Last week, Lainey Lui, the face behind the gossip blog LaineyGossip.com, was here to talk about her personal experiences and views on social issues within Hollywood. The Q and A, arranged by the Sociology and Criminology Society and the sociology department, aimed to highlight the “sociology of celebrity culture and the business of gossip”.
Lui initially worked at Rogers Communications. Today, she is a gossip expert, a reporter for CTV’s etalk, a cohost for The Social (a CTV daily talk show), and has recently penned a book about her mother titled Listen to the Squawking Chicken.
As someone who has never been a fan of celebrity culture and had no idea about who Lui was, I entered the event hesitant. Gossip has several negative connotations—it’s often considered false or vapid. But for Lui, it’s more than that.
“Gossip is communication—it’s a transfer of ideas from one person to another focused around a subject and in that conversation, you are able to communicate your values, your expectations, and your standards,” says Lui. She believes that communicating about celebrities or a subject brings to light what you consider to be acceptable behaviour.
When asked how she came to know so much about celebrities, she retorts, “But you would never ask someone who has followed the Leafs their whole life, ‘How do you know so much about the Leafs?’ I don’t understand why when somebody knows the dating history of Ben Affleck for the last 20 years, when they’re questioned, it’s weird or vapid. I don’t consider it something to be embarrassed about.
“Some people know sports statistics, and other people know exactly what Nicole Kidman wore to the Oscars in 1997—that would be me.”
To her, a lot of people don’t admit that they follow celebrities because of how others will judge them for it. “It’s okay to know more about celebrities than you want to admit,” she says.
There are a lot of things that Lui doesn’t believe in covering, but as long as it’s fun to read and engages her readers, she says its fair game.
However, child celebrities are a topic that Lui chooses to avoid. According to her, some celebrities choose to put their children out in front of the cameras, but if they don’t consent to it, she doesn’t believe in trying to find out more than what they are willing to show. She also doesn’t like covering stories about celebrity deaths. “To me, the story ends when their life ends,” she says.
As Lui’s blog grew, she encouraged her readers to talk about feminism and race in Hollywood and wrote more about how these issues were reflected in pop culture.
Lui also touched upon the fact that celebrities often use certain tactics to change their fan base and to be seen as more mature. “Avril Lavigne’s only [had] 14-year-old fans and she [used to be] the biggest deal in Canadian music. Justin Bieber, this year, has proven that [his music] can at least get into clubs with a 20-plus audience and they’re not booing [him],” she says. “He’s doesn’t have to be sincere [about it]. He just has to get enough people to think he’s sincere and that’s what’s interesting about studying [celebrity] motivation.”
Another topic, raised by both sociology professor Erik Schneiderhan and attending students, was diversity in Hollywood.
“Diversity in Hollywood is just a reflection of diversity in the world,” Lui said. “Political representation isn’t unlike Hollywood. Over 50 percent of collective votes in Canada and the U.S. are from women. However, in the U.S. only nine percent of elected representatives are women. The same thing [is true for] Canada—I think the percentage is probably a little bit higher but not [that] much, maybe 12 percent.
“That’s weird because you’re voting for people who are making decisions for you as a woman, [but] who aren’t coming from the female experience. Hollywood is only reflecting back to us what we are living every single day,” she added. “We have to change. We have to demand stories that are not told as often. We have to have and confront conversations that we might not always want to have and that make us uncomfortable.”
While I wasn’t completely convinced that gossiping about celebrities was valuable, her talk was indeed insightful and open-minded. Perhaps being a gossip enthusiast isn’t always about what a celebrity did and didn’t do. It’s also about analyzing and criticizing that what happens in pop culture is a reflection of what we can do to change ourselves as well.
“I found it great that [Lui] spoke on [social issues] because it’s important for people with that kind of voice and social media presence to shed light on the fact that it’s not all glitz and glamour, and problems like racial relations, misogyny, and a lack of diversity are still extremely present in Hollywood,” said Daron Blackburn, a third-year student majoring in CCIT. “It may have been the best event I have attended at UTM.”
Professor Jayne Baker was one of the individuals from the sociology department who helped make the event possible. “I imagined it being a fun event that captures what it actually means to use a sociological perspective that, at its most basic, could be understood as understanding people in a broader context,” Baker said. “Given we are immersed in one way or another in a culture obsessed with celebrity, we can use that knowledge as the basis for thinking more broadly about things like diversity in film, representations of bodies, and how to create change.”