A piece appeared over this past weekend on The Daily Beast website that represents about a half-dozen of the worst trends in pop culture journalism at the moment. There’s the conflation of Twitter and real life. There’s inexplicable hostility directed towards a specific celebrity. And there’s the attempt to force a trend that isn’t real into existence, by quoting a handful of Twitter randos.
The piece is titled “Why Do So Many People Hate Rachel Zegler?,” and argues that “people online love to hate” the actress, who is 20 years old and has been in a grand total of one movie so far in her career. That was WestSide Story, Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic Broadway musical that was released in December.
West Side Story was much loved by critics, most of whom had positive things to say about Zegler’s performance. The film did end up as something of a flop, which would seem to indicate that, even after the film’s release, most of the world has no idea who Rachel Zegler is.
However, per the Beast, in a piece authored by a “breaking news intern,” “people” have decided that they hate her. And that word, “people,” is doing an uncomfortable amount of work.
The piece quotes a Tumblr user who states that “celebrities are just theater kids that made it,” adding that “to some, there will always be something utterly spine-chilling about the fact that just underneath the red-carpet poise of their favorite actor lies the beating heart of someone who was once, at any given point, roughly two opening chords away from bursting into a show tune.”
Well yes, movie stars and “theater kids” have something in common: They’re all actors! And Zegler is currently starring in a musical, in which she plays a character who is very young. It would probably not make any sense for that role to be taken by someone who isn’t a theater kid.
That was the arc that Zegler’s career has taken, as someone who was starring in high school musicals very recently and suddenly got very famous when she was cast out of nowhere in a major movie.
Some cohort of people seem to dislike because she reminds them of classmates with whom they once feuded
And this, apparently, is what has caused this alleged backlash, which appears confined to a small number of “people” on Twitter and Tumblr.
“That naked authenticity, ironically enough, can come off as inauthenticity, especially to people who a) spend time in insular pockets of the internet where scorn and open hostility are considered personality traits, and b) grew up sick to the back teeth of the kids in the cafeteria screeching lines from The Crucible at one another.”
The idea that a prominent person is terrible because they call to mind people the author didn’t like in high school is way larger a part of political commentary in America than it probably should be; Maureen Dowd has been writing that crap for going on 30 years about everyone from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama. But that seems to be the case with young actresses too, who some cohort of people seem to dislike because she reminds them of classmates with whom they once feuded.
“To them, Zegler’s rise is unforgivable, though they may not be able to articulate exactly why they feel that way. Instead, they talk about her general aura, why it sucks, and why that justifies praying for her downfall,” the Beast writes. This is followed by a handful of quotes from Twitter randos who have decided they don’t like Zegler’s “vibe,” and that “she’s already moving THIS weird.”
Hatred of a person’s “vibe” and their “aura,” is the sort of thing people like to cite for their reason for disliking someone — almost always, a woman — when they can’t articulate a better reason. It’s a wonder she’s not denounced as “attention-seeking.”
This is then compared to another, similar backlash a few years ago, the one against Anne Hathaway. After she’d been a movie star for much of the aughts, some group of people suddenly decided at one point that they hated Hathaway. This was always completely inexplicable to me, although I guess originated with those who were irked that she really, really wanted to win an Oscar. I’m not sure why that’s a reason to dislike someone, but rather an example — as is Zegler — of how horribly women are treated by our popular culture.
An example — as is Zegler — of how horribly women are treated by our popular culture
If there’s any star of West Side Story who ought to be experiencing hostile fan bitterness and resentment, it’s not Zegler but rather Ansel Elgort, the male lead, who not only gave a generally listless and charisma-free performance but was also accused not too long ago of sexual assault. I guess there’s some resentment for Zegler not speaking out against her costar, but I’d say the anger should be more directed at him, right?
Rachel Zegler, once again, has been in one movie, one in which she was very good. If she’s had a social media mishap or two, that doesn’t make her especially different from most people her age. But being a “theater kid,” or having a supposedly bad “vibe” or “era,” is an incredibly dumb reason to hate a famous person who you’ve never met.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.