Big In Japan

Celebrity is an odd thing. Not just in the way it is so frequently created, fueled, and maintained by the media and the various industries that feed off it -- but even moreso for the way that once that boat is pushed into the water, so much of the public (especially in this country) strives to keep it afloat with adoration, even when there really doesn't seem to be much reason to still think of these people as famous.

Especially now, where the Paris Hiltons and Justin Biebers of the world can attain certain levels of notoriety before ever getting a television show, movie role, book deal, or recording contract -- it's almost frightening to consider just how much power a Cult of Personality can wield in this modern age.

Not that I'm claiming to stand above it all and judge everyone else from upon high. I've enjoyed my fair share of reality shows. I've seen Kim Kardashian naked. I'm also a regular practitioner in the surely equally manufactured underside of the manufactured fame industry -- the snarky backlash side that keeps these names in rotation and public view, even while we're making fun of them.
Viral Marketing is the new Ninjitsu.
It's my belief (based on personal experience and the continued popularity of outlets like TMZ, People magazine, etc) that Americans are by and large the worst offenders of this idolatry worldwide. Our all too materialistic culture is frequently defined by it's extremes -- and in a society where the idea of wealth being the easiest path to happiness, those who not only have achieved success but are wildly popular and visible about it seem to embody the highest level of that kind of ambition for many people.
But I'm continually fascinated by the fact that we're not the only nation who plays this game.
Have you ever had this happen -- you're watching a movie, and there's some actor or actress in it that really impresses you -- either because of their talent, their looks, or their ability to make you laugh, but when you see their name in the credits you realize you have no idea who they are?

So then you pop their name into Google, or jump on IMDB to see if they've been in anything else you might have heard of and it becomes suddenly apparent that they're actually a huge star in Europe (or wherever), and that the movie you you saw them in was actually just their first attempt to try to break into Hollywood?

There are thriving celebrity systems in many countries across the world that people in this country are for the most part completely unaware of. Mel Gibson's girlfriend (the one he's been yelling obscenities at in those tapes that have been dominating the media lately) is apparently a famous singer in Russia who's written songs for many western artists, including Josh Groban. Rain, star of the recent film flop Ninja Assassin is an absolute superstar in Korea -- wowing audiences with his music, dancing, and acting.
Names that are all but invisible to audiences over here.
Part of that can easily be blamed on the overabundance of American celebrity news dominating our attention span for such things -- but it's also no secret that historically as a nation, the United States is generally uninterested in things the rest of the world goes crazy for.
Right or wrong -- from the Metric System to the World Cup, most of us just don't care.
Part of this I imagine is simply lack of exposure. I enjoy international music, authors, and movies -- but I don't always go seeking them out. There's so much media available these days, and I'm at an age where so many of my tastes and preferences have become ingrained that much like choosing a restaurant to go to, seeking international entertainment fare is often a function of mood, of an occasional desire for something new and different.
But I'd be lying if I didn't consider the fact that some of it has to be cultural.
Bollywood is fascinating. It's frenetic, musical, hyper-colored, and relentlessly happy. But I think for many people it's still something of a novelty. Something to be enjoyed as much for it's unintentional comedic value as it's talent -- which unfortunately reflects a lot of western attitudes towards Indian and Hindu culture. The same could easily be said of the Internets fascination with Japanese pop culture, or America's long standing love affair with British Comedy.
It makes you wonder if the reverse is true of international
audiences experiencing American movies, music or TV.
It's well known that a big part of the money that Hollywood films count on these days is from international releases. That even when fickle audiences in the states turn their backs on blockbusters or big name stars that they can still survive based on the returns from foreign theater sales. But do these worldwide audiences spend money on Hollywood films because they genuinely like them, or is it more like the way we all sort of laugh and point at Telemundo?
The reason I bring this up is because I need to understand something:
See, recently I got a review of Sting's new album published over at O Hell Nawl. The album itself is a collection of hits spanning Stings career both with the Police and as a solo artist, performed by Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra -- which, despite the possibilities for an interesting new take on these familiar melodies by a talented musician, is actually pretty terrible. Imagine Muzak versions of "Roxanne" and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and you'll get pretty close to what the album sounds like.

But along the way to writing the review, I did some research on the record label hoping to get some more details about the disc --
And I stumbled across this.
Rock Symphonies is the latest release from David Garrett -- he of the douchetastic sorta-beard and shaved chest.

If you've never heard of this guy, don't feel bad -- because I had no idea who he was either. A quick check of the Wikipedia reveals that he's the current Guinness World Record holder as the world's fastest violinist, the recipient of several international awards including a Golden Camera at the Cannes Film Festival, and a Man of the Year award in 2008 from GQ magazine (in Germany).

Further digging reveals that Garrett is an internationally renowned virtuoso, who's been winning competitions and impressing audiences with his skill since the age of five. Born in Germany to an American Mother and a German father -- he's studied under a variety of master players in addition to spending time at various music conservatories including Julliard honing his craft -- where he earned extra money on the side working as a male model.
This is just another piece of evidence to support my theory
that Hot Eurotrash guys can basically get away with anything.
Maybe it's because the World Cup just ended, but there's something kind of annoying about the free reign these dudes seem to get just because they have a six-pack and an accent. It's understandable of course, I react the same way over hot chicks -- but here's a guy who already had a calling card. Already had an actual talent. Already was naturally good looking.
So what's with the spray-on beard there, Davey?
It's like someone took Criss Angel and David Spade, threw them in a blender, and poured the results out on a plate filled with sharktooth necklaces and pimp rings.

And if the album cover wasn't enough to make you laugh, then feel free to look under the cover and discover the hilarity that are his cheese-tastic arrangements of such classics like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Master of Puppets," Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way."
Oh yeah, he’s that guy.
It's no secret that I have a special bottle of hate stored away for orchestras that do try to do pop/rock music. To a classical music fan like me, it's not only a laughable waste of talent -- but above everything else it's pandering to the highest degree. Nothing's more annoying to me than living in a town with a long-established Symphony Orchestra only to find out that one of their upcoming concert features them performing the music of Michael Jackson. I can understand the need to attract new audiences who's attention is focused elsewhere -- but there's reaching across the aisle and then there's just pretending you're something that you're not.
But then again, I don't live in Germany.
The one thing I do know about living in America is that what frequently seems like our overwhelming taste rarely represents individual likes and dislikes. I can sorta see how if you didn't live in this country you might think that we all love Britney Spears or Tom Cruise or Lady Gaga or Tyler Perry or whatever. Anyone who lives here knows that isn't the case -- but it's fairly easy to see how that impression might come off, especially for people living in a culture outside our own who might look in on American music and movies the same way we approach ordering take out food.
So my question is this – is it the same internationally?
Are there people in Germany who bust out laughing at the sight of this guy? Are there a small but vocal faction of people on his various fan-sites who are all like "He used to be cool?" Is this whole Rock Symphonies thing sort of an embarrassment to people who've been with him since the beginning, where he’s banking on his past glories and good looks to wow his already won-over audience?
Even though many of us are just finding out about David Garrett for the
first time -- Are we just in time to see the dawning of his Fat Elvis stage?

[Listening to:  David Bowie - "Strangers When We Meet" ]


Heff said…
Good points, but Germany LOVES Hasselhoff (seriously), whereas America basically just likes to laugh at him while he eats his hamburger off the floor on Youtube.

I think THAT example answers everything.
Anonymous said…
So, if I'm reading this right, Americans are more likely to be impressed by Paris Hilton or Justin Bieber (Honestly, what's a Justin Bieber?) than a musician who has actually trained and possibly perfected his craft. Good to know you come from the land that values the appearance of style over style or substance.
Anonymous said…
Is it me or does he look like he belongs in Interview With a Vampire on that album cover?
Hex said…
Heff -- It's funny you should bring him up, in the original draft of this story I spent a few paragraphs talking about the Hoff, in which I wondered if the reason Europeans loved him so much was the way he seems like such a stereotype -- even when you think about the songs he's had that are hits over there, most of them are old 60's and 70's oldies like "Get in My Car" or "Hooked on a Feeling."

I almost suspect he's sort of a jokish "Sterotypical American" to them, and that they're laughing at him too, just in a different way.

WIGSF -- I'd love to argue the point with you and say that no, America is a land that values substance over fluff (I know I certainly do, and feel that most of my friends do as well) but the fact remains that Paris Hilton is famous. Justin Bieber (Beiber's canadian, btw) is a star in this country.

That's sort of my point, though. Do the international stars we do see here in America represent an entire nation's taste, or just their pop sensibilities?

I mean if you think about it, it would be easy to assume that all Canadians love Celine Dion -- and I'm almost certain that's not the case.

Seriously though, everything I'm reading about this David Garrett guy tells me that he's probably the best qualified in the world to play passionate and flawless renditions of Vivaldi and Paganini -- but apparently if I paid to see him in concert I'd have to listen to him play AC/DC songs on the violin?

..yeah, no thanks.

Versinox -- Haha, good one! I was thinking he'd be more at home being one of the guys who hung around Mystery, the goggle wearing pick-up artist -- but I think you might have pegged him there.
Anonymous said…
After reading this post, I googled Justin Bieber because I had heard the name but had no knowledge of what it was.
Yeah, turns out he's a Canuck. But like Celine and Shania and N********k, you can have 'em. We'll keep Rush and Maestro Fresh Wes.
Heff said…
You MAY be right, Hex, You MAY be right....
Zuly said…
@Hex - Stop calling me Versinox. It freaks me out. Haha.