Updated: Sep 24
Children have the wildest ambitions. Just about every child wants to be something the likes of an astronaut, princess, or superhero. The most regrettable truth of this phenomenon is that eventually, that child will grow up, and at the same rate that their size increases, their ambitions decrease. When I was at an appropriate size for inappropriate aspirations, I wanted to be a movie star. I wanted to make movies, be in movies, and watch movies. Of course, like everyone else, I did have to settle for more reasonable occupations such as brain surgery and venture capitalism, but in time, I fell right back to my love for film. It never went anywhere and the Hollywood star system undoubtedly played a part in my lasting attraction. The star system in Hollywood may very well be one of the key elements in creating such a powerfully influential and lucrative industry.
The star system is a method of self-preservation employed by Hollywood to create personalities out of their top actors. By living in the limelight, these actors sacrifice a personal life and individual persona for the purpose of having a sustainable and wildly lucrative career. As an extension of marketing reach, Hollywood gossip is a part of Hollywood. A star persona could be initiated by the actor or actress themselves by tipping off tabloids about their most recent relationship or scandal in the hopes of marketing, much like Kanye West notoriously did earlier this month (Torres 2018), but it is often that studio executives and producers set up these identities for the sake of promoting their actors’ most recent projects.
This system did not grow overnight or as by some freak accident. The star system has been formulated, calculated, and created by those whose livelihoods depend on the films being produced and successful. Cinema has a tendency of leaving audiences to believe that an entire movie is at the mercy of a single person, as if the biggest actor in the film IS the film. The main character represents the writer, director, producers, crew, and the entire studio. Some of these big ticket actors tend to do unscrupulous and often regrettable things, cracking under the pressure of the limelight. “(Roscoe) Arbuckle, who had been arrested for the murder and rape of film actress Virginia Rappe, posed a relatively new set of problems for the smooth functioning of the star system, and it took Hays and film industry executives quite some time to develop effective strategies for controlling and avoiding the type of damage to Hollywood's image that had been caused by this and by other early scandals. By the time Reid's drug addiction was publicly revealed at the end of 1922, the industry's ability to manage star scandals had greatly improved.” (Anderson 24, 2011). Clearly, a few bad apples had spoiled the bunch, causing Hollywood to take control of its employees or at least the ones that desire the perks of being a movie star. Thus, the star system was born.
This business strategy is nothing new. Hollywood has been developing personalities and roles for actors for decades. “The production and release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Richard Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle in 1958 creates an odd case of cinematic intertextuality. Beyond the aesthetic and commercial logic of sequels or remakes, the two films share a striking set of diegetic, formal, and contextual features. Released mere months from each other, both films feature the same two stars – James Stewart and Kim Novak – as a romantic couple. Across both films it is Novak in particular who defines and explores a complex, multidimensional star persona that speaks to the intersection of her own career and women’s concerns, both in Hollywood cinema and the late 1950s in general.” (Hantke 447, 2015) In short, the stories told by films are not the sole concept attracting audiences to theaters. It is a masterful blend of narrative, picture, and motifs reinforced by the star system that successfully draw audiences back into the theater every time a coincidentally familiar or shameless sequel is released.
The mere idea of the same actors playing the same roles with slightly different premises draws crowds to theaters. People want to see Sandra Bullock as a strong, independent woman or Robert DeNiro as an old-fashioned manly man, struggling to catch up with the times. Certain actors are cast to certain roles because they play them well. The stars of Hollywood bring their own stories to the films of the characters they portray; the plot of the film only compliments their abilities!
Most importantly, the star system works. Thanks to its influence and effectiveness, actors are tame or precisely wild, directors are quiet and effective at showing the emotions through their work, and Hollywood thrives past its foreign and domestic competition (Bishop). Nowhere in the world is there a media monster that competes with Hollywood magic and with the ploys and schemes employed by them, there is no question as to why.
Anderson, Mark Lynn. Twilight of the Idols : Hollywood and the Human Sciences in 1920s America, University of California Press, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/wayne/detail.action?docID=685411.
Bishop. “The Commercial Film Industry: Why Is Hollywood Still Globally Dominant?” Bishopg, www.bishopg.ac.uk/Documents/Sociology Year 1 Project.pdf.
Torres, Libby. “Kanye West Lashes Out at Liberals in TMZ Rant: 'Y'all Can't Bully Me'.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 1 Oct. 2018, www.thedailybeast.com/kanye-west-defends-trump-snl-rant-lashes-out-at-liberals-on-tmz-yall-cant-bully-me.
Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Volume 63, Issue 4, Pages 447–466, ISSN (Online) 2196-4726, ISSN (Print) 0044-2305, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zaa-2015-0036.