Monday, July 28, 2008

[Feature] Posthumous Fame (and Heath Ledger)

As said in a previous post, The Dark Knight exceeded all expectations for me. Sure, a lot of people might think that the film itself is overhyped and just a “good movie,” rather than a great film, but in my opinion, what makes The Dark Knight such a great film is the late Heath Ledger’s performance. I mean, for a movie with a PG-13 rating, the movie gave me enough chills, without the excess of blood and violence. Now talks about a posthumous Oscar nomination for Ledger seems to be the talk of Tinsel Town, which is debatable amongst both the elite in Hollywood, as well as film critics, and fans.

In terms of posthumous fame (that is, fame after death), there are three important factors in understanding how and why the dead are preserved in our society: the role of media (and digital media), collective remembering (and storytelling), as well as the fans themselves.

The Dark Knight has been continuously sold out at theaters across the states, even after its July 18th release. Many are flocking to the theaters because of their love for the comic series. But besides the fanboys of the Batman series, the film has been selling out due to the curiosity around Heath Ledger's last performance before his untimely death.

It’s common to see a celebrity rise to fame after such a rousing performance, but posthumous fame amongst deceased celebrities has been a fad in Hollywood for some time now. This reflects the importance of society and the role it plays in keeping the dead alive through memory; because of our susceptibility to popular culture, as a society, we are infatuated with any sort of celebrity - more typically, movie stars. And death? Well, death is part of our lives, whether we like it or not, so it piques the mind in various, curious ways.

When dealing with death in general, as a society we tend to communally share in mourning with those associated with the dead. But when denied attendance to a beloved celebrity’s funeral, fans turn to online “webshrines,” such as website memorials, online discussions in message boards, etc., to build a community amongst mourners, negotiating conflicting feelings over death, and immortalizing and magnifying the dead.

In remembering the almost mythicized actors, such as James Dean, we engage in collective remembering and storytelling as a social interaction with one another, as stories about the celebrity are a kind of currency of social imagination. And finally, as a society we identify with those similar to us, in order to establish a sense of interpersonal connection, such as in the case with fans believing that James Dean identifies with them (a la, Rebel Without A Cause), as they identify with him. By viewing a celebrity to be something more personal to us, fans tend to see themselves in an active relationship with their idol, thus keeping them in loyal even after their deaths.

But I'm not saying that Heath Ledger is the James Dean of our generation. I mean, personally, I was never infatuated with James Dean (mostly because it wasn't something that happened during my lifetime), but Heath Ledger has always been a modest actor in my eyes. I LOVED him in The Patriot, and thought he was decent in Ten Things I Hate About You (yeah, I have yet to see Brokeback Mountain, but I will). But when it all comes down to it, Ledger made the Joker his own, thus resulting in a really chilling performance, and his death has nothing to do with it.

Sure, you can blame the media for building buzz around his performance, thus over-hyping the film for you, and his hardcore fans for making a big deal for their beloved actor, but if you have seen the movie, think about how the movie would've been like without him. Kind of lame, right?

And that's why he was that good. And that's why he has the right for posthumous recognition. So for all those who are saying that Heath Ledger doesn't deserve any sort of recognition for his performance and is really getting an Oscar nod just because he's dead, suck on it.

And I'll end it with this quote from (you guessed it!) The Office:
Michael Scott: Game, set, match. Point. Scott. Game over. End of game.


Anonymous said...

he deserves an oscar

Anonymous said...

Is it weird that I think that Heath Ledger IS the James Dean of our generation?

I can appreciate and relate to him in the sense that he was a man who took his work seriously, and with every film that he made, he just got better. That's some admirable work ethic.

Also, I'm surprised no word of the speculation that he was driven to madness by means of character role was not mentioned. Afterall, the whole bout about Ledger not being able to sleep for days because he was always "thinking" made his role even more unforgettable.

That said, I think he at least deserves the Oscar nomination - we'll see about the actual win.

sang said...

Loved the Joker. The way he thinks reminds me of an old friend.