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You’re IT, girl

You want your celebrities to have some brain power, right?

Or at least have decent taste. Wear some Ray Bans, for instance, and a floral dress. Hold a Penguin Classic for when the need to read strikes, or carry some vinyl LPs in their second hand bike baskets…

Well, the ‘famous tides’ turn all the time. No longer are celebs without a particular talent the top of the tree. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of the hipster ‘IT’ girl. On the surface, she brings to the spotlight all the elements that make good role model material: sensibility, eloquence and suitably alternative taste. From time to time we see the rise of a new woman who has it all. For us audience members, that can be exhausting but also an inspirational experience. Seeing women who claim to care about more than movie ticket sales is a boost to all of us.  But in reality, how much has this model allowed for a discernible change in the depth with which we treat celebrity?

When talking recent ‘It’ girls, certain people in Hollywood circles light up. Whether it’s the sunnies, her taste in bands or the leather satchel – you’re expected to judge immediately from these cues exactly how ‘cultured’ the actress/model/singer is. Then there’s the polished education – a degree from a prestigious university will get a mention in any magazine column across the globe, and be applauded by most skilled interviewers.

The chic, knowledgeable lady is the pin up of today’s celebrity culture. Women like Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel lead this pack, and these ladies are marketed, particularly towards young audience members, as more admirable than your stock standard movie star.

One could say, though, that the ‘It Girl’ concept is a bit sneaky. It’s surprisingly hard to stay on top as a smart, classy lass in today’s celebrity news cycle. Ms. Deschanel, for instance, has been described recently as aloof and disconnected, while her new sitcom project ‘New Girl‘ has taken some batterings over its portrayal of an ‘adorkable’ single whose supposed intelligence is accompanied by zero social skills.

It seems that we want our female celebs in particular to be bright sparks, but not too bright; deep, but not difficult to interpret.

If you try to trace the concept of the ‘It Girl’ back far enough, you’ll realise that the idea has been around in many different forms since the golden days of Hollywood. The likes of Audrey Hepburn, with both beauty and class, were massive forces in shaping what was considered the peak of celebrity culture. Zoning in on a lady who seems to have it all together is both easy and really popular. You could say that branding is a driving force in the way we put these women together. Whether it’s the clothes or the music, the diamonds or the indie band, the It Girl always has her identity tied to particular products that come to symbolise all her good qualities. The commercial side of celebrity is obvious. With this new wave of smart celeb, though, it’s worth remembering that products (the LP, for instance, or the leather satchel) are being sold to us via the virtues of the star.

Which brings us to the bind that today’s smart ‘It Girl’ can be faced with in the press. It was news to many of us that Ms. Deschanel was suddenly ‘moody’ and ‘unlikeable’, but the online celebrity news cycle was quick to start criticisms of her for no apparent reason. If these things can turn so quickly, you have to ask whether we are in fact seeing successful young women being taken seriously.

Is it really just a case of being told that celebrity X is a bright spark and thus we should like the things they like? Watch enough talk show interviews and you’ll begin to notice that the very nature of publicity is quite shallow. Youtube clips galore will show Deschanel, Portman and others questioned over their styles, projects and favourite foods. Few have time, let alone the inclination, to delve deeper into what these women seriously think about political issues, their industry or their place within the world. This isn’t to say that the average ‘It Girl’ of the 2010s has no opinions on such subjects. It’s merely a reminder that there isn’t time or space to consider their opinions. Which is a little scary when they have such a large reach and are being marketed as making smart sexy.

You may say ‘well, duh,’ to the assertion that we’ll never know celebrities. But when fortunes fade for certain ‘Indie Darling’ stars, it might be worth considering how little time those in the spotlight are given to shape their identities. What can we say that we actually know about a celeb of this class? She likes Oscar Wilde, perhaps, or that latest indie band. Beyond these rudimentary bits and pieces, today’s ‘It Girl’ is seldom asked a question that goes  beyond a project or brand. It’s a big call to say that celebrities have a responsibility to guide young people with their words, but it sure is difficult to avoid sudden criticism and hate in the press when nobody’s asked you what you stand for in the first place.

No doubt there are many women in the entertainment industry who are truly intelligent, driven, and quick witted. Being told by a brand or production company that a celeb is ‘smart’, though, doesn’t give all that much insight into the person that they are. In some ways this can merely endorse the image of a film, a record, or the celeb themselves. For all the oohhing and ahhing over chicks with degrees and careers, it’s easy to fall back on shallow focus points. When Hollywood tells you that it has found the next smart Indie wonder, respect that new star – but maybe watch out to see how seriously they treat her.

(Image credit: 1.)

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