Ed Driscoll

Alec Baldwin and the End of the Red Carpet

Virginia Postrel once noted that “Despite what the fashion-magazine cover blurbs suggest, glamour is not a matter of style but of psychology:”

It is an imaginative exchange, in which an audience projects its longings onto the glamorous object and sees in that person, place or thing the fulfillment of those desires. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning.

That process requires distance and mystery, because glamour is always an illusion. The word originally referred to a literal magic spell making things appear better than they really were. To “glamorize” something means to remove distractions or flaws. Too much information breaks the spell.

Which dovetails perfectly with what Nick Gillespie, Postrel’s successor at the helm of Reason magazine writes today: “Alec Baldwin’s Real Twitter Problem Isn’t Homophobic Ranting — It’s the End of the Red Carpet:”

In an interview with Gothamist, the talented actor and annoying loudmouth inadvertently lays bare the real online dynamic behind his anger – and it has less to do with factually incorrect journalism than you might think.

Baldwin’s core issue with new media – he slags Tumblr, Vine, MySpace, Facebook, and more – is that they level kings and queens and even celebrities into a mosh pit of direct, unmediated exchange that is hard as hell to control. It turns out that there’s really no red carpet or champagne room when it comes to the way that stars (read: world leaders, sitcom heroes, famous authors, former child actors, you name it) are treated.

In the Q&A, Baldwin says,

Twitter began for me as a way to bypass the mainstream media and talk directly to my audience and say, “hey here’s a show I’m doing, here’s something I’m doing.”… But I realized it’s something I’m not really… it certainly isn’t worth the trouble. Rosie O’Donnell is on my podcast this week, and she said that she’s getting off of Twitter, and I said “God, I was thinking the same thing.” I said “you just end up absorbing so much hatred.” You get these body blows of all this hatred from people who… their profiles are almost identical, like “tea party mom, I love my job, I love my kids, I love my country #millitary #guns” and there’s a screaming eagle in the background of their profile, grasping some arrows and tanks rolling in the background and they all want to tell me how much they can’t stand my politics. And I go, “OK.” What kills me is these are people who want to put me out of business, so to speak, as fast as they possibly can, but they don’t want to put BP out of business, who turned the Gulf of Mexico into a cesspool….

Baldwin sputters that the very tools he can use to bypass “the mainstream media and talk directly” to his audience also empowers all those dim people out there in the dark. What’s more, his followers have minds of their own. They may enjoy his turns in Glenngarry Glenn Ross and 30 Rock and guest-hosting on Turner Classic Movies but not really find his views on fracking to be worth a damn. It’s a real kick in the pants for a celebrity to be reduced to asking, “Do you think I’m really changing anybody’s mind?”

As Gillespie writes, “Remember the good old days, not just when there were only three national TV networks and one or two national newspapers, but when Hollywood studios could virtually completely control the image surrounding their contract players like halos on a saint’s shoulders? Those days are over, Baby Jane.”

But who’s forcing Baldwin onto Twitter and other social media? Doesn’t Baldwin have a manager, an agent, a PR person — a wife — who can say to him, “Maybe the instantaneous nature of Twitter isn’t for you, Alec?” Despite its recent ratings woes, NBC, where Baldwin’s low-rated 30 Rock seemed to run for a decade to a tiny audience of Baldwin’s fellow coastal arch-leftists is certainly a solid platform for publicity, via the Today and Tonight Shows. (Though even on that circuit Baldwin’s raging inner fascist emerges from time to time.) I’m sure Baldwin’s manager can demand to see a puff-piece before it runs in Time-Warner-CNN-HBO’s People magazine, or Jann Wenner’s Us. Or hire a ghost Tweeter.

It’s like something out of Lost Weekend or Michael Keaton’s Clean and Sober movie: What exactly is the narcotic power of Twitter that makes Baldwin return again and again to a medium that has so badly damaged his reputation?

In the meantime, over to you GLAAD and Capital One