true story: this is the part at which i suck. because i can do curation… pulling together a lot of tangential stuff and saying ISN’T THIS SO NEAT?! where i do not excel is the question of WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?!?!
which is kind of the whole point of academic study. a point that i think is maybe bunk. a contention that puts me in a rather tight spot as an academic since it means i pretty much just called out my whole way of thinking for being bunk.
but, srsly, maybe there doesn’t need to be a conclusion? maybe the question of meaning is enough? maybe i don’t need to definitively conclude how i feel about justin timberlake or why? maybe my dislike of justin timberlake doesn’t actually mean anything? except doesn’t it kind of have to if we’re to contend that celebrity studies is something that should be taken seriously? blurgh.
so we’ve done a lot of work here in this five(ish) part series.
where does this leave us?
since this is a personal meditation, let’s get personal.
because what this examination probably winds up being, in the end, is a love/hate letter to memphis, the place from which both timberlake and i come. a city that is scrappy, brittle, beautiful, tough, and wounded. a city with a massive inferiority complex. timberlake knows this.
‘It’s a struggling city with a defeatist attitude. I’m from this town, and I grew up with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, so sometimes I find it funny that I’ve been able to acquire the patience it takes to be kind to people in our business,” [timberlake] says. “Because sometimes I just want to f–king kill everybody.’
it’s a statement that, when i first read it, both enraged me (because the fact that being from memphis means you want to kill people seemed an irresponsible remark to make about a city with the 8th highest gun-related death rate in the nation) and yet one with which i, in large part, also agree (because, well, yeah, i carry that chip too).
since writing these posts, a number of people have said, ‘oh, i get it. i can’t stand justin timberlake either now! you’ve convinced me!’ and it may seem disingenuous to say that wasn’t actually the point, but it wasn’t. this really was just an effort to explore my own dislike of timberlake’s image and to try to come to a better understanding of what it stemmed from.
the great irony is that, upon hearing people say this, i immediately jump to timberlake’s defense. because he is a gifted musician. because he’s scrappy. because he’s from my hometown.
it’s probably not a coincidence that this directly mirrors the ways in which i discuss memphis with people. i’ll tell them it’s a good two-night trip. i’ll lament the structure of the school system, the economic inequality, the white flight. but the second someone knocks memphis, the claws come out and i’ll defend its charms to the death. because it’s scrappy. because it’s so much better than nashville. because its bbq is superior to any other. because it has that river.
the thing is that when we look at celebrities, we see in them whatever we want to see, far more so, i would argue, than with the people we know in real life. and so, while i can look at timberlake and see all the privileged, casually sexist southern boys i grew up with, a sophomore at george washington university can look at him and find inspiration, ‘hope and optimism’ and the knowledge ‘that incredible things can happen at any moment.’
and neither of us is wrong, though neither of us is right. we’re simply reading the nuances of a mirage, for that is all celebrity images are, and finding different stories therein.