch-points through which we see the world. Consider that we don't simply begrudge Taylor Swift or Anne Hathaway.

We can also recognise aspects of them in people we encounter in our own lives. We've all met effortless overachievers such as Swift or came across those who seem a little superficial in their enthusiasm as per Hathaway.

Kanye West is, in contrast, hard to relate to as he bears only the faintest resemblance to an actual human being.

So maybe Stewart shouldn't be too downcast as she tries to shrug off boo-gate. Perhaps the jeerers unloaded on her because they saw in her grouchy persona a reflection of their own low moments.

We loathe you Kristen because you remind us of ourselves. Please don't hate us for it.

Getting our goat: Celebs we can't stick

1 Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow

So outwardly flawless is her lifestyle, as portrayed on Goop, she even pitched her divorce - sorry, "conscious uncoupling" - from Coldplay's Chris Martin as an opportunity for personal growth.

2 Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

To quote New York magazine, she reminds us of someone playing the roll of "Anne Hathaway" in a movie. The smile is a little too sharp, the eyes a little too empty.

3 Kristen Stewart

Slouchy, eye-rolling teendom in celebrity form. Also, she broke the heart of K-Patz when cheating on him with a married man.

4 Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

Stop telling us about how awesome your life is Taylor. We get it.

5 Madonna


A pop autobot determined to pummel us into submission with her ever blander music. Also, needs to stop cyberstalking her kid.

6 & 7 Kim Kardashian & Kanye West

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala 2016.

She's the reason someone needs to go back in time and stop the internet being invented so no one can ever hear of her or the rest of the family. He's the token bloke / alien masquerading as successful rapper.

Irish Independent

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