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50 ★★★★★★★★★★ ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩ 3 Jennifer Aniston and Tina Fey Girls with Glasses VICTORIA E. JOHNSON Jennifer Aniston,Tina Fey. Both photographs courtesy of Photofest New York. As figures who initially rose to prominence on television in the mid-1990s, Jennifer Aniston and Tina Fey starred in top box-office features in the 2000s, each receiving prestigious industry awards, serving as a high-profile spokesperson, driving magazine sales records, and being hailed as, respectively, “the one woman who we find most compelling” (“Aniston Joins the Guys,” USA Today, 15 November 2005, 3D), “wise, culture-shaping” (“Why I Love Chick Flicks,” Entertainment Weekly, 20 February 2009, 41), and thoroughly “connected to the zeitgeist” (“The Accidental Movie Star,” Entertainment Weekly, 18 April 2008, 26). Aniston and Fey challenge us to reconsider the typical historic opposition between film stardom and television celebrity. While “the (successful) film appearance” arguably “remains pivotal to ‘stardom proper’” (“The Television Personality System: Televisual Stardom Revisited after Film Theory,” Screen, Spring 2008, 34), Aniston’s and Fey’s multi-mediated stardom encourages us to analyze ways in which the “hierarchy once headed by cinematic stars has apparently shifted as glamorous names from film, TV, and other arenas feature alongside one another as equal objects of desire and public interest” (Jermyn 73). While industrial transitions and economic factors are integral to their construction and emergence in a given era, stars in their popularity and cultural resonance do not reflect purely market-based desires, but are social phenomena whose primary value is ideological. Stars thus emerge and flourish in dialogue with broader cultural shifts and struggles over questions of identity and selfhood. While stars function to reinforce shared cultural values, Richard Dyer notes that such “reinforcement may be achieved not so much by reiterating dominant values as by concealing prevalent contradictions or problems” (Stars 27). Aniston and Fey are icons of a “synthetic media” era (Caldwell, “Welcome” 92)—an era distinguished by a synthesis or convergence and co-dependence of media forms, particularly television and film—across which each actress symbolizes related yet individuated versions of the post-millennial independent woman who “is very much a woman’s star, a woman championed, admired and desired most predominantly ” but not exclusively “by other women” (Jermyn 78). As expressed both in their characters and in publicity reports, Aniston and Fey are girls with glasses. Aniston’s career mythology symbolically positions her as such through repeated narration of her rise from purported ugly duckling to swan while remaining down-to-earth. Fey is a literal girl with glasses whose career mythology charts revenge of the “nerd.” Both women’s star personae represent independent, smart, career-oriented women whose ambition and intelligence are softened by their perceived “girl’s girl” relatability, their “reluctant” stardom, and their search for love and balance between career and home. For Dyer, the “independent woman” was a distinct “type,” exemplified by, among others, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Barbara Stanwyck. With Aniston and Fey emerging from television comedy into film, contemporary critics and journalists typically associate them with a legacy of independent screen comediennes, including Jean Arthur and Carole Lombard from classical Hollywood and Mary Tyler Moore and Sally Field from the 1970s and 1980s. While Aniston and Fey each embody elements of Dyer’s classic “independent woman” type, each also melds or hybridizes that type with a distinctly “non-threatening,” accessible, “warm,” and/or comedic iteration. Specifically, Aniston melds the independent woman with the classic “girl next door,” while Fey melds the independent woman with contemporary “geek chic.” JENNIFER ANISTON AND TINA FEY 51 Aniston’s and Fey’s particular resonance with female audiences is correlated to each star’s timely but also savvy and self-conscious fit as an icon of a neoliberal era characterized by an ongoing struggle to successfully negotiate feminist commitments and “investment in the rehabilitation of masculinity” (Negra, “Structural” 62). Aniston’s independent woman/girl next door and Fey’s independent woman/chic geek each model relatable and appealing strategies for making “the self a conductor of power” in the contemporary era (Ouellette and Hay 15). They imagine their heroines “as someone empowered to take charge of one’s life, and also as someone who can effectively conduct a charge . . . or who can deliver what is expected” (15), balancing feminist ideals with acceptance that it’s “a man’s world.” ★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩★ ✩ Synthetic Media Stardom: Theory and Context A crucial element in the foundation and growth of academic film studies was to define...


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