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When Does “Honest” Become “Stupid”? Defending Megan Fox

July 27, 2009

(Note: an excellent Huffington Post column called “In Defense of Megan Fox” came out the day after I started writing this one.  I shelved mine, which I had given exactly the same title, until I could think of something to add to the discussion.)

In Hollywood it seems that one man’s candor is one woman’s stupidity.  Entertainment media largely portray Megan Fox as the beautiful village halfwit, but does she deserve it?  Why do the Daily Mail (“Is Megan Fox the DUMBEST Hollywood Star Ever?”) and ABC News (“Megan Fox Puts Foot In Mouth, Again”) consider her to be a bumbling oaf?  When she opens her mouth, sometimes crass and brazen, but rarely stupid or false things come out.  So she commits the mortal sin of honesty, which apparently becomes stupidity when uttered from the mouths of babes.

The gender double standard won’t be discussed here in depth, but a quote from the ABC News article encapsulates it perfectly: entertainment consultant Alexa Dedlow says that Fox comes off as “salacious and naughty” for giving prurient personal details but Shia LaBeouf is “refreshingly honest” when he does the same thing.  Dedlow admits that Fox hasn’t experienced any public scandals the way LaBeouf and other young stars have.   She hasn’t been caught drunk driving; she hasn’t had a public blow-up with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or professional rival; and she hasn’t been photographed passed out in a club.  She’s only “wild” and dumb because the press has decided she is, creating this narrative from interview details and feeding it to us as truth.

So maybe Fox should be more careful with her words, but why?  She calls herself “loud-mouth[ed] and obnoxious”.  Most interviews she gives are interesting, off-color, and even slightly uncomfortable.  (Watch this terrible Early Show interview where she lets the guy stew for a bit after he asks a stupid, awkward non-question near the end about “kissing a unicorn”.)  Whether that’s her real personality or a publicist’s carefully crafted persona, she wears it well, and it’s publicity gold.  A young film actress has two choices: dark and crazy (Lindsay Lohan/Angelina Jolie), or quiet and respectable (Amy Adams/Anne Hathaway).  There’s not much in between, not least because the public doesn’t handle shades of gray well.  Fox knows that a high-school drop-out, cannabis-legalization advocate, and sexually open and confident woman isn’t going to be considered a good role model, so best to get it over with early.  If she really is as outspoken and raw as she comes off, great: it would be too exhausting to keep up the folded-hand, pristine, small-town Tennessee girl façade, which would get stripped away anyway once the press started digging.  This way, she gets to be herself (we guess), say what she wants, get tons of publicity, and laugh at us for caring.

But why “stupid”?  In part, because she’s so damn hot and has decided to exploit that.  Fox understands that right now she is at the height of what Hollywood considers her physical beauty.  Given the reactions to both Transformers movies, a lot of the world agrees.  She knows why people watch her movies, which are few but growing in number.  She also knows, and she has said more than once, that being in Michael Bay movies doesn’t exactly present an acting challenge, unless you are physically unable to scream, produce tears, or react to explosions.  Michael Bay, and the interview with him in the Wall Street Journal, characterized this as “criticism” from Fox.  See if you agree:

WSJ: It’s interesting that you want to focus on acting. Megan Fox, one of the leads in “Transformers” has criticized your films for being special-effects-driven and not offering so many acting opportunities. Do you agree?

MB: Well, that’s Megan Fox for you. She says some very ridiculous things because she’s 23 years old and she still has a lot of growing to do. You roll your eyes when you see statements like that and think, “Okay Megan, you can do whatever you want. I got it.” But I 100% disagree with her. Nick Cage wasn’t a big actor when I cast him, nor was Ben Affleck before I put him in “Armageddon.” Shia LaBeouf wasn’t a big movie star before he did “Transformers”—and then he exploded. Not to mention Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, from “Bad Boys.” Nobody in the world knew about Megan Fox until I found her and put her in “Transformers.” I like to think that I’ve had some luck in building actors’ careers with my films.”

Besides making some ridiculously self-aggrandizing statements about the careers trajectories of Affleck, Smith, and Cage, he never addresses the substance of Fox’s statements.  Anyone who has watched a Michael Bay movie can tell you that everything she said about them is true.  Somehow, though, this type of honesty is twisted into flippant ingratitude and ignorance even though Fox has said several times that she owes her career to Transformers.  (The reader should be reminded that Bay, hardly the sagacious, altruistic maker of fortunes, decided to give a giant robot testicles, have a small robot hump Megan Fox’s leg, and portray the two “black” robots as belligerent, ignorant, and illiterate.)  She is simply stating that there’s not a lot of room for “range” in such movies.

Why keep doing them, then?  Why keep playing pretty, running, squealy bimbos if you don’t want to be typecast as the dumb hot girl?  Fox knows that, unfair as it is, the shelf life for lucrative female roles isn’t long.  Make hay while the sun shines–she knows she can get more challenging roles later, and she’s expressed a desire to do so.  When did you last see a woman over 30 star in a non-romantic-comedy blockbuster?  Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight (2008), Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)?  Gyllenhaal wasn’t really a main character, and Greek was a complete surprise.  As long as she plays the character well, why would Fox care if she gets typecast?  It seems to be paying the bills and then some.  Sounds like a smart business decision to me.

A good-sized interview might be more instructive.  Watching last month’s interview with David Letterman, her sentence structure, grammar, and diction don’t strike me as stupid.  She’s self-aware, confident, and informed.  She has excellent comic instincts and timing—the whole marriage bit is great, and actually rather mature and insightful on her part.  Yes, there’s an “uh,” “like”, and “um” here and there.  But we’ve seen far worse on late night talk shows, and who wouldn’t have off moments after weeks of exhausting press tours?  Do we hold Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep to the same standards?

In reality, no one but Megan Fox and her closest associates know if she is stupid or not.  She seems to me to be “refreshingly honest”, funny, and pretty sharp.  A person that open and unvarnished is going to say stupid things from time to time, but even the brightest among us do that.  Maybe her Shakespeare tattoo, a paraphrased line from King Lear, gives us a clue:  “We Will All Laugh At Gilded Butterflies”.  The most popular interpretation of this appears to be that Lear and his daughter Cordelia find it fitting to laugh at such a frivolous object as a gilded butterfly, a gorgeous but inherently worthless item.  Surely Fox didn’t get this tattoo by accident.  Oddly, maybe she thinks her own outer beauty is intrinsically worthless, or maybe she just thought it sounded cool.  Either way, it’s a pretty smart joke, and it’s on us.

8 Comments
  1. July 28, 2009 12:50 am

    That was quite well put. What’s interesting about Fox is that I had hardly heard her voice (I’m not into the CGI porno that was Transformers) until I saw How to Lose Friends and Alienate People last week, and in seeing said film it seemed to me that her character in that movie was evocative of her status in Hollywood currently. If memory serves me correct, there are certain similarities to the dialogue swirling around Angelina Jolie during the same time of her career. Not long after she was featured in Rolling Stones HotList she was labeled as a dirty girl and a weirdo especially after her weird appearance (at the oscars I think?) with her brother. The difference is between now and then is that the proliferation of celebrity gossip has exploded with the evolution of this new medium, the internet. 10 years ago, when Angelina went out, the worst she needed to worry about was having un-flattering photos on the grocery aisle tabloids once a week with abject lies. Now a young star has to deal 100’s of unaccredited photographers taking these pictures, spreading these abject lies and having them online within a matter of hours, not weeks. On top of that, you have your Perez Hilton types making childish comments about you.

    Playing into your point about Megan Fox, it is much more difficult for stars, especially young female stars, to manage their personal brands because media outlets either in the “mainstream media” or “blogosphere” need to be much more mean, petty and sensational to stand-out in the crowd. If your rank and file Megan Foxs were all smart and professional then they wouldn’t have a readership and sell advertising. So if a Megan Fox isn’t going to whore it up like a Lindsay Lohan or a Paris Hilton then the media will spin her to fit the role they need her in.

    • Matt Shorr permalink
      July 29, 2009 2:19 pm

      Actors are subject to far less scrutiny than actresses, and enjoy “boys will be boys” treatment. Actresses, especially young ones, are “train wrecks” if they get drunk a couple times in public. I’d love to do a longer piece on gender differential in press “scandal” coverage, but I’d have to do lots of research on not only LiLo and Paris, but Zac Efron. Never.

  2. August 1, 2009 12:29 am

    In related news, this is funny:

    http://www.imdb.com/news/ns0000002/#ni0907032

  3. dailydialogues permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:31 am

    No doubt Megan Fox Rocks, Nice Blog Keep it up I Find one good Blog Here… I am big fan of her. I have found collection of her HQ wallpapers, at http://downloaddesktopwallpapers.com/megan_fox_wallpaper-desktop-wallpapers.html

    Cheers…

  4. January 6, 2010 2:34 am

    I’m glad that this dude posted this, because had I not taken the trouble to follow up on this word press auto reply notification, I would have not known about the mass proliferation of Megan Fox pictures on the internet. Thanks for filling me in kind stranger.

  5. Frankling permalink
    March 3, 2010 5:17 am

    Good Job Matt Shorr.

  6. reply permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:46 am

    Wow, how much time did you spend writing that? lol. Sharp and informed? Her interviews show her rather slow in getting jokes, not knowing what to say, tries to sound smart by occasionally using words that have more than 5 letters in them, and she talks to the floor. She always looks scared, nervous and unsure of herself. She puts on an act, and I don’t find talking about her 15 yr old lifestyle is intelligent or interesting. Watching her puffy face talking looks like it hurts, from all of the facial fillers she has injected into it. She babbles on and on, and I find that she has to explain things like 20 different ways, and sounds very rehearsed. The End.

    P.S. She can’t act with a sh*t, dude.

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