celebrity film plasticsurgery

Hollywood’s Unattainable Beauty: The Help of a Knife

At this point, it is far from controversial to say that plastic surgery is a large part of Hollywood culture. The days of the images of plastic surgery being only of those who are so-called surgery addicts are long gone and have been replaced with natural appearing beautiful faces, and the once taboo topic has now become an elite party theme where you can get botox as you mingle. Even though cosmetic surgery has not always been a comfortable topic of conversation, it has been a part of Hollywood culture since the very beginning. Hollywood culture begets surgery culture.

Ever since the concept of the star was created, people became fascinated by them. People became so fascinated with Florence Lawrence and beyond that whole movies could be marketed off of them and entire movie studios were created with the idea of them (Paramount’s selling point of having more stars than in the sky, hence the iconic logo). With that fascination came a fascination with their beauty as well as how they got it, to the point that fan magazines dedicated to the very topic emerged. While many of these stars were naturally gorgeous (or at least they claimed to be), it became known that some went the more “extreme” route and went the way of plastic surgery to secure their place on the silver screen.

Plastic surgery came into the public eye around the same time Hollywood was finding its footing. The practice started to resemble the cosmetic surgery we know today around 1910 when techniques were developed to help soldiers from World War I with various types of disfigurement they may have suffered. Hollywood quickly picked up the technique for its own use. As the studio system started signing actors to their various studios their contracts would include stipulations like a “facial and physical disfigurement clause,” that was in the contract of Molly O’Day, who was known as the “little flapper of the studios.” This clause allowed the studio to stop working with her if her appearance changed drastically enough that it “detract[ed] from her appearance on screen.” While in a way the clause prevented her from getting drastic plastic surgery, when she gained a significant amount of weight in 1927, enough that she was unable to lose it fast enough through diet and exercise alone, she had no other choice than to turn to the knife to be able to work.

By 1929 a popular fame magazine noted that the town was being filled with “beauty farms, rejuvenation palaces and plastic surgery emporiums that have sprung up around the movie center like mushrooms in a shady glen.” Stars began getting cosmetic surgery to stay in the business, hopefuls got it to get into the business, and studios encouraged some of their contracted actors to get it to turn them into stars. This included stars like Rita Hayworth who had her hairline raised and her hair dyed in order to get rid of the more “ethnic” look she had, her heritage being from Spain, in favor of something a bit more Anglo-Saxon. As Hollywood sets the beauty standards and Hollywood was and arguably still is exceedingly white.

While the studio system may no longer exist in the way the fifties once knew it, the ways that Hollywood and casting work are still largely similar. How you look determines what parts you can get, if you can get a part at all. Typecasting is a major part of Hollywood. If you look like the girl next door you will always be cast as the girl next door. This is can due to a couple of reasons. Perhaps you are just really good at being the girl next door so you are getting called for roles that are exactly that. Perhaps after seeing you as the girl next door especially after you have done multiple movies as one, the audiences might have a hard time accepting you as the sultry female lead and the horrific villain, but in acting the whole point of the profession is to be able to embody a multitude of different kinds of people.

What it really boils down to is how you look. If you look like a girl next door casting directors may have a hard time seeing you as anything but, and certainly, if your face looks villainous or far from the conventional idea of attractive you will be stuck as a villain or a character actor until the end of your career. You may never see your day as the handsome hero or beautiful heroin. Back in the studio times once you signed that contract as that character actor there was nothing you could do about it.

Louis R. Wolheim was a villainous-looking character actor that got stuck doing only roles that fit that bill. After a while, he became sick of getting cast in evil roles and people attributing his success to the non-beautiful nature of his face rather than his talent as an actor. So, he decided he wanted to change in and sought out a nose job. Problem was, at the time he had a contract similar to that of O’Day and the nose job would drastically change his appearance and therefore breach his studio contract. The studio wanted him only as that “type” so he was denied his ability to alter his face. While the idea of typecasting is still alive and well today actors have a lot more liberty over their bodies as they are not owned by studios so they are free to alter their appearances in hopes of going from monstrous villains to leading men, so they do.

Typecasting points to a much deeper problem in the industry: beauty standards. For both genders, it is seen that in order to work in this town you have to be among the most beautiful creatures to walk this Earth and if you do not fit the bill you have to change it or you have to go home. Girls who thought they were the prettiest girls in their hometowns come to Hollywood, realize they are small fish in a big pond, get insecure and get surgery, people who are conventionally attractive and don’t necessarily need to get surgery, some even feel pressured by their LA peers. Even men who back in the day feared appearing feminine for perusing their appearance, get plastic surgery at a similar rate as women maybe in ways that are less obvious than the plumping of lips but rather removing fat from unwanted areas to achieve a “manly” physique. Being in the town that sets the standard for the rest of the country means that you must fit the standard in order to be accepted into the community.

In the same vein, the beauty standards that the industry has set speak to our culture’s number one fear: our mortality. While beauty standards can still be a bit ambiguous and are constantly changing one this is for certain, aging is something to be avoided. There is an understanding in the industry that it is in some ways a young man’s game. While there are still plenty of actors working into their 50s and beyond not many are ranked among the A-list and they had to really establish themselves in their earlier years. This in-proportionately affects women over men as they are seen more often as silver foxes rather than old witches, but overall if you have not made it in Hollywood by your mid-30s then your chances of making it on to the silver screen certainly decrease as your body takes on the strains of 30+ years of life.  However, there is still hope for those Hollywood hopefuls! A nip here, a tuck there, a touch of botox, and suddenly they have shed decades off their look and are ready for their closeup. Some plastic surgeons even refer to what they do as “pushing back their sell-by date.”

The nature of Hollywood with its inhuman beauty of the elite A-list and through that its ingrained ageism made cosmetic surgery the obvious answer to the town of extremes. Even in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic $9 billion was spent on aesthetic procedures. Some of the top procedures were facial fillers, liposuction, and breast augmentation. The procedures point directly to wanting to flatten out wrinkles, to lessen aging, and losing fat, and gaining larger breasts to fit (specifically female) beauty standards.

Hollywood from the very beginning has thrived off of creating artifice and what better way than altering the faces of their stars to be unattainably perfect, well, unattainable without the help of a knife or a needle.

politics punk

Pop Culture Punk

Over the past several decades we have seen multiple iterations of anti-establishment counterculture from the hippies to the punks and so on, each reacting to or growing out of the last. However, since the turn of the new century, it has gotten increasingly hard to see the remnants of the beliefs of the original counterculture in its new iterations. LA punk’s anti-consumerist anti-mainstream ideals have long since been replaced by the Emo Scene of the 2000s, who not only appropriated mainstream imagery but also were known for fashion emerging from shopping at chain stores you could find at any mall. Has our society since moved past the days of true anti-consumerist counter-culture? What has caused such a change?

The shift from LA punk to emo is especially surprising since emo is a direct descendant of its 70s counterpart. As Los Angeles punk and its angry, anti-consumerist, and anti-establishment ideology started to move east, it found itself split. The anger that the culture was based on made many of its get-togethers end in fights, police intervention, and often attracted skinheads and other highly politicized, hyper-masculine participants with lots of repressed rage. This caused the culture to be extremely alienating to those outside of it as well as to some inside of it. By the time the movement hit Washington, D.C., a series of bands decided to split off from the original group. Their music focused more on emotions and less on the establishment and politics.  They were more interested in social alienation rather than a societal one and focused more on teenage angst and romantic relationships. This new form of punk became known as emocore punk as the old more aggressive version became hardcore punk.

The emocore punk movement slowly became more and more of its own subculture through the 90s, becoming known solely as emo. Emo culture, however, did not fully take form until the turn of the century as it took on a very different shape as well as gained a much larger and more significant following, to the point that it could have even been considered a “mainstream subculture” at the beginning of the 2000s. This iteration of the culture took its roots of punk but appropriated a lot, if not a majority, of its iconography from other subcultures of the 90s.  They took some of the grunge and the slightly longer hair of indie-rock. They took quite heavily from goth as well as their punk roots; heavily leaning towards black with occasional neon accents, skull iconography, and stripes. Emos often sported dyed hair, eyeliner for both men and women, and an overall androgynous look. They also were known for incorporating pop iconography into their outfits, which was an acceptance of the mainstream that its predecessors would have never dreamed of.

So what led to this major change in the culture and this incorporation of the mainstream that would have been unheard of years before? Two events shook the country leading to a major increase in patriotism and fear of those who are different.  The Columbine High School Shooting took place on April 20th, 1999 leaving 20+ wounded and 13 dead. It was a national tragedy and the first of its kind.  It put a spotlight on mental health as well as increasing fear of those who might be expressing it differently. Those who were outwardly different were now met with fear that they too could become similar monsters. Teen goths whose parents were once supportive were no longer met with the acceptance of their self-expression that they once were. Emos also being a largely teenage subculture were met with similar responses so mainstream-ification and leaning more into consumer culture allowed them to tread the line between subculture and mainstream acceptance.

Only a little more than two years later the 9/11 attacks just further ingrained patriotism and fear of those who are different into the country as a whole. Not only were subcultures seen as something different to be feared at this point but also being anti-establishment and non-conformist made you extremely unpatriotic in a time where the country was healing. It is in many ways similar to the Red Scare of the 1950s causing the country to try and appear as cookie cutter and “normal” as possible as to not appear un-American, but now there is a national tragedy that has taken place on American soil that you have to reckon with as well.

Due to all of this emo found a way to neither go against the mainstream culture nor society but rather found a way to express different values within them. So, instead of following the deviant route of their predecessors they rather try to find “collective individuality” within their society. Through this, they are much more comfortable with consumerism than the punks of the past.  They have taken the lack of politics of the emocore punks and have taken it all the way to removing politics entirely. The subculture is far more interested in expressing themselves and achieving a specific look rather than where they are getting it from. So, when teenage emos are looking for clothing that can accurately express themselves and their culture and they are able to find it all easily at Hot Topic, a store that was established to cater to that exact audience, they will buy it no questions asked because it is a self-statement rather than a political one.

So does emos adapting to the world this way mean that we will never see true authentic punks ever again? It is safe to say that it may be a good long while before we can ever truly see an anti-establishment movement again and it will have to be in a drastically different form. Not only are we as a country still healing from the tragedies that made the emos into what they are today but the country itself is becoming increasingly more politicized as each day passes. Political radicalism is no longer radical.  “The Left” and “The Right” are moving farther and farther apart and it feels as if there is no room for a middle. Half of the country was vocally and excruciatingly against the American president from 2017-2021 if literally half the population is a part of it can it be counted as radical or counterculture? Then after that, some select people from the other side of it performed an insurrection on the capital to try and stop the transfer of power. Is that counterculture because it is a smaller population? But hasn’t that been a part of the culture of the past four years?  All of this begs the question; who determines the culture? The leader and chief of the country? The adults? Does that make the young people counterculture by default? The young people? What’s trending on Twitter? Are the niches of content on TikTok subcultures or are they mainstream since they are popular on TikTok?

In the time and place, we are in counterculture feels to be all of us. We may be mainstream to us but we are counter to them and while the internet puts us in conversation with them it more often creates echo chambers and increased politicization. Can countercultures exist ever again? Maybe very far down the line.  For now, we are all subcultures of the mainstream, very similar to how emo was. Subcultures that are much more focused on self-expression and self-identification than with bringing down the system because it is becoming increasingly clear that in many ways most of us want to bring down the system. We are all a part of subcultures that catch steam on the internet and become mainstream. Is that so bad? Everyone trying to express themselves and questioning the system in which they live. I don’t think so.

cable streaming studios television

Pandemic Solidifies Consumer Viewing Trends

Since Netflix started streaming television and movie content in 2007, the question of whether it might one day take the place of broadcast television has been in the back of people’s minds. As the years have gone on, that question has shifted from if to when, as streaming platforms grew in number and scope. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, that time seems closer than ever.

Even before the world was suddenly locked inside their homes, broadcast was certainly feeling on the outs. With the generations who grew up with the internet now being of age to consider buying their first cable package, many are turning to streaming services instead.

This could be due to multiple reasons. One reason is that a subscription to a streaming service costs exponentially less than a cable package, which might include hundreds of channels that you have no interest in watching. With nearly 300 streaming services currently available in the United States ranging from broad collections, like Netflix, to Network/Studio run, like Disney+, to niche categories, like CrunchyRoll. Audiences can easily pick and choose what they would like to be actively watching and ignore the rest. While some argue that with a large amount of those services having exclusive titles forcing you to sign up for multiple, you end up paying the same amount if not more than you would for a television package you would have to accumulate at least five concurrent services to even begin approaching that number, more often closer to ten. Forbes reports that, “On average, (in 2020) Americans subscribe to three paid streaming services, spending an average of $37 per month.” This is almost half the average cable television package starting at $60 per month. This also points to the increasing popularity and growth in the streaming industry. Compared to three years prior (2017), “the majority of Americans only paid for one streaming service, which was almost always Netflix,” according to that same Forbes article. To juxtapose that, the annual pace of subscriber decline for cable television hit 5.4%.

It can also be argued that streaming content is overall a better and more user-friendly experience. Obviously, cable television does not have a user interface the way that streaming platforms do, so it is hard to compare the two in that regard. But, that lack in many ways puts streaming leagues ahead in the way it displays and recommends content. Gone are the days of channel surfing and hoping that a show will catch your interest in the few seconds you are willing to dedicate to it before flipping to the next channel. Streaming services, far more often than not, have algorithms built into them that can 1) track what you are watching, 2) are able to recommend things that you may also like, thereby quickly easing the process of finding a new show (not to mention that you have access to their entire library at once, but we will dive further into that later), and 3) if you know you are in the mood for a specific genre, you can easily sort content to find what you are looking for.  So not only are you not paying for channels that you will never watch but you are having content that is curated to your preferences fed directly to you, a practice that many viewers are getting used to. One could imagine that once you get used to being fed content chosen specifically for you, it would be hard to go back to flipping channels.

Beyond just having a better experience accessing content, it might just be better content. Many of these services have started creating their own shows and movies so they can have more control over their library and worry less about managing contracts with outside studios to keep some of our favorite shows on their site. This content is not subjected to the same game of catering to advertisers or the regulations of broadcast television so they are able to create content that is much more niche and has more minority representation than broadcast television. More than ever the content is dictated by what the audiences want to watch. And, it seems to be working. At the Golden Globes this year (2021) streaming platforms were on their way to winning almost double the awards of cable, taking home 34 (20 of which were Netflix’s) compared to cable’s 20. The SAG Awards were similar with 28 to cable’s 16.

Even news, which many have latched on to as one of the remaining pillars of cable television that will keep it alive, has gotten a polish in the streaming sphere. Since news executives do not need to worry about getting stories in before the next commercial break or pulling in viewers for the moment that it a story is airing, they are more worried about how many viewers watch every month and how many hours have been streamed overall. This allows segments to be much longer, some stories nearing 15-20 minutes each, allowing them to be much more in-depth. This allows news to go beyond quick segments and verge on mini-documentaries that can really highlight what they are talking about, better informing the public. So, the idea of streaming live broadcasts combined with these more in-depth stories replacing traditional news broadcasts does not seem too off base.

Ads are not only holding news reporters back. To be completely frank, the vast majority of viewers are not a fan of advertisements and paying for cable television feels like paying to be advertised to. As previously stated, streaming services cost less than your average television package but you no longer have to worry about  Popeyes interrupting your show at the most stressful moment. With the invention of DVR, most television viewers became accustomed to fast-forwarding through their commercials to get to the good stuff and with streaming platforms, you do not even have to watch them at 32x speed, they just are not there. For those aforementioned people who think that paying for multiple services at once is too much, there are occasionally free versions of the application available and those are the only places where you will see advertisements on streaming apps. So instead of traditional cable television where you pay and you have ads, you can either pay and have none or get the service for free and have to deal with being marketed at every now and then.

This can be quite advantageous to streaming company’s as well, especially those who started in broadcast and are making the transition. Companies like NBCUniversal who have their streaming service Peacock offer both a paid and non-paid version allowing them to sell ads just as they would for cable. WarnerMedia, on the other hand, is trying to find a way to convince more users to sign-up and actively use their service, and is considering rolling out a cheaper version that would include advertisements as an incentive for people who do not want to spend as much.

Even for advertisers streaming content may be a superior way to spend their money. The algorithms that streaming services use to recommend films and TV shows to you could also be used to recommend you products. The information that these services collect could be used by advertisers to hyper-target their products. Instead of spending money to target a demographic of one show, that may not be too specific, they can target individuals specifically, so a person watching the same show as you might get completely different advertisements while watching it. This allows companies to make their money go further and ensure they get in front of the exact eyes they want.

Advertisers have not quite caught onto that fact just yet. Scott Rosenberg, senior vice president of Roku, explained to Variety that, “About 30% of all TV viewership is now done…through streaming. But only 3%, 4%, 5% of TV [global advertising] budgets are spent there.” This means that the vast majority of advertising money is still being spent on broadcast television.  Sure, this could also be due to the lower number of platforms currently offering non-ad-free versions of their platform but certainly is still exponentially lower than it should be. Perhaps, this points to the industry’s uneasiness about the switch or maybe they are in denial that it is happening altogether.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has made it quite clear that the switch is real. With everyone locked in their homes in quarantine, streaming skyrocketed to the top as it became, in a way, the only option. As the world became a place of fear and uncertainty, many people turned to entertainment that they already knew instead of seeking out new content, and with all of these services’ extensive catalogs, one does not have to wait for a rerun of Friends to come on. Instead, they can simply look up their favorite episode on Netflix, or, in more proper Netflix style, binge the whole series. Before the pandemic started, binge culture was already a well known Netflix trope but with everyone having quite literally all the time in the world, being able to binge all of a show, and not have to wait for a new episode every week, became invaluable, an experience offered exclusively by streaming platforms.

Also, with the onslaught of the pandemic closing all businesses, including movie theaters, the big Hollywood studios had to find new ways to release their films. While many of the major blockbusters are being continually pushed back for a hopeful post-pandemic release where they are expected to make a larger profit, there have been a large number of streaming-exclusive movies to come out this year where a subscription was all you needed to watch (not to mention that subscription is often equal if not cheaper than an average trip to a movie theater pre-pandemic), and a large number of these films were met with great success and many new movie deals being made with platforms to get new releases quite quickly after their theatrical release (i.e., the Warner Bros. HBO Max deal). So while made-for-television movies are not exactly known to be the most Oscar-worthy of products, HBO Max is getting major motion pictures like Dune the same day it hits theaters. This lack of theater revenue to companies is also causing them to reallocate more money to streaming, the one sector that is doing well. This restructuring of major media companies will likely stick around after the pandemic as the increase in money now will likely increase its profitability post-pandemic as well.

The other major thing that the pandemic changed was sports.  Even more so than news, sports were seen as the main reason to keep your cable television subscription. With the pandemic, all live sports events stopped. With sports channels only able to play reruns it was the last straw for many people and cut their cable and we will see if they ever come back, especially with some major events already transitioning to being live-streamed over the internet.

With all this being said, what is actually being done at companies and where does it seem like they are headed? According to Scott Rosenberg, “Every major media company understands that the future of television is 100% streamed. It is a trend that started before the pandemic, and the pandemic has really acted to just accelerate and cement the trend.” Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, seemed to echo that statement saying, “One thing we can say with certainty is that streaming has to be a part of any responsible strategy. It’s increasingly the center of any responsible strategy.” These statements seem to be holding true. Disney CEO Bob Chapek issued a press release stating that Disney’s priorities are streaming first. AT&T put two previous streaming heads in CEO positions which The Verge speculates that, “directives for WarnerMedia are clear: turn the company’s entertainment divisions, including cable TV and film, into a streaming-focused business. The Wall Street Journal reported that NBCUniversal was looking into reorganizing so it could focus more on streaming and less on cable TV. ViacomCBS is supposedly considering getting rid of entire networks. At this point, it is going to be necessary for media companies to take part in streaming services or they will either become irrelevant or become solely a producer of content for other streamers. As The Verge so perfectly put it, “The bottom line is that if these companies want to be in on streaming, it means they have to slim down and abandoned other parts of their business that have become dinosaurs. In many cases, that means shedding cable networks.” In a world where companies need to cut things to make it in the streaming space, television is the first to go.

Cable television has been on its way out for a while now. With the pandemic, its exit has been greatly expedited. The pandemic has caused drastic losses for everyone and when the studios were met with needing to reprioritize where they were putting their money, they took it away from the already dying cable television divisions and fed everything into streaming which was thriving in the pandemic. The pandemic took a slow fade out and put it out of its misery.