My daughter wants to be an actor. The other night, we were watching an interview with a movie star on one of those late-night TV shows. Out walks this girl, dressed to the nines, who proceeds to tell a story about throwing up. I turned to my daughter and said, “Promise me that if you ever get the national spotlight, you’ll show a little class.”
Oh, Teresa, lighten up, you may be thinking. Jokes about bodily functions can be funny. Sure, if you’re telling them to your friends in the bar, but do total strangers really need to hear about your recent bout with food poisoning?
I think artists feel pressured today to come across as “real” to their fans. They tweet silly observations and post funny videos on Facebook and tell raunchy stories on talk shows. There seems to be an assumption that if we can make you like us, because we are just like you, you will like our art. It all feels a bit desperate to me, and mostly unprofessional.
Then again, I grew up watching classic films. My favorite stars, like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, embodied class. They may have struggled in their personal lives, but onscreen they were polished and in control. And their legacies have stood the test of time. Class acts never get old.
I think part of what bothers me is that many people have a hard enough time taking artists seriously. Our jobs are glorified hobbies and we are spoiled narcissists who haven’t done a hard day’s work in our lives. Celebrity appearances today seem to confirm those opinions.
But it’s more than that. I hear young artists of all types complaining that it’s hard to be taken seriously for their art. Yet they squander opportunities to talk about their inspirations and their processes or the value of their work in favor of telling stories about the rude salesman who sold them their car.
True professionals know that you can be both interesting and accomplished. You can talk about your work in such a way that you still seem vulnerable and real and even funny, but you are also establishing clearly that the art is what matters. If you want me to think of you as more than a great drinking buddy, show me some class.