Media Talk: "Carbon Cate" for T Magazine and the Prius effect

Is this woman still smiling? Feted one minute, under scrutiny the next: who'd want to be a celebrity?
  "Cate Blanchett and I are trying to determine whether she’s a fake — or whether she’s merely as hidden from herself as she seems to be hidden from strangers who would like to capture her essence over breakfast at the Chateau Marmont, tape recorder and pen at the ready," writes Daphne Merkin in her profile of the Australian actress for the summer issue of T The New York Times Style Magazine, adding that the makeup-free, unmanicured Blanchett has made an art form of self-effacement in a celebrity-tweeting culture.  

"Then there is her interest in all things green, which starts with her personal involvement — her house in an upper-class suburb of Sydney is equipped for passive cooling (using solar panels on the roof to power the air conditioning) and thermal heating — and extends to her work with an organization called the Australian Conservation Foundation," continues Merkin, further down the piece. 

Often feted for her down-to-earth ways (catching a bus! dagging down!), Blanchett – a north shore schoolgirl who went on to study Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne before graduating from NIDA in 1992 – has long been a darling of Australia. The retiring, cultured Oscar winner, Vogue cover girl and mother of three who, together with director husband Andrew Upton, is part of Sydney's theatre elite, has been cause for national – and female – pride. 

But opinion has turned on Blanchett in the wake of a new ad campaign aimed at supporting a carbon tax and a front-page story 'Carbon Cate: $53m Hollywood superstar tells Aussie families to pay up', for Sydney's traditionally working-class paper, The Sunday Telegraph.

Though she's been on the circuit talking climate change for some years now, as a key face of the ad campaign funded by a collective of interested parties under the Say Yes Australia banner, Blanchett has been decried for being out of touch with Aussie families who can ill afford the added financial burden, nor the cumulative repercussions for CPI, through her endorsement of Julia Gillard's unpopular tax.

Coincidentally, this was in the same paper that published the story 'How luxury turned into necessity', in which social affairs writer Helen Pow reported on research finding, "the average Aussie household now has multiple computers, wireless broadband internet, a Nintendo Wii or similar game console and a plasma TV".

Not so hard up, are we?

Dubbed 'Carbon Cate', Blanchett's impressive income and home have been the focal points for accusations of hypocrisy and, as noted by Malcolm Farnsworth for ABC Unleashed, "whether she was in any way entitled to contribute to the public discourse on the major political issue of the moment". 

In a testament to the power of her celebrity, the sentiment has gone global: 'Australia falls out of love with 'Carbon Cate' over starring role in tax advert', reads The Independent's headline; 'Actress Cate Blanchett sparks Australia climate debate reports the BBC.

The global news production preference for stories anchored by famous (and beautiful) female faces is a reflection of the times, and what Farnsworth calls the "the laziness of the media in blithely accepting the framework of the “story” created for them". But it also highlights what the BBC has labelled the "instinctive suspicion of people in Australia perceived to be part of a cultural or educational elite - especially by the populist right", which has morphed into rampant celebrity schadenfreude

While the pro-carbon-tax campaign is a news story with currency – carbon tax being a national talking point since Gillard's announcement in September last year, which called into question her own hypocrisy – the pillorying of Blanchett would make one reticent about making a stance on any issue of public interest, no matter how passionate one feels it is closely aligned to one's personal values, which is a shame. 

But "celebrity" itself is partly to blame.

Jane Fonda learnt the hard way that politics and celebrity don't always mix, while Bono has been the object of ridicule for his charitable efforts in Africa, poverty relief efforts through The Global Fund and interest in unfair trade regulations. While, like Blanchett, these are celebrities who've put their often singular and sincere philanthropic and political passions into action, still more A-listers (through to D-listers) have taken the shine off genuine charitable efforts by signing their name to every worthy event and cause – more so the fashionable ones of the day – that passes their publicist's nose (endorsement cheque enclosed). 

You can't drive a Prius and be taken seriously. No wonder people are sceptical.

As such, good Samaritan celebrity bashing has become a global media pastime, making it hard not to not put a foot wrong (take Kate Middleton also coming under fire for wearing a Bucharest-produced Reiss dress while trying to support affordable high-street British fashion). The key to averting unwanted attention would seem to be to align yourself with causes for which you have a personal and vigilant (preferably singular) dedication, in addition to an educated mission, so as not to be found wanting.

Like Natalie Portman who champions micro-finance projects, Blanchett has done this, taking time out of her work and family schedule to attend the inconclusive climate change conference in Copenhagen, but has still worn her fair share of criticism, perhaps because we know so little of the WASPy lady whose A-list celebrity status, artistic interests, high moral standards, apparently privileged upbringing and luminous SK-II skin make her so otherworldly, and annoyingly above censure. 

"I’m constantly humbled,” she told Merkin in a prescient statement on the eve of this year's Oscars. "Just at the moment when you think, I’ll call and get a table at this restaurant, they’re always like, ‘Who?’ So whenever you try and pull that out, it never works. People are always saying they loved me in ‘Titanic.’"

Still, if Blanchett can do for climate change awareness – and the national environmental discourse – what she and Upton did for the Sydney Theatre Company's profits, then she has done her job and added credibility to the tainted word and opportunistic world of "celebrity".

See also: 

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

Maybe it has something to do with the tall poppy syndrome. Perhaps we like to discourage people that have their hands in all sorts of pots (if that's the expression... it's late at night)

It's a shame really, I've always loved Cate Blanchett, and if this is something she believes in, she should stand for it. She is an intelligent woman.