Issue #21: Julia Fox is making celebrity media joyful again
At a supposed ‘peak celebrity’, she is everything we could have asked for and more.
This newsletter has historically manifested in the form of a semi-regular (ok fine, irregular) download of cultural artefacts that appeal to me emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, etc. From here on out, I’ll be experimenting with new formats and frameworks of thinking to land in your inboxes a little more often, largely by trying to unlearn my perfectionism.
Scroll to the bottom for some quick links 🔗
It seems wild to me that Julia Fox only truly entered the cultural discourse this year. Despite starring in 2019 blockbuster Uncut Gems, it wasn’t until a New Year’s Eve party at the end of 2021 that Fox would meet Kanye. Their whirlwind romance – one that seemed to be as much about content and coverage as it was about their mutual affections – catapulted Fox into the deepest hellfires of celebrity culture. “From dominatrix to debutante,” quipped a headline from The Guardian in January, “who is Kanye's new girlfriend Julia Fox?”
While the relationship ran its course in the coming months, Fox’s presence in celebrity media did not. She has become a regular feature in tabloids globally, while over 50,000 videos have been uploaded to TikTok using the now-iconic ‘Uncut Gems’ sound, and videos tagged #juliafox have drawn upwards of 700 million views.
I have adored every headline, every tweet and every TikTok. She’s sometimes stylish, often fabulous, but always and unerringly outrageous. Early on in her hype cycle, a friend messaged me to discuss her choice to wear leather trousers to the beach. More recently, she showed up to the supermarket wearing underwear, a denim blazer and matching denim boots. Instead of wearing the jeans, they’d been repurposed as a bag.
The DIY eyeshadow she wore to the Vanity Fair Oscars party that so unflatteringly highlighted her drug-addled eyes caused widespread ridicule and meme-ing. Her response? An influencer-style tutorial video for her fans to get the look. Just a few days ago, she was photographed in a natural hot spring, recreating the same look with mud from the floor for a gaggle of cackling mates (see above).
I’m sure that she, like all other humans, is far from perfect. But in the current climate of celebrity, she is thriving, and I am extremely here for it. Let me explain.
Fox is playing fame at its own game by performing – almost parodying – what people expect from celebrities.
In doing so, she achieves two things:
She is demonstrating self-awareness by being open about her desire for – or at least, comfort with – fame.
She is reclaiming and subverting the negative stereotypes attached to the act of participating in celebrity, ultimately alleviating them of their power – over her, or her persona.
She is playing the character of a celebrity.
Her performance not only highlights some of the most vilified aspects of celebrity culture, but outs their deep ties with misogyny, too.
Because many of the stigmas and negative stereotypes around celebrity overlap with those of womanhood. In his 1963 book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, sociologist Erving Goffman outlines three modes of judgement that can lead to stigmatisation in the context of ‘normal’ society:
Physical: stigma relating to a person’s physical appearance
Behavioural: stigma relating to a person’s character or behaviours
Tribal: stigma relating to a person’s social standing or company kept
We can use this framework to see some of the ways in which Fox is directly dismantling the tropes attached to female-coded fame (and by extension, her own):
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not lost on me that Fox’s ability to mascarade as a walking hyperbole for femme celebrity is all directly reliant on her cis, white beauty, new money wealth and rock-hard abs. But that doesn’t mean what she’s doing isn’t fascinating to watch.
Not only do the culmination of her life experiences (including a drug overdose and stints working as a dominatrix) fail to align with the narrow expectations attached to the role, but her unique brand of celebrity is ripe for the cultural moment.
Fox speaks to a culture that claims to have hit peak celebrity, but hasn’t really at all.
“In many ways, she's a refreshing antidote to the disingenuous influencer, the hyper-polished A-list starlet,” writes Alexandra Pauly for High Snobiety. Because Fox’s exaggerated performance of celebrity is so intentional, it reads as not only ironic and absurd, but also deeply authentic. She sits in a kind of uncanny valley of celebrity culture, speaking to a cultural climate in which tabloid media coverage is both voraciously gorged upon and condemned with deep disdain.
It’s not entirely unclear why. Between a torrent of predominantly-male A-listers falling from grace in the context of #MeToo, the Gal Gadot-catalysed backlash against the rich and famous during the pandemic, and the slow creep of influencers gobbling up the attention of the extremely online, the past decade hasn’t been great for celebrity, even while a new and more palatable guard populated by the likes of BTS and Billie Eillish is hailed in.
We’ve hit the apex of this double-edged relationship with the defamation trial between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp: a brutal and intimate insight into the toxicity of one of the world’s most famous couples, aired on Court TV and amplified across social for the entertainment of the masses. Google searches for ‘Amber vs. Johnny’ are up over 5,000% in the past month, while LawTube has become a breakout content genre: one Floridian civil lawyer and former state prosecutor who goes by ‘Lawyer You Know’ claims to have gained over 75,000 subscribers and made upwards of $15,000 over the course of the trial.
All of this is to say that just because people despise – and are even disgusted by – celebrity culture, doesn’t mean they’re not consuming it. And beyond simply being entertained, being what media researcher Sarah McRae calls an ‘anti-fan’ can actually be a lens through which to explore and cement your own moral landscape.
It’s a subject that’s been explored in the context of influencer culture by researchers Brooke Erin Duffy and Kate M. Miltner. “Anti-fan communities … irreverent as they may first appear … become spaces to critique larger systems of privilege and inequality,” they write for Real Life Mag. “Public figures … offer a distilled, big-picture target against which audiences can direct their anger with the status quo.”
Fox’s divisive persona highlights the fact that society still has a lot of anger to direct at women who want sex, fame, money or… just to YOLO it and channel some dumb bitch energy. Amid a cocktail of fandom and anti-fandom, her performance of the many stereotypes that comprise vilified, feminine fame gives the people what they want. She understands what people love to hate most, and throws it in their faces, making them eat it.
Ultimately, though, she’s making celebrity joyful again by inviting people to participate.
This is where Fox really comes into her own. She (and her team, I assume?) has an uncanny ability to ensure that everything she does or says, that she’s seen doing, or overheard saying can somehow be construed as either razor sharp commentary on what it means to be a woman in the public eye, outrageous-yet-simplistic source material for the beginning of a meme cycle… or both.
One day, she’s posting stoned videos of herself garbling along to Lana Del Rey in her bedroom, the next she’s telling interviewers that her own memoir is “a masterpiece” or heading out in looks so beautifully absurd that seem almost designed to inspire Halloween 2022’s most iconic looks. Either way, a quick search on Google or Twitter for pretty much anything she does spawns as much fan-made content and UGC as it does actual pictures of the queen herself.
Constructing a culturally palatable caricature of yourself is not ground-breaking behaviour, of course. It’s a ritual that’s been practised by women in public spaces time and again: from Marilyn Monroe’s on- and off-screen role as a bombshell (amazing analysis of our renewed obsession w Monroe here) to Paris Hilton’s sickly sweet party girl persona to Nicki Minaj’s extensive roster of alter egos (there are at least 23 according to this fan wiki).
But unlike these women, whose personas have often been considered exercises in the preservation of personal sanity, Fox’s mythologising of her own persona – especially given that her fame is in its infancy, relatively speaking – feels more like an experiment in the performance of celebrity that invites people to participate.
By embodying the aspects of celebrity that people feel discomforted with – vanity, wealth, performance, etc. – in ways that are playful and ironic rather than serious and sincere, she is not only being unapologetically herself, but inviting her fans (and anti-fans) to join her: to unapologetically revel in the phenomenon of celebrity.
Other important internet finds:
‘Trends aren’t dead, they’re more powerful than ever’, We Are Social (May 2022)
My beloved work wife Susie Hogarth responded to Terry Nyugen’s latest hype piece claiming that trends are dead with a backlash befitting the initial hype. TL;DR? Trends are still a highly relevant form of cultural analysis, and brands should be paying more attention to them, not less. Guess we all still have jobs then, huh 🥲
‘The Rise of Cash App’, Digital Native (May 2022)
An excellent analysis of how Cash App became a breakout success in the fintech space through a combination of culturally-led marketing that broke all the rules of how brands are supposed to behave (including a WAP-themed philanthropic giveaway in collaboration with Cardi B), and designing services for the people who weren’t already served by the industry.
‘New study: Is hating Facebook bad for us?’, Techno Sapiens (May 2022)
A gorgeous topline on a fascinating study covering 15 countries that shows that the more we think Facebook is bad for ourselves and for society, the more likely we are to self-report that we spend too much time on it, and that it’s damaging our well-being.
‘DALL-E 2’, Open AI (2022)
This is just… I cannot. A technology that’s not dissimilar to GPT-3, but for images, OpenAI has trained this neural network (?) that creates images based on text queries: from the vaguely innocuous ‘a male mannequin dressed in an orange and black flannel shirt’ to the slightly more adventurous ‘a chair that’s shaped like an avocado’ to the frankly absurd ‘a girl walking up an infinity staircase made of cookies’. I don’t understand it, I don’t like it, but I honestly cannot stop thinking about it / looking at it.
‘Sleep Baseball’, Dirt (May 2022)
‘Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio’ is an ASMR-esque podcast that basically covers slow, sleepy commentary of a made-up minor league baseball match played between two made-up teams. Not only does it provide baseball fans all the sensory joys of watching a game with none of the interruptions or fear of missing something, it taps into one of the universal benefits of fandom across verticals: emotional safety and comfort.
‘This Snapchatter gives fans his bank details’, The Feed (May 2022)
French influencer Nasser Sari (apparently France’s most popular Snapchatter) has recently taken to dropping one-off credit card details on Snapchat, and encouraging fans to race to use up the €15,000 limit. It’s a Crystal Maze cash grab fit for the digital era, befitting a cultural moment that minimises the impact of wealth inequality while maximising the perceived opportunity social platforms can present in overcoming it.
This Twitch streamer projected one of his videos onto a projector at Cannes, and it speaks volumes that I didn’t not believe it was true. This low level fake news is pretty commonplace on TikTok as a wider commentary on the absurdity of Late Capitalism, and I’m honestly not mad about it. Most liked comment: ‘I thought this was real for a sec😭😭’
‘Every time I hear people talk about NFTs I think of this’, Twitter (May 2022)
No description needed… it’s just a great tweet.