In Defense of A Certain Celebrity Profile

I could not disagree with Alyssa more about her take on Edith Zimmerman’s brilliant GQ profile of Chris Evans. She found it “disconcerting” and writes:

It’s not so much this profile, which is really not so much a profile as a chronicle of hanging out with an action star, that read as odd to me. It’s that Zimmerman’s piece comes on the heels of the March issue, in which GQ published Jessica Pressler’s account of spending the night with Channing Tatum, a couple of Snuggies, and a bottle of tequila. For GQ, sending out a female reporter to get tipsy and a little frisky with an otherwise indistinguishable slab of beef appears to be their stab at creating a novel and enduring journalistic form, akin to the New Yorker’s revealing anecdote, followed by a statement of a larger problem, followed by an origin story. At this rate, I’ll be making it rain in strip clubs with Ryan Reynolds by November.

Her point about Jessica Pressler’s night with Channing Tatum is somewhat well-met. But it’s also fairly common for GQ profiles to boil down to a few hundred words of “I hung out with this person.”

Still, I think Alyssa is missing what made the story so wonderful. Chris Evans is essentially a nobody (an up-and-coming nobody, sure) in Hollywood — he’s not a great actor, and he’s not even playing a great hero (sorry, Captain America fans). If Edith did this with a person who was important or particularly interesting, like Barack Obama or even Robert Downey, Jr. that would be one thing. But Evans is exactly what Alyssa describes him to be: an indistinguishable slab of beef (who is apparently much loved by his mother, as all boys should be).

So, what do you do when faced with an assignment to profile of a handsome movie star whose credits include “Harvard Hottie” in the Nanny Diaries and the lead in Push, a movie I think I was the only person in America to see?

I guess you could dig around and try to find out what makes him interesting. Or you could take this opportunity to explore the absolutely bizarre experience of writing a celebrity profile. Edith writes:

Despite his publicist specifically telling him not to, he invited me to come to his going-away party. “My poor publicist,” he said. “She knows I like to drink. She was like, ‘Please don’t drink too much, please just don’t drink too much—you’re gonna take this person out, and they’re going to ruin you.’ ”

We were heading our separate ways for dinner first. I said I was going to call a cab, but Chris laughed and insisted on his driver taking me back to my hotel. In the vast backseat, Chris was even more flirtatious than before, touching my arm and my knee. At this point, which was a…number of drinks in, it was easy to forget that it really was an interview, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind that something might happen (and that we’d go to the Oscars and get married and have babies forever until we died?). But there was always the question of how much of it was truly Chris Evans, and whom I should pretend to be in response.

Let’s face it: most celebrity profiles are completely worthless. Either you suffer through Hirschbergesque atmospherics like what the weather is like and if the person has a purple couch (for 95-lb female stars, it’s all about how much pasta, or burgers, or beers they consumed), or you get long, winding profiles that will ultimately conclude that so-and-so is “complicated.”

Maybe it’s because I’m a journalist, but I’d much rather read a story about what it’s like to try and interview a handsome, charming celebrity and spend time in fancy places and fall a little bit in love with one’s subject. In divulging the ethical roadbumps all journos in these situations are sure to face, Edith is telling us more than we would ever learn by reading what Evans’ workout routine is. And that is writing by a woman that I can get behind.

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7 Comments

Filed under Journalism, Sexism, Women

7 responses to “In Defense of A Certain Celebrity Profile

  1. Really enjoyed this take and completely agree.

  2. Hold up. Captain America is … awesome!

  3. monkeyspooner

    I respect your take and agree with you about celebrity profiles–even those in the revered New Yorker, but I will say Chris Evans was pretty good in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. Irrelevant to your central argument, but just sayin’.

    Really enjoy your work!

  4. Aja

    You summed this up perfectly. Because it was personal and never boring. Plus you could feel Zimmerman’s pull between being a journalist and actually becoming friends with the subject.

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