Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 21-01-22
Celebrity Watch | Francis Bourgeois fashion icon | The Metaverse hijacks gaming's biggest ever acquisition | Haircuts x Culture
Celebrity Watch: your weekly guide on how celebs are managing their reputations
This week, we saw various celebrities attempt to manage their reputations through the media and in doing so gave comms watchers and professionals alike an insight into differing tactics.
Superstar screenwriter and alleged toxic bully Joss Whedon gave a kind of mea culpa tell-all to New York magazine, except he didn't tell much (claiming to suddenly need a wee every time he faced a tricky question) and claimed his misdeeds were in fact the 'culpa' of childhood trauma, his distant mother, his inability to resist (in the case of affairs), people lying, sex addiction and, in a comment that generated many more headlines, Gal Gadot's apparent inability to speak English…
Accompanied by a detailed rundown of all the accusations against Whedon, his obfuscating and intransigence (when not comparing himself to vampires, nerdy mad scientists or Richard III) failed to fill the vacuum of the case for his defence and the article. far from rehabilitating him, only served to give a more comprehensive and definitive portrait of a troubled and problematic character. The internet and media were none too impressed, and it would be surprising if Whedon's phone were suddenly ringing off the hook with offers of the kind of work on which he made his name.
Then came Bono, who, although not subject to the wrath of 'cancel culture', is constantly fighting a battle against his reputation - among his detractors - as the epitome of a self-important, annoying, smug, arrogant windbag who sings terrible dad rock. His tactic was delightfully simple, telling The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast that he, basically, agrees with his enemies and finds the band's music 'cringe'. Reaction to this mea culpa was far more sympathetic. Many responded positively to a rare show of self-awareness and articles worldwide pointing out 150M records sold and 10 UK number ones as 'balance'.
Finally, Machine Gun Kelly revealed that he and Megan Fox had announced their engagement to 'control the narrative'. He explains, perfectly rationally, that telling their side of the story was preferable to a grainy tabloid photo accompanied by sleazy speculation. The only issue is that the narrative they are apparently controlling included Megan claiming that on the occasion of their engagement, they 'drank each other's blood' and then MGK claiming that the engagement ring has thorns in it so that if Megan tries to take it off, it hurts. For a couple whose main reputational issue is that their displays of performative weirdness make them appear off-putting and inaccessible to vast swathes of the public, they might have 'controlled' those details out of this particular narrative.
Francis Bourgeois proves that no niche is to small for a springboard to fame
His meteoric rise to viral fame has stemmed from his lovable, nerdy, silly (and potentially, completely self-aware?) videos which have won the hearts of young and old for their heartfelt devotion to that neglected hobby - trainspotting.
Over the past few months, Bourgeois has attracted claims that he is a faker, weathered it admirably and with sincerity, and has made friends with stars like Joe Jonas who go out with him to see a Pendolino and solicit from their drives the much sought after 'tones'. He has consolidated his celebrity in an incredibly rapid and (depending on whether you believe he is actually much cooler than he gives off) organic, loveable way.
Every micro-influencer is a potential macro-influencer, and the success of Bourgeois shows that no niche subject is too small to generate a devoted mainstream following. Bourgeois has had several things going for him. Apart from his nerdy self-fashioning, he is classically good-looking, charismatic, and media-savvy enough to generate video after video, producing the same, slightly cantankerous effect.
One thing remains to be seen. Having used trainspotting as his springboard to celebrity, it is unclear whether he will be defined by it. Will he be able to refashion himself as a mainstream influencer, forgetting his humble origins standing in cold weather by train junctions, waiting for an elusive Class 390? Or will he always be defined by his roots in trains? It would not be surprising to see him venture into other areas - but time will tell whether he can take his newfound stardom from the rail-road to the red carpet.
Microsoft buys Activision in 'metaverse' play
Microsoft announced they'd acquired Activision for £50 billion in mega-gaming news that had PlayStation users fearing an almighty exclusivity clause preventing them from playing games like Call of Duty, one of the world's most popular games.
For the non-gamers, don't worry; this isn't going to be a gaming trend. Instead it will be a commentary on our friend the metaverse - the world's favourite topic of conversation, which frequently appeared alongside this colossal announcement. Unfortunately, the acquisition is another example of how "The Metaverse" is becoming a meaningless corporate buzzword to convince investors that tech firms are true innovators.
Microsoft's big purchase is a cut and dry play for market dominance. Activision is one of the world's biggest gaming publishers, making billions in revenue on Candy Crush alone. According to the New York Times, the takeover will make Microsoft the world's third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony. Plus, Activision's market price has been declining since a mountain of sexual harassment allegations and the prevailing 'frat boy' culture has plagued the company. So Microsoft effectively bought at a discount.
Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming, used this opportunity to flex the metaverse muscle to reassure stakeholders that Microsoft isn't falling behind Meta. In fact, Microsoft has vaguely committed to the metaverse without shifting their entire business to pivot around a vague idea of what the metaverse will be.
We give a Dam about the culture sector
This week the Dutch population reminded us that haircuts are way cooler than arts cuts. In protest of government failures to loosen Covid-19 restrictions on the culture sector, a phalanx of Dutch nail and hair salons conducted their business in major galleries and museums to inveigh against the government's treatment of the arts. Dutch rules allowed for the reopening of hairdressers, beauticians and gyms but controversially kept museums, theatres, bars and cafes shut. This mistreatment of the sector follows governmental cuts of 25% to culture funds, ensuring national cultural health waned as Covid hospitalisations improved.
The operation, aptly titled 'Theatre Hairdresser', saw salons cut people's hair in comical proximity to Van Gogh pieces or full-blown orchestras to poke holes in government logic through the whimsical juxtaposition. Protestors sought consistency from restriction rules, arguing that going to a museum or a gallery was just as important as getting your nails done. 'Waiting at the hairdressers has never been so fun', the protest organisers ensured as clients basked under the starry watch of oil paintings and sculptures as they got their hair cut. Luckily, no ears were lost in the process.
The stunt was perfectly executed, resisting an anti-vax subtext as protestors closely followed health guidelines, requiring QR codes to confirm negative tests before protestors participated. In an industry already on its knees, the tactic offered a playful response to the government's vandalism of the arts sector. That Mayor Femke Halsema of Amsterdam urged for further stricture in reaction only emphasises the irrationality of the rules. As comedian Sanne Wallis de Vries explains, 'This is only fun.' Femke, maybe a visit to the gallery might offer the downtime you so obviously need?