By Giselle Defares
In 2014, actors still put up a charade when it comes to their real identity. Actors use their talent for transformation as a mask, to provide an opportunity for transgression. Or perhaps, it isn’t all that deep and it’s only Marketing and PR to bring in those coins. Actors in Hollywood work very, very hard—with the help of their publicists and agents—to create an image, whether it be the Nice Guy or the Girl Next Door. Earlier this year, there was an influx of pictures of Michelle Rodriguez and Zac Efron, splattered all over the internet, enjoying life on their vacation in Porto Cervo, a seaside resort in Sardinia, Italy. They were partying, kissing and frolicking on the beach. (Side note, Efron served major Fabio realness while riding his horse). Hurray, for social media.
Unfortunately, the whirlwind relationship between Rodriguez and Efron has come to an end. Nevertheless, the eagle-eye focus of the media on the duo is interesting since it was wrought with disbelief over this pairing. It can be seen as a “clever” PR strategy. Just put two attractive actors together and let them parade the relationship around for the world to see—and as a result garner more interest for their respective projects. PR relationships are nothing new. In the Golden Age of Hollywood one of the most well-known relationships was between Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. The romance was convincing and readily accepted by the public and together they acted up a storm in nine movies. However, PR relationships don’t always work.
“Superman” Henry Cavill and Kaley Cuoco’s relationship suspiciously coincided with the release of “Man of Steel.” Cuoco dated her “Big Bang Theory” co-star Johnny Galecki privately for two years and suddenly she is flaunting her relationship—the couple was seen holding hands and buying groceries. Right. Who can forget Katie Holmes and the very public courtship (date on the top of the Eiffel tower) with Tom Cruise, Zac Efron and his “High School Musical” romance with Vanessa Hudgens, or the four-year relationship between Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart—and subsequently their heavily publicized cheating scandal.
What makes the Efron-Rodriguez relationship stand out? Well, first of all there was no clear confirmation of their relationship, only public displays of affection via HD paparazzi pictures and their Instagram profiles. Furthermore, there are rumors surrounding both parties. Efron is allegedly gay and so is Michelle Rodriguez. Frankly, I don’t give a fig whether the pair is straight, gay, bi, pansexual, dating or friends with benefits, but it’s interesting to see the media’s perspective on the fluidity of actor’s sexuality in Hollywood. To be blunt: sexuality is not a “natural” but a social and artificial construct. We are still influenced by the views of nineteenth-century sexologists, which shaped our perception of sexuality, sexual and social roles. Over the years, Rodriguez had several flings with her co-stars—even Vin Diesel—but she was last seen smooching with the jet-setting model Cara Delevingne.
Last year, Rodriguez publicly came out as bisexual. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly she stated: “I’ve gone both ways. I do as I please. I am too f**king curious to sit here and not try when I can. Men are intriguing. So are chicks.” Rodriguez has been open about her personal life, so why the fuss? Identity is an hard idea to grasp; it is a process and a plurality. As a result, the quest for a firm and clear identity is vain, and an answer to the question “Who am I” often remains unanswered. Our identity is changeable, with ambivalent tensions and paradoxical situations as a result.
It is important to note here that “identity” is never a single stable notion. It’s something that is under constant influence. Actors have to balance their personality and their public persona. Their audience can support or denounce the values ingrained in their celebrity image. PR is necessary to uphold the image or brand of the established actor, but those that have yet to become known in the media—and to the average person in Middle America—can really benefit form a good PR campaign. Actors need to establish themselves in the market and reach their target audience. A-listers don’t have to work as hard since they know that the media will come to them. Plenty of media exposure will certainly garner interest from the big studios and eventually result in an paycheck. Rodriguez and Efron’s celebrity game is not very subtle nor precise but very effective.
Rodriguez and Efron both have an image to protect. When it comes to openly gay actresses in Hollywood I can only name a few. Rodriguez has created a niche for herself as action heroine while still being appealing to the average heterosexual male to project his fantasy on. Efron—with his baby blues and chiseling looks—is still aiming at leading man roles. While openly out actors such as Matt Bomer and Neil Patrick Harris have carved out a decent career for themselves they’ll never be at the same level as a Tom Cruise, Will Smith or Bradley Cooper—ironic, much?!
We have different identities for different contexts; different roles we play which we make sense of ourselves. The social environment of Hollywood creates an identity as a social product, shaped by the interaction and identification within the industry. Rodriguez is an actress first and foremost. That’s her job. The buzz surrounding Rodriguez is mainly focused on her sexual ambiguity, because the media still is uneasy when it comes to bisexuality. It’s easier to put people in one box and form an opinion than when a person checks several options. In our digitally networked society, social media is a useful tool to maintain an image, and that’s precisely what she does.
There’s an old PR credo that goes, “If you don’t like what people are saying about you, then change the conversation.”
Do you, Ms. Rodriguez.
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