Opting in, celebrity style

In a break from my attempts to understand conceptions of reality, let’s have some gossip reportage.

How great is the A.V. Club? I could read their feature essays all day. One new feature I absolutely adore is Then That’s What They Called Music!, a track-by-track review and analysis of the once ubiquitous compilations CDs that capture all the hits of the mid 90s and early 2000s. I was in middle school and high school at that time, so this series allows me to revisit some highly embarrassing song obsessions with a (slightly more) critical eye. It’s even more embarrassing considering I owned most of the CDs in question. Ouch.

Revisiting your pop culture past also allows you smugly judge (or pity, as the case may be) the artists in question. Two singers featured heavily on the NOW! compilations, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez, are both attempting to regain the popularity they had at that time.

Both women took time off to have babies, but today are everywhere, pouting and preening on magazine covers and talk shows, promoting albums (Aguilera and Lopez) and movies (Lopez) that really aren’t doing too well.

Now I work at a company that employs a lot of women, and from what I can tell, most mothers have to be back at work less than a year after having babies. Aguilera and Lopez are both trying to opt-in to their industries after taking some significant time off, and finding it’s HARD – even for multimillionaire celebrities. Aguilera, with her signature blond hair and tech-y videos, is accused of Gaga-copying (now Gaga-feuding). Lopez can’t seem to connect to the bland romantic comedies she once dominated, let alone the dance club music that she was known for (and what her voice has the capability for, really).

There really shouldn’t be any schadenfreude in their predicaments. Women need to be able to take the time to bond with their babies and raise them, and re-enter the careers they left. But the real world doesn’t work that way, especially in an industry as cutthroat and celebrity-hungry. While they were gone, we got more pop stars to entertain us, romantic comedy leads to charm us, and reality stars to allow unfettered access into their boring, boring lives. It doesn’t make me happy that they aren’t doing well, or at least, not perceived of as doing well, but part of me is happy that they, too might see the plight of a working mom who wants to take off that time, but really, really can’t. Celebrities: they really are just like us.

The Garrick Year : review

The back flap of The Garrick Year, on my 1980s copy on loan from the Oakland library, reads:

After graduating from Cambridge University with honors, Miss Drabble joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. She is married to an actor and has two small children. The Garrick Year is her second novel.

Funnily enough, the book is about a young English woman, married to an actor, with two small children. They move to a small English town for a season when the husband gets an acting gig in a summer festival. Already, the parallels of autobiography and plot run tight. The book self-consciously attempts to express a young woman navigating wifedom and motherhood in shifting 1960s England, but does so with enough clarity and insight to never sound pandering.

The story begins with Emma, the narrator, reflecting upon her Garrick year  (Garrick I believe being a playwright of one of the plays her husband acted in). She is loathe to move from London, as she had employment as a television announcer for the summer, but instead agrees, almost to her own surprise, to move to a small English village for the summer.

Despite the bohemian inclinations of her husband’s theater crew, Emma is self-consciously middle class at home. She has a French nanny to help with her two small children, Joe and Flora, but exists in a world of detached proximity with her, for if they bonded they would have to recognize the economic bonds between them. She looks for the approval of her childhood friend’s family, who she runs into, for this family provided the stability her own family lacked.

Emma self-describes herself as beautiful, and her husband and others constantly reminder her that she is attractive. Yet she is very aware of a simultaneous invisibility that comes from being a wife and mother. Emma dresses up for theater parties, only to look forward to the solitude she has come to expect.