- Recycled Stars: Female Film Stardom in the Age of Television and Video by Mary R. Desjardins
In Recycled Stars: Female Film Stardom in the Age of Television and Video, Mary R. Desjardins paints a fascinating portrait of female stars' struggles to achieve public visibility and respect at the dawn of television. The book takes readers through several discrete, but contemporaneous, television sub-genres, from how-to-homemake talk shows to the sitcom. Through Gloria Swanson, Desjardins focuses on ageism in Hollywood and television's creation of a space for post-ingenue women; through Loretta Young, she takes up the female television-star image as stiflingly glamorous, but also as a site of potential agency; through Karen Carpenter and Ava Gardner, she explores fans' ability to take control of, deconstruct, and repurpose star images. Recycled Stars uses these case studies, these close readings of specific star texts, as stand-ins for wider social and cultural shifts from the 1940s to the present. In effect, Desjardins analyzes the star image as a complex sign system, and as a lens through which to view and deconstruct popular culture.
Desjardins's work is particularly important to the study of popular culture and screen media, as it both helps bridge the gap between film and television studies and offers a feminist re-reading of an era generally regarded as lacking in female agency. For instance, in looking at Gloria Swanson and Loretta Young's star images in the 1940s and '50s, Desjardins finds that these women managed to transform their own gendered experiences into an industry, using television as the medium for this reclamation of agency. These stars "actually multiplied the valences of glamour and authorship" in moving into television, Desjardins writes. "They made the terms function as signs of their expertise in matters of concern to women and as a vehicle to achieve public visibility" (98). Both [End Page 95] Swanson and Young were slowly pushed out of Hollywood for ageist reasons (a problem still pervasive in Hollywood today), but managed to build second careers for themselves in television by exploiting their knowledge and manipulation of female glamour. Whereas before we might have seen only heavily made-up women advertising household products and discussing baking mishaps, we now see women acting as producers and creative forces behind their television programs in ways that the film industry would never have allowed. Desjardins's well-researched and energetic account of these women's self-construction offers an exciting new look at 1950s television as a space for female agency.
Although the first few chapters of Recycled Stars are well-researched, engaging, and entertaining accounts of stars like Gloria Swanson, Ida Lupino, and Lucille Ball's relationships with television, Desjardins's most intriguingly topical analysis appears in the book's final chapter, "Star Bodies, Star Bios: Stardom, Gender, and Identity Politics." In this chapter, Desjardins explores experimental, fan-made videos in which filmmakers manipulate and control the star image to their own ends. One such video is Joan Braderman's Joan Sees Stars (1993), in which Braderman visually inserts herself into film scenes featuring her favourite stars. Braderman, suffering from an autoimmune disease, became obsessed with these stars when forced to watch and re-watch Classical Hollywood films on television from her sickbed. Desjardins situates this device within a postmodern aesthetic. "This understanding of television," Desjardins writes, "suggests that it functions as a possible extension or support of psychological reality for the fragmented subject, that is, as a prosthesis" (235). Here, Desjardins demonstrates television's power in a consumerist, postmodern culture: the power to recirculate star texts, to give stars new meanings, and to provide for fans images of their ideal, non-fragmented selves. It is an insightful analysis that warrants further exploration and research. A follow-up book or article is present within this chapter—a text that might venture into the Internet age. In the era of YouTube parodies and online memes, star images are very often at the mercy of...