Here in Louisville, we all feel like we know Jennifer Lawrence.
Sure, she’s a Hollywood It Girl and an Oscar-winning actress who moved to New York to pursue her craft when she was just 14. But we all know she’s still just a Louisville girl. Her parents and her brothers still live here. Now and again, you hear people work in references to where her various family members work, or who we might all have in common. It's all in good fun; we all know that she hasn't forgotten The 'Ville, which is evident in the way she visits Kosair Children's Hospital when she's in town and in the way she never fails to rep the Cards.
Besides, Louisville is, at heart, a small town of 750,000 or so people. We talk about Jennifer Lawrence like we know her because, here in Louisville, we talk about everybody that way. There's the "everybody in St. Matthews knows each other" game. There's the "where did you go to high school?" game. There's the "folks who are always at charity events/ new restaurants/ sporting events" game. It's a logical extension that if you went to Kammerer Middle School or Camp Hi Ho then you're practically best friends with Jennifer Lawrence.
A lot of Americans feel like they know Jennifer Lawrence, too. Part of her superstar charm is her ability to be disarmingly candid and down-to-earth in interviews. Her TV talk show antics like asking David Letterman for a blanket or joking with Seth Meyers about her childhood Harry Potter obsession present her as goofy, endearing, and relatable. She is, as professor and pop culture expert (Why didn't anybody tell me that was an option when it was time to apply to grad school?) Anne Helen Peterson posited in a brilliant essay earlier this year, the latest heiress to the Cool Girl Throne. She could be your best friend, your kid sister, your niece, or, quite literally, the girl next door.
I've thought a lot about Jennifer Lawrence and the nature of fame and fandom in the past few weeks. Earlier this year, some nude photos of Ms. Lawrence emerged on the internet, the result of a hacker accessing her private cell phone photos. In an insightful Vanity Fair Article, she stated that, although a public apology was the first line of PR/ damage control self-defense for the incident, "every single thing that I tried to write made me cry or get angry. I started to write an apology, but I don't have anything to say I'm sorry for." It was exactly the way we'd all hope to react to such a crushingly invasive act.
If Jennifer Lawrence is, in our collective minds, our best friend, or our kid sister, then it naturally follows that we shouldn't seek out those leaked naked photos. Would we do that with a real-life friend? I mean, we've all gone down the rabbit hole of googling old classmates or boyfriends. But, you know, there's a huge difference between publicly posted Instagram or Facebook photos and photos hacked from someone's cell phone. The former are posted online with the subject's knowledge that they could be viewed by anyone; the latter are stolen property. Ms. Lawrence wasn't trying to "Break the Internet", Kim Kardashian-style, with risqué publicity photos. Rather, she had snapped intimate photos for her then-partner, which were then stolen and publicly displayed. It was, as Ms. Lawrence characterized the situation, a sex crime.
Last weekend, Ms. Lawrence conducted an AP interview in conjunction with the release of the latest film in the Hunger Games franchise. When the conversation turned to paparazzi intrusions, she gave a vivid personal account of the stress and anxiety that stems from a constant stream of unwanted photographers documenting her private life. As she proclaimed that she hopes to work toward legislation that stops paparazzi --"And my belief, and it's something I am going to work very hard on changing and I hope it changes before I die, is to make it illegal to buy, post or shop a photo that's been obtained illegally." -- she sounded like that recent law school grad we all know, the one who's on fire for justice and reform. Her tone was hopeful, indignant, and all of the other attributes you'd expect from a bright and articulate 24 year-old.
Even if we take the construct of "friendship" away from being a Jennifer Lawrence fan, do we owe her a certain degree of respect? In saying, "I think that Jennifer Lawrence is a gorgeous actress whose talent was undeniable when she redeemed trite films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle", are we required to then say "I refuse to read articles that post candid paparazzi photos of this actress I admire?" If we, as pop culture junkies, loved the way Ms. Lawrence turned a skeevy Jack Nicholson Oscars moment into a charming old-school Hollywood flirtation, are we supposed to boycott TMZ or Perez Hilton (among the most notorious purveyors of paparazzi photos) in lieu of authorized interview outlets, even if it means that we can no longer fully and properly Keep Up with the Kardashians?
The truth is, if TMZ and Perez Hilton went out of business tomorrow, ten more aggressive gossip sites would pop up to replace them by the end of the week. Ms Lawrence's skill-set lies not only in her tremendous acting talent, but also in her beauty and public persona. The Safe Harbor clause of the DMCA exists for a very important reason, and the balance between free speech and public figures' right to privacy has been precarious for decades. The celebrity information industry is, indeed, out of control and there aren't any easy answers to how it can be reigned in. When Ms. Lawrence notes that she's simply trying to live her life free of the insane intrusions that her fame creates, she creates a starting point for an interesting and much-needed conversation. And isn't that one of your best friend's duties?