Title: “Under the Public Eye”
Artists: Shannon Kopunek & Peter Tresnan
Date: 8 May, 2017
Since the mid twentieth century, philosophers, social scientists, and historians have theorized that gender—the roles, characteristics, and activities that distinguish men from women—is not innate but socially constructed. Artists like Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, and RuPaul have examined, challenged and critiqued the relationships between gender and society in their work, addressing topics such as women in domestic and public spheres, conventional standards of beauty, how societal pressures and mass media inform and reinforce our expectations of men and women, and the influence the media imposes in shaping public perceptions.
The film, “Under the Public Eye”, parallels the journeys of two starlets as they rise to fame. In a series of interviews we see how the human experiences of friendship, coming of age, love, parenthood, and career security are amplified when under constant watch. In a society fueled by entertainment, it seems the world is rooting for one of these two to fail. By juxtaposing Bethany’s journey to stardom with JD’s in a series of interviews that span over an extended period of time, it becomes increasingly apparent the misogynistic nature of the media.
In a process of plot development, character design, costuming, and interviewing we sought to position the celebrity as a person, and their “celebrity” a lens through which we observe them. This was approached by positioning the celebrity as both the interviewee and the interviewer. Although these key roles are played by the same person, their personhood varies—the intention being to show one person existing at the same time in two altering realities; one, the celebrity persona subject to public scrutiny and the other, the interviewer free from recognition and judgement. By affording Bethany and JD the chance to reflect on their emergence into fame, they are for the first time being given agency over their lives; However, we realize there is a disparity between the two experiences.
As Bethany interviews her former selves it becomes clear the choices that have been scripted for her by her family and manager along the way. As a blossoming female artist, Bethany is forced to endure as she is pushed to transition from “America’s Sweetheart” to a more sexualized version of herself; Resulting from this career move, her image no longer fits that of the role model her fans’ parents can or want to support. Experiencing this loss opens a gateway for Bethany’s personal life to be attacked. As years pass, Bethany becomes subject to public scrutiny as her virginity, mental health, and mothering abilities are questioned; Bethany is dehumanized during this process as she endures questions so invasive that in any other scenario they would be considered socially unacceptable. The irony is in the power shift—Bethany now holds the camera that has watched and exploited her for years.
In contrast it seems that JD is constantly being let off the hook for his public indiscretions. Romantically tied to Bethany, we see how JD is cast as the victim in this relationship. We know at this point that there are multiple sides to every story, but the ones crafted by the media are the only ones that seem to matter. Even when JD finds himself in trouble with the law at the scene of a tragic car accident, his image and the loyalty of his fans somehow survive. As the public and media empathize for JD time and time again, it seems his flaws in turn cause a surge in his popularity.
Inspired by real-life celebrities including Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber, and Justin Timberlake who have had their lives publicly documented since childhood, the intention of this film is to show how the media helps to escalate human experiences as they are lived. Privacy is a gift and for women there is no room for error. Why are we so quick to cast men as heroes and women as villains? It is time we hold women and men to the same standard. With the knowledge that what we witness on the screen is carefully scripted by the media, it is our hope that the audience will begin to consider what they accept as truth.