Spectacle or Respectable?: Gendered Constructions of Fame in The Bling Ring and Hustle & Flow

Joshua N. Morrison, University of Colorado Boulder

Abstract

This thesis argues that the turn of the most recent century saw the emergence of a performative turn in fame. I argue that before this turn there was a necessity for famous people to possess what I term a discrete performative act. While many celebrities retain such acts, the performative turn has made it possible to achieve celebrity status on the basis of what I term stylized performances of life wherein a life is itself performed and offered up for consumption. I argue that such a style of fame is feminine fame, as opposed to masculine fame which is derived from discrete performative acts. Feminine fame may be said to be rooted in spectacle. I undertake rhetorical criticism of two films, The Bling Ring and Hustle & Flow, to discover how they construct feminine and masculine fame respectively. I find that through The Bling Ring feminine fame is constructed as something that is desired in response to a cultural construction of fame as something one lacks. Fame is thus imbued, from this perspective, with inherent value. Feminine fame is furthermore shown to entail self-commodification. Those who desire such fame must make themselves spectacle and offer themselves up for consumption. Employed in this self-commodification are both various technologies of glamour and social media. Hustle & Flow, by contrast, constructs masculine fame as something that possesses instrumental value. It is through the acquisition of masculine fame that one may acquire for themselves a better life and prove their merit. Masculine fame proves merit because it is rooted in discrete performative acts, which are framed as both respectable and important. Masculine fame is further framed by the film as an endeavor that is of such importance that is justifies the subordination of the fame-seeker's associates, and particularly women. Masculine fame is shown to depend largely on the reduction of women to spectacle. This thesis finally considers masculine and feminine fame each to be responses to different democratizations of fame that have occurred, and been contested, throughout the institution's history.