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Calista Flockhart Is an Idoru

The Japanese adore pop culture so much they are willing to build it out of thin air. As popularized in William Gibson’s Idoru, Japan has devised the entirely virtual pop singer, one without corporeal reality. In olden days, a pop singer was a person with a physical body and a voice. Then, with lip-synching (Cf. Milli Vanilli), we graduated to singers with physical bodies but modified or augmented or replaced voices. The Japanese, not content to leave well enough alone, cut out the physical part altogether. The idoru, or idol, was born – of electrons, not atoms.

Life imitates art. The Japanese imitate us, usually getting the details wrong (I owned a Japanese sweatshirt earnestly emblazoned “Wildlife Port en Ouest de Moose”). And we unwittingly imitate the Japanese. How?

Through Calista Flockhart. She is the Western world’s first idoru.

  1. Identified with her white-hot chick-flick TV series, Ally McBeal, the way Deborah Harry was identified with Blondie, Calista doesn’t play a role. She is the role. Unlike corporeal actors – Vincent D’Onofrio; Philip Seymour Hoffman – who disappear into their characters, Ally and Calista occupy the same space at the same time. But that space exists on television screens. Contrary to the tradition of soap operas, where one would tune in of an afternoon and be told by an unseen voice that “the part of Trucker Smithmuir will now be played by Reynaldo Tremaine,” contrary even to the tradition of cinema, where James Bond or even Clarice Starling can morph from one actor to another over the generations, Ally is unimaginable without Calista, and vice-versa.
  2. Whether it’s her real name or not, “Calista Flockhart” smacks of a kind of naming software. As the robot Winona Ryder was dismissed by the alien hybrid Sigourney Weaver (“No human could be that humane”), so too do I dismiss “Calista Flockhart”: No human could have that name.
  3. Calista is a waif. Infamously so. I specifically remember the earwig on an early issue of the National Socialist: A photo of Calista, leaning into the wind (or at least the whirring fan), hands framing her flowing goldilocks, stick-thin arms supporting the hands, schoolgirl’s dress hugging the straight-as-the-Alberta-plains planes of her body. (Her “body.”) The subtitle alongside the photo claimed that Calista Flockhart denies being anorexic. So they’re reporting a response. These days, with zeroes overflowing in our calendars, we swim through a sea of floated ideas. Someone, or an entire press corps, may float the idea that Calista Flockhart, having dropped 20 pounds, is anorexic. Calista is then forced to respond.
    1. Accusing Calista of anorexia is accusing her of knowingly wasting away, of reducing herself. Anorexia is a disease of the body image. An image is noncorporeal, unreal. Anorexics need to reduce their bodies to match their self-image. They’re never thin enough; it’s a vicious cycle. An idoru can balloon or shrink as needed, like climbing the beanstalk on H.R. Pufnstuf.
    2. Expecting us to care whether or not a creature improbably named Calista Flockhart is or is not anorexic heaps media exposure upon media exposure. We’re n steps removed from reality.
  4. On Ally McBeal, we see a half-arsed attempt to incorporate fantasy sequences into the narrative. (The fantasy segments of Thirtysomething, singular in the history of American television, are unthreatened by McBeal’s tawdry arriviste scrabblings.) Ally takes arrows in the heart, turns bright orange – she does things, in other words, that only a noncorporeal being could do. And when she instantaneously reverts to normal, that too is something only an idoru could manage.

The evidence is clear. The conclusion is inescapable. Calista Flockhart does not exist. She’s an artificial creation. Calista Flockhart is an idoru.