Kristen Stewart has a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter online and in it, she sounds more grounded and confident than she has since before Twilight came along and made her one of the most famous people in the world. She’s twenty-four now, so she’s grown up some, and she’s on a hot streak career-wise, focusing on independent features with celebrated filmmakers (and Woody Allen but whatever) and bagging France’s prestigious Cesar Award—the first American actress to do so. She’s riding a different kind of wave these days, one of someone who survived the child star machine more or less intact and emerged an interesting, watchable adult star. But she’s still recognizably Kristen Stewart—the interview is full of the sort of polarizing soundbites that brought her so much grief during her reign as a teen idol.
Such as, “Why aren’t we [as a society] mentioning the fact that it’s so crazy that there are so many people that are so full of it? And why are we consuming them en masse?” As a person who is “so full of it”, I’m obviously biased toward the consumer culture of celebrity in the twenty-first century. But I also like Stewart, so here’s my honest answer to her facetious question—because we’ve almost achieved peak civilization, Kristen, and we have nothing better to do with our time. Life in a developed country in 2015 is ridiculously easy, we have no real problems, and a lot of free time. Celebrity, sports, and arguing with one another are our national pastimes now, because we’re not at imminent threat of war within our borders, and we, as a people, are not starving to death. Celebrities fill the void once occupied by “dying of dysentery on way to new home across continent” and “planting food to eat during winter”.
Which is not to say we don’t still have issues—we do. We’re still fighting for equal rights for everyone, wage gaps and income inequality are real, and there’s still a lot we could be doing to close the gap between the developing and developed worlds. But as bad as the headlines are, and even with the economic challenges we still face, fewer people than ever live in abject poverty. It’s hard to see it sometimes because we focus on the bad—and we should, because that’s the stuff that needs fixing—but we’re actually doing REALLY WELL as a species. We’ve almost achieved all of the goals of civilization.
Which is why we, in the developed world, and that’s who she’s talking about, can afford to fixate on dumb stuff like what Kristen Stewart said today and artisanal mayonnaise. Why are we consuming celebrity culture en masse? Because we can. The explosion of consumer-driven celebrity culture is like a reverse canary in the coal mine—instead of signaling danger, it signals progress. It’s a dumb kind of progress, I agree, but it’s progress nonetheless. It’s the progress of TIME. We have TIME. We have so much disposable time that people can line up for days for a movie premiere or Comic-Con. Fan communities have spawned an entirely new industry of conventions where fandom has become monetized. Tumblr exists.
Being a fan in the twenty-first century is a commodity of time, and it benefits the celebrity first and foremost. Stewart’s fame enables her to bank lucrative modeling contracts with fashion houses because those brands know that her fans will take the TIME to look at and comment upon the ad, thus increasing brand awareness and driving sales. It’s all connected and it’s all because of time. Stewart could never work another day in her life because her fans and Twilight fans ensured that future for her by seeing those movies over and over again in theaters because they had the time. We talk a lot about privilege these days—well fandom is the ultimate privilege of time.
My great-grandparents were ranchers and farmers who dug their lives out of dirt and Hard Times. My grandparents clawed their way through the Great Depression and a world war. My parents worked at jobs they didn’t love to get by. And I am a professional bullsh*tter. You, Kristen Stewart, are living proof that civilization is working, and that we’ve almost won the whole game.
Click here for the Hollywood Reporter piece.