I have read many memoirs this year, and since many of the points that they bring up are the same, I decided to break away from tradition and, instead of a monthly round-up, do a memoir round-up.
Celebrities and public figures lives in a realm of their own. I don’t think they should, though, quite honestly. After all, they are not particularly special in terms of overall humanness. They are extremely talented in some way or another, worked hard but also many times got lucky, or were just born in the right family.
I am not saying that celebrities don’t work hard and don’t deserve their success. For one I am saying that for every celebrity who makes it big, there are thousands of others who are as talented and work as hard, but don’t have that lucky moment or that special connection. For another, I think the culture around celebrities is extremely toxic, and it enables behaviors, both around the celebrity and by the celebrity, that should just never be allowed.
One extremely toxic aspect of celebrity culture are tabloids, and all things celebrity gossip. In the case of Prince Harry, it cost him his mother and it almost cost him his wife. I picked up his memoir to read more about his experiences and found out just how horrible tabloids are, and I, even more than before, think that they should be banned, the sooner, the better.
Another extremely toxic aspect of celebrity culture is how celebrities becomes enabled to let their own worse selves come out, sometimes with no consequences at all. Elton John talks about his own terrible behavior in a memoir that was surprisingly insightful, and drew the line from his childhood trauma to his rock’n’roll star behavior.
For women, especially beautiful ones like Jessica Simpson and Pamela Anderson, becoming a celebrity places them in a weird position where they are both adulated but of so easily torn down, and extremely viciously. A third extremely toxic aspect of celebrity culture is how women are treated like objects, in terms of how we discuss their bodies and their behavior, crassly and in an extremely demeaning fashion. Normal bodies or behaviors are suddenly unbecoming and ugly on them, and the strain is unbelievable.
Review of ‘Spare’, by Prince Harry
I think the most powerful thing for me, in reading this book, is getting a glimpse of what celebrity culture and the public’s obsession with a public person can do to someone. It was, quite simply, a very difficult book to read. I don’t remember much around Princess Diana’s death, but I do remember the adults in the house talking about it, and I definitely remember the picture of young Prince Harry walking behind his mother’s coffin. That alone is horrific enough, and I honestly and naively thought it was the most traumatising thing that had happened to Prince Harry, rich, spoiled, want-for-nothing Harry.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
Now this book is written, as I understand it, as a way for Prince Harry to regain some control over the narrative over his life’s story. I don’t think there is any intentional deception going on, but of course the narratives that we tell ourselves can be untruthful, insofar as we are lying to ourselves. So, yet again, as with any memoir, it can’t be treated as The Truth.
But it’s still pretty clear that Prince Harry has suffered a great trauma from the death of his mother, and that this trauma is a wound that is still healing to this day because it keeps being reopened by the needs of a society obsessed with celebrity.
The larger picture comes back to how wrong it is to deify anyone in society, and putting the pressure of perfection on them. It cuts off mere humans from what they need more to thrive: true connections with other humans. It also creates this weird dichotomy in which someone cannot be what they are, which is, well, human.
It also puts the spotlight on how obsolete the monarchy in Britain is. There is some serious need to reform the monarchy, be it only to rid it of the corruption and toxicity that currently engulfs the institution. And it makes us ask ourselves the very uncomfortable question of, why would we support any institution as toxic as this one? Is the thought of change really so terrifying that we would rather stay with the obsolete and crumbling reality that we currently have?
Review of ‘Open Book’, by Jessica Simpson
It always seems to weird, that someone supposedly as “dumb” as Jessica Simpson, who thought tuna was chicken, could build an incredible fashion empire around the brand that is, basically, her. And while a memoir really is about recapturing the narrative about your own life, and so they should be read with a grain of salt, Jessica comes off as a deeply flawed yet lovely human being who didn’t deserve to come of age under the scorching spotlight of the early aughts.
I mean always when reading celebrity memoirs, I have to keep in mind that in a way, this is marketing. I am being presented with the person that the celebrity wants me to see.
But at the same time, there are stories that come out that really are heartbreaking. And in the case of Jessica Simpson, growing up at the same time as her and hearing the discourse around her, it was very interesting to me to read about the other side.
The saddest part for me was the marriage that was sacrificed for the sake of ratings and popularity. If reality TV were healthy, then it’s one thing. But we know that reality TV producers purposefully create tense situations to make for better TV. Would Jessica Simpson’s first marriage have made it if the couple had had the support they needed to work through Jessica’s immense popularity versus her ex-husband’s tanking one?
The description of what John Mayer did to her were extremely disturbing. Even when keeping in mind that this was only one side of the story, it was so toxic that I can’t help but wonder how John Mayer is still around, especially since apparently he has done the same thing to other celebrities he’s dated. He seems to be an extremely toxic man.
Again and again, what these memoirs really seem to underline to me is the toxicity of celebrity culture in general.
Review of ‘Love, Pamela’, by Pamela Anderson
Celebrities in our current culture are often reduced to a moment in time when everything comes together in some way or other to confirm what we think we know about them. In Pamela Anderson’s case, she seems to be frozen in time at the point where she was a return Playboy magazine cover and Tommy Lee’s wife, a sexual, sexualised object whose only role was to look pretty.
And I mean, she is gorgeous, but it’s callous to reduce even the most gorgeous of women to just their physical beauty. We are so busy categorizing people into boxes, sometimes miniature ones, that we deny them, ourselves, and society of the benefit and pleasure of their full selves. This is my main takeaway from reading Pamela Anderson’s memoir. What if we had benefited more fully from the activist side of her, rather than focusing on (and mocking and diminishing) the sex vixen side of her?
In this memoire, Pamela Anderson comes off like a genuinely caring person, both for people she crosses paths with for a moment, for those in her life for long periods of time, for animals, and for the environment. But she’s been reduced to just a sexual person, most of her influence in terms of activism stripped away from her, much like the clothes she is often seen wearing. It will no doubt be argued that she did it to herself, with the choices she makes in terms of career and self-presentation. But I would like to counter that it is the beholder’s responsibility to not flatten a complex human being into a flat, two-dimensional image.
I would also like to argue that the way she presents herself doesn’t excuse the way she was treated. And at times, I couldn’t help but wonder if Pamela Anderson herself doesn’t realise how badly she was treated. There are descriptions in her memoirs of events that are very disrespectful towards her and shatter her boundaries, and seem to reflect Pamela’s seeming acceptance, even today, that those things were not wrong. For example, in one incredibly cringey section, Pamela Anderson describes herself as wearing a Tom Ford dress, then the man himself comes over, takes a look at the dress and, unhappy with it, proceeds to cut the dress off her, leaving her naked, then sewing something new on her. I had to reread that part a few times before proceeding, shocked and dismayed, only to be thrown back into a maelstrom of shock when Pamela then goes on to describe Tom Ford as a visionary. I cringed extra hard because honey, no, no no – Tom Ford might be creative and a visionary but first and foremost, he has no respect for your bodily autonomy and you should just walk out.
A person is so much more than one facet of their personality; we are all aware of this, but we keep falling into this trap when it comes to certain types of people. And I find that, as these women of the late nineties and early aughts—Pamela Anderson, Jessica Simpson, Sinead O’Conner, Paris Hilton, to name a few—reclaim their narrative, we are culturally stepping, slowly but surely, into a space where we are starting to understand how we cannot capture the full complexity of a person in one image, category, tagline, or word.
Very slowly. Too slowly. But still. We are getting there.
Review of ‘Me’, by Elton John
I think because of celebrity culture, celebrities are or become weird in that they are removed from the reality that most people live in. Some of that is because they become really rich, sometimes really fast. And some of it is because we deify them, and let them get away with a lot. Way too much, actually.
Needless to say, Elton John is an incredibly talented man, but he is no god; and after reading his memoir, I can’t help but wonder how much better his life would have been if his music could have achieved the same level of success while allowing Elton to remain a normal human.
It’s such a burden to place on anyone, after all, to be a god.
There were things of course that I expected to see in his memoir, such as a lot, and I mean a LOT, of famous names. The details of these relationships were wonderful, in particular his friendship with Rod Stewart. I laughed so hard at how the Rod Stewart blimp was shot down and Rod himself retaliated by cutting down a giant Elton John banner. It was just so delightfully childish. And speaking of childish, it was kind of adorable reading about how starstruck Elton John, of all people, was when meeting his own idols once he became famous.
Reading about famous events and shows that Elton performed in was also something I expected; from Live Aid in 1985 to the concert in honor of Freddie Mercury, it was interesting to superimpose, in my mind, my recollection of these events (or rather, my recollection of watching these events years later on YouTube) with Elton’s experience.
Something I didn’t expect was his sense of humour. Elton John is funny and he made me cackle, giggle, and outright laugh through the book. He presents the most outrageous situations in such a straightforward way that the absurdity sometimes hits only moments after the sentence or paragraph is read. For example: “I loved the idea of working at the Château, even though it came with a reputation attached. It was supposed to be haunted, and the locals had apparently become wary of the studio’s clientele after The Grateful Dead had stayed there, offered to play a free concert for the villagers, then taken it upon themselves to expand the minds of rural France by spiking their audience’s drinks with LSD.”
But there is a thick layer of self-deprecating humour in it that borders on heartbreaking, reflecting that perhaps that self-hate he held during his childhood is still quite present. I mean… He calls himself pathetic because he’s never been cool. Like… Wow. I hope he can develop more empathy for himself.
The book is really long but reads extremely easily. I found myself raging against a system that allows talented creatives to be chewed up and spat out, and glad that, ultimately, Elton seems to have found happiness.
Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for ARCs, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic ARCs through Netgalley!