I know I opened with a similar sentiment for my most recent look at a hot-button topic, but I usually keep my nose out of this stuff. I don’t usually follow celebrity gossip or even legitimate news, but the noise around Cara Delevingne’s interview on Good Morning Sacramento left me with some thoughts to share.
Let’s face it: the interview is hard to watch, just like when you’re a guest at a gay friend’s Thanksgiving and his family won’t stop obliquely referring to “when he finds the right girl.” The lack of chemistry and the chilliness of the subtext is enough to recall the kind of awkward experiences that really no one can laugh at after the fact. So I’m not here to make fun or to say that Delevingne needs to lighten up, or that after weeks of promoting a movie in Europe she needs to be more grateful for such a chance as being on GMS.
My interest is how so much of the credit for the awkwardness has been laid at Delevingne’s feet, rather than at the anchors’, despite their poor planning, condescending tones, and catty jabs when they leave their admittedly uninspiring line of questioning behind to call out Delevingne’s ‘tude. Not cordial–not even professional–and it is far more in their job descriptions to be so than it is in Delevingne’s.
Most of my readers don’t know me, so I’ll throw this out there: I am one of the last people to point and shout “IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S A WOMAN” when I see things like this, but when you consider the general public’s response to similar situations when they happen to men, there’s really not a bevy of other conclusions to arrive at.
Not long ago, Quentin Tarantino was asked again, for probably the millionth time, whether he believed that his movies promoted violence, and he responded curtly, “I’m shutting your butt down.” He was summarily praised by fans and the general public for not indulging a tired, foolish line of questioning, as well he should have been. (And if you need convincing on how foolish it really is to ask him or any recent storyteller questions about how their stories are singlehandedly inspiring an otherwise good and docile population to dirty deeds, look up the Pear of Anguish and tell me humankind needs to be inspired by Pulp Fiction to be nauseatingly horrific.)
Robert Downey Jr. had a similar experience while promoting Avengers (and actually with the same journalist as Tarantino): instead of discussing the movie, which was the agreed-upon topic, the journalist used the opportunity to foray into the uncomfortable, unnecessary, unrelated, and done-to-death territory of Downey’s history of addiction. When Downey walked out of the interview, saying things were getting “too Diane Sawyer,” he was applauded for standing up for himself and his privacy.
Conversely, if you examine pervasive tropes like the constant assessment of women’s value in entertainment being directly proportional to their sex appeal rather than dramatic or comedic skill, the fact that women are expected to apologize when compromising pictures of them are stolen and distributed, the lack of interest in the professional or skill-based challenges of a project but rather how “tired” an actress must be by the end of it, and the fact that one of the only questions female celebrities can expect on the red carpet is “Who are you wearing?”, the women-considered-lesser-than-men bus kind of drives itself.
Delevingne’s interview began with one of the anchors calling her by the wrong name (whether a simple misspeak or a lack of planning, it doesn’t set a super-promising or professional tone), with the first question being about whether she had read the book. Even the most cursory research beforehand would have revealed that yes, she had read the book numerous times, so the more appropriate and considered approach (which according to Paper Towns author John Green was more often afforded to Delevingne’s male co-star) would be to ask when she had read the book or about her thoughts on the story. Regardless of what anyone wants to claim about the ethics of women in media, such a question would have cut out some redundancy while still answering the question of if she had read the book. It’s just a higher quality, more professional line of questioning.
When Delevingne responded with some trademark British sarcasm to the implication of the question (variations of which many actresses or models get: “are you really a professional or just a pretty face?”), the interviewers started down the slope of treating her like a child to regain the upper hand.
For instance, instead of committing to their questions, the pair began to ask why she looked so tired…(and I’ve seen more than a few people suggest she must have been “on the rag”…don’t even get me started). This is a very disingenuous way of both writing off a person’s irritation or outrage as well as daring them to acknowledge a conflict that is very present but not socially acceptable to call out or confront. A similar move is the much-reviled “you should smile” comment that many women can expect when receiving unwanted attention. I have personally had similar things happen to me while out and about or while working: a person or group would be downright verbally abusing me, and if I started to react with anything but a bright, understanding smile, they could hit me with: “Aw, you must be having a really long day,” or “Sweetie, are you tired or something?” It’s a power play and a reminder that you’re not living up to some kind of social expectation, with an implication of unpleasant consequences. For some women, this escalates to an outright physical threat. (Fortunately or unfortunately for me–I can’t always tell which–I’ve never felt that level of threat: it’s no secret that I prefer a healthy fistfight to a social minefield, especially in the days of doxxing and viral slander campaigns.)
In the most boring and basic of my experiences with this, yes, there would have been unpleasant consequences for me if clients or customers had complained to management that their waitress/rep/tech/salesperson was “being snotty,” but in Delevingne’s case, the fact that a couple of anchors felt justified in swinging their collective dicks around at a world-famous model and actress means that they did not take her seriously, a prime aggravation for women in entertainment. It’s a power/intimidation play and it falls flat and ridiculous when the person you’re trying intimidate is in a higher position than you and you are the only one not to realize it. It inspires nothing but contempt. Or in Delevingne’s case, British sarcasm.
By the time the interview was cut short, Delevingne was told to “take a nap and drink a Red Bull,” despite the fact that she appeared to try to smooth things over with a comment about the movie’s premiere the night before being exhausting and emotional. She was trying to get back to the reason for the interview, a move which the anchors would usually be responsible for if a guest went off topic.
The bottom line being, Delevingne may have been sarcastic, she may have had less patience than some people might like to believe they would have had in that situation, but she, out of the lot of them, attempted to remain somewhat professional. And yet it is she that got slapped with the “snobby, spoiled child” label as the video predictably went viral.
Because she dealt with the antagonization in a stereotypically feminine way, by using conversational side-stepping and facial expressions to make her displeasure known. In the eyes of the public, this constitutes acting like “a bitch”. The same displeasure, when approached and voiced in a more stereotypically masculine way, is respected and considered heroic or at least plucky (if you need a female example of a masculine approach paying off, look up anything Jennifer Lawrence has said and done and watch how she is applauded for standing up for herself.)
Basically it all just kinda bums me out.