Dr. Cherie Ann Turpin is particularly interested in Mr. Byrne’s activities surrounding the Irish Diaspora, as well as aspects of gender and celebrity culture in relationship to him as an actor and performer. She and I have discussed his film career, his work as Cultural Ambassador for Ireland, and his published works. Dr. Turpin is also interested in fan culture; Byrneholics Online is included as a resource in her celebrity culture course this Fall. It is my pleasure to bring you this guest review by Dr. Turpin, who attended the recent Narrative 4 event in New York City and generously agreed to share her thoughts and insights about Mr. Byrne’s performance at the event, as well as her observations and ideas about the Narrative 4 Project in general. I thank her for her participation here at Byrneholics! –Stella

“Manly Voice: Gabriel Byrne at Symphony Space”

I had a really difficult time writing this guest post for a variety of reasons, most of which involved me coming to understand what sort of response I wanted to give to readers with regard to my take on Gabriel Byrne’s reading last week.  The following essay is not so much a review as it is a slight critique and a partial analysis of his performance.

On the one hand, I was pleased to see Gabriel Byrne set the mood of the evening with his reading of Roddy Doyle’s tongue-in-cheek contribution to the anthology.  Byrne’s dry, humorous style of reading matched Doyle’s sardonic wit in engaging the following question: “how does one be[come] a man?”  Byrne captured the intensity of discursive tension between women and men embedded in Doyle’s untitled short story (none of the stories in Colum McCann’s collection were titled).  Further, Byrne effectively connected with the audience as a reader, suggesting either a return to familiar ground or signifying a transformative phase in his artistic career.  All new beginnings, however, come with caveats. Byrne’s appearance at Symphony Space for “How to Be a Man” on November 6, 2013, produced more questions than answers about overarching themes of this program, not the least of which is the yet to be answered question: what did hosts Colum McCann and Terry Tempest Williams mean by “radical empathy,” and “diversity” within the context of such a provocative title as “How to Be a Man?”  I came away from this performance with some mixed feelings about what I saw on stage.

gb-narrative4-howtobeaman-20131106-by-sandramarkusGabriel Byrne. Picture provided by Sandra Markus on Twitter

McCann’s work as host of this program and his work as editor of the anthology The Book of Men that inspired last Wednesday’s program, demonstrates a commitment to bringing writers from a variety of communities around the globe into an ongoing conversation about perceptions and experiences of manhood and masculinity.  The idea of stories to be performed by actors and writers certainly has an appeal that draws a diverse audience coming from a variety of communities.  However, I was perplexed as to why more of the contributing writers could not have been invited to appear in this program to perform their own works, especially those whose voices and perspectives speak to cultural perspectives and experiences different from most of the performers on stage.  Diversity and empathy, both concepts which were discussed during McCann and Williams’ introductions, were presented as driving forces behind Narrative Four (the literary salon sponsoring the event) and behind the organizing principles of the anthology The Book of Men, but with the exception of the host B.D. Wong (who did perform one piece but whose work does not appear in the anthology), the three men who spoke were white, male, and heterosexual (McCann, Byrne, and the actor Corey Stoll).

Of the three women who performed in this program, only one had actually contributed to the anthology, rising literary star Tea Obreht.  To the credit of the organizers, Rebecca Naomi Jones, an African American woman, also performed, as well as Stockard Channing.   Both women are accomplished and respected performers known for their work in theatrical productions on Broadway, as well as for their work in film and television. Given the theme and subthemes of this program, as well as the proximity of the venue to Black and Spanish Harlem, how difficult would it have been to invite more men of color to participate in this performed conversation? I ask this question not to tear down the efforts of McCann, Williams, or even Byrne, but to further the conversation and to challenge them to engage in a more rigorous discussion as to what “diversity” means to them and even more importantly, to understand what “empathy” means to them.  To me, an artistic collective sensitive to the political baggage these words carry would have been more inclined to sharing the stage with young and older men of color who have been challenged with that question of “how to be a man” in a city with a justice system that views them as criminal by default, and therefore subject to frisk-and-search, and in other regions of the United States, murdered without penalty through stand-your-ground laws.   Indeed, the question of “how to be a man” takes on a more ominous tone when one’s existence is challenged by those vested in the hegemony feeding institutional racism and classism.

gb-narrative4-howtobeaman-20131106-02-by-reneeolson

Gabriel Byrne with attendee Renee Olson, who provided the picture on Twitter
Moreover, the significance of the celebrity persona cannot be ignored as a contributing factor to Byrne’s presence on stage.  After all, his name and face became the marketing lure to encourage the audience to fill the seats, which says something about celebrity and masculinity, though Byrne was also faced with the vulnerability of being “that guy,” the famous person headlining an event who does not read his own work until the end, thereby risking a very big fail after producing audience anticipation and longing to hear his work.  Although Byrne is not known for publishing fiction, he is known for publishing nonfiction, including his memoir Pictures in My Head (1994), essays in various magazines and newspapers, and several book reviews. McCann’s praises of his fiction writing during the program leads me to ask why more of his writing was not featured in this event, and further, why we have not seen more of his creative writing published as of late, save for the Esquire piece. His memoir is now out of print, and except for the recent book reviews, he has not consistently published poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction.

It is not unreasonable to expect that someone being featured in an anthology with well-known and respected authors would have significant works to present to an audience more accustomed to seeing him perform other people’s works as an actor.  Byrne is a writer to watch, but one expects to see much more coming from him as a writer.  Given his recent challenges to  established social institutions, he is more than capable of challenging socially dominant notions of masculinity through his writing.  That means writing about those childhood traumas he mentioned Wednesday night with a certain clarity and a refusal to equivocate or mask the impact those traumas made on his ability to understand or perform masculinity, especially within the context of celebrity culture.   In other words, the audience needs to see and hear more of his writing.

Significantly, Byrne’s reading of Vanessa Manko’s story came across as his most significant and subversive performance of the evening, possibly coming closest to dismantling his own celebrity persona, and at the same time offering a glimpse into his challenges as someone whose body is often hyper-sexualized and objectified.  Here, McCann introduces Byrne’s reading Manko’s story by informing the audience that she wrote it in a “man’s voice,” describing the story as “naughty.” The story itself describes an encounter between an unnamed narrator in slightly ambiguous terms that could be construed as somewhat more sexually intimate than what turns out to be: it is a story about a tango dance routine, albeit one curiously absent of the sexual tension and erotic battle for dominance between the male and female partners—none of the pull or challenge from the female partner to take over the lead occurs in this story [credit given to artist and student F. Steven Kijek for pointing out the erotic subtext in tango during a discussion of this post in my Celebrity Culture class November 13, 2013].  After watching Byrne read and listening to his version of the “man’s voice,” I felt that McCann calling Manko’s story “naughty” seemed a bit dated in perspective, and somewhat retro with regard to gender roles.  Is it naughty because a woman wrote it, or because she’s writing about longing from a man’s perspective?

gb-narrative4-howtobeaman-20131106-03-by-mistyshoresGabriel Byrne. Picture provided by Misty Shores on Twitter

Again, questions arise  regarding how a possibly subversive perspective becomes muted and contained when a man reads the “naughty” text. As Byrne completed his reading with the climactic revelation that the story was an  elaborate description of a tango dance, he abruptly walked off the stage with the audience reacting enthusiastically and perhaps with relief that the story did not cross over into being truly transgressive.  But could it be transgressive? A woman writing about a dance routine from a man’s perspective  regarding his female partner constructs not only a male gaze, but also a female gaze, which in turn  was presented to the audience with a male voice by Gabriel Byrne, who is, as the featured performer, presented to a largely female audience to be objectified as a stand-in and embodiment of  “naughty” “male voice.”

What we attempt to encode with gender signs becomes a series of performances, expectations with the inevitable repetition that fails to meet the ideal. Was the narrator a man’s voice, or was it a woman idealizing a man’s voice?  Traditionally, we are instructed to not mix the author with the narrator, but since we were offered the small cue  that the author was writing in a man’s voice, I wonder if that means the narrator is a man’s voice, or the author is writing “like a man.”  Whenever I hear someone claiming a voice to be understood as one gender, I tend to read against the grain, and I listen and gaze against the grain because  the imposed exclusion tends to invite subversion of that reading or assumption.  As an audience member I “forgot” the author/narrator taboo and discovered a much more subversive and perhaps more useful way of understanding what Byrne was doing with this seemingly tame story on stage.

The erasure/negation of a woman’s voice here as a way of doubling or amplifying a so-called man’s voice also amplifies the false notion of the imposition of a man’s voice as a singularity, as if there is only one way of performing within a heteronormative framework.  With the woman’s voice unleashed, then we hear a multiplicity of voices, or heteroglossia, where an unfolding reveals yet another mask:  that mask (or “performative,” as  exhaustively teased out by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble) is of “the man’s voice” in exaggeration:  “the drag king.”  In other words, this ideal of the man always leading, always “on top” or “the top” is itself  an impossible ideal that is at best  a  repetition that is imperfect and, at its most earnest, farcical. If  the author is in drag, textually, then Byrne speaks in parodic doubling form as faux king, his swift departure off stage after delivering the lines “but with the tango, you just never know” abruptly shifting out of one male persona and into another.  Perhaps the question of “how to be a man” is not an answerable one,  no more answerable than  the question of “how to be a woman.”  As seen in this reading, there is no singularity or permanence of gender.  In short, Byrne “embodied” this process with the professional flair I’ve come to expect from his stage presence.

gb-narrative4-howtobeaman-20131106-04-by-mistyshoresGabriel Byrne with attendee Misty Shores, who provided the picture on Twitter

My overall critique of Byrne?   He needs to read his own work, and in fact, given McCann’s endorsement of his fiction and nonfiction, the absence of his creative work is now much more apparent.  Byrne would have been even more authentic in voice and in emotion had he shared something that had not been included in the anthology.  He spoke of being moved as a writer by certain traumatic events during his childhood; why didn’t he share more of his work drawn from those emotions?  His slight stammer as he introduced his untitled short story came across as an emotional cue, as if he were inviting the audience to become engaged in an intimate process of sharing something that came from within himself.  I suspect him to be aware and perhaps concerned that the celebrity persona used to create access to that audience may change or even fade as he becomes more engaged as a writer.  On the other hand, Byrne demonstrates much less concern about his image in his public stances on social justice.  Perhaps a similar stance would help him become much more provocative as a writer. His work would benefit from an infusion of that anger and passion that inspires him to continue speaking out against sexual exploitation and sexual repression in the Roman Catholic Church.

Perhaps Byrne would benefit from sharing his work with audiences unfamiliar with his movie presence or work on behalf of the Irish Diaspora.  That word “diversity” comes to mind.  As part of my Celebrity Culture course this semester, my students read Byrne’s memoir and were mostly impressed by what they saw as an independent voice committed to art.  Considering the fact that I teach young adults who are mostly people of color unfamiliar with Byrne and more familiar with Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Beyonce, and Miley Cyrus, that’s impressive.  Possibilities for Byrne reaching new readers beyond his movie star fan base exist, but he must push past the comfort of familiar faces and settings.  A Twitter account and a blog would help.  Reading women and men writers of color would also help, especially with regard to embracing “radical empathy” and “diversity.”

Most of all, Byrne needs to write and publish.

 

Cherie-Ann-Turpin

Cherie Ann Turpin is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of the District of Columbia. Dr. Turpin’s research areas include African Diaspora Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, World Literature, Multicultural American Literature, Popular Culture, and Film Studies. Her publications include the book How Three Black Women Writers Combined Spiritual and Sensual Love: Rhetorically Transcending the Boundaries of Language (Mellen 2010), as well as articles in Feminist Teacher, Bodily Inscriptions: Interdisciplinary Excursions into Embodiment, and Diaspora: Journal of the Annual Afro-Hispanic Literature and Culture Conference. Her recent poetry appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of Reverie: Midwest African American Literature. Her creative nonfiction essays and poetry appeared in three issues of Corset Magazine in 2011-2012.  Her upcoming article “Hard Men of the Street: Black Masculinity and the City in Kenji Jasper’s Dark and Seeking Salamanca Mitchell” will appear in the anthology Street Lit: Popularity, Controversy and Analysis (Scarecrow Press).  Her article on Afrofuturism and Black Studies will appear in an upcoming anthology on Black Literary Traditions in 2014.  She will present her essay “Reimagining Gabriel Byrne: Heteronormativity, Irish Diaspora, and Celebrity Culture” at the 2014 PCA/ACA (Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association) Annual National Conference in Chicago, April, 2014.  As a member of Irish American Writers and Artists, she will be appearing at The Cell in New York to present her latest fiction and poetry November 19.  Her next book will be on the topics of Afrofuturism and pop culture. She also has an ongoing radio show on Blogtalkradio.com:  At the Edge: An Afrofuturist Salon.  She is also on Twitter: @drturpin.

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25 Comments

  1. Pingback: “Manly Voice: Gabriel Byrne at Symphony Space” by Cherie Ann Turpin | afro-futurism scholar

  2. There are definitely many points that are worth considering in this review!

  3. Thank you, Tess! I appreciate your feedback!

  4. I have read this review several times because it gives me so many thoughts and I can learn so much from this text. But I think it is difficult to say something about it.
    To me it is very wise words that Turpin asked for more diversity among the males that were on this event, and that she hopes Gabriel will write more and share more with us.

    I am very grateful to Turpin who gave me many things to think about!

    • Thank you, Nora. I came away from the program with a determination to discuss Byrne and NarrativeFour’s efforts as good starting points, efforts that need helpful feedback for future endeavors. If we can come away from such an event with ideas for those teachable moments, then we are inspired to continue to do the Good Work. Sharing ourselves and seeing ourselves as one big collective committed to mutual joy and social justice continues to help all of us!

  5. Pingback: “Manly Voice: Gabriel Byrne at Symphony Space” by Cherie Ann Turpin | Irish American Writers & Artists

  6. Insightful Review. And we most eagerly await more of Mr. Byrne’s published writing. Agree that he has a lot to say – Bullet and other interviews are ample evidence of this. “Byrne would have been even more authentic in voice and in emotion had he shared something that had not been included in the anthology.” Why would Mr. Byrne read work that was not in The Book of Men? To detract from this would have seemed disingenuous. I think rather that Byrne was being authentic to the raison d’etre of the event. All in all, I appreciated your review, Dr. Turpin.

    • Hi Angelle,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree as to whether Gabriel Byrne should have presented a bit more than his contribution. I believe it would have helped to smooth out some of the issues I discussed in my essay. In any case, thanks for the compliment, and look for my review of “Just a Sigh” very soon!

  7. Dr. Turpin, this is such a provocative essay!

    You provoke us to think about “diversity” and “empathy.” You ask us to consider what it means for a celebrity to be aware of his own celebrity while he is, at the same time, trying to tell a story in the voice of someone else. You question the methods of a group that is barely organized and off-the-ground which, were you not both astute and correct in your critiques, would seem unfair. You raise so many questions and shed light on so many issues facing Narrative 4 and also
    Gabriel Byrne, as an actor, a celebrity, and a writer with some potential, as you note–you cover the waterfront!

    So, I will focus on only one aspect of your essay and I will respond honestly, from my own point of view.

    You assert: “Most of all, Byrne needs to write and publish.”

    Yes.

    What might this writing and publishing look like? I am comfortable with the writing of Gabriel Byrne from the past: his reminiscences, his evocative stories of an Ireland passed long ago into the mists, his fractured tales of movie sets and eccentric directors, and even his more brittle memoir of youthful suffering at the hands of religious tormenters. I fall under the spell of his language and his lyrical voice. He is a wonderful writer and I enjoy reading his evocations of the past, even those that are painful.

    But the future writing of Gabriel Byrne might take a different turn. As you note, there is an anger in Mr. Byrne. I would say there is also a subdued philosophical rage that age has only polished and brightened. It is there, right below the surface. And with it is an un-mellowed sadness for time past, boundaries crossed, people destroyed, brilliance extinguished.

    I ask: Can one inhabit the worlds of acting, celebrity, and writing all at the same time? It seems a daunting challenge to me.

    But Mr. Byrne has a message. Yes, he does. I have been aware of it since his time as Cultural Ambassador for Ireland and even before, in the documentary about him, “Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home.” It is a message everyone needs to hear. And he’s been sharing bits and pieces of his message with us in interviews and book reviews and, I would argue, in his films.

    I personally hope he will find the courage, the energy, and the will to share what he really needs and wants to say, in whatever “world” he chooses.

    And I hope he chooses the world of writing, for it is in that world that he can be his own true voice.

    Thank you again, Dr. Turpin, for sharing your thoughts with us. Much appreciated!

    Stella

  8. Ka-Pow! What a heavy response, sista-girl! Give me a moment to sip on my sangria so I can reread this and respond in kind and detail. Folks, you all should jump in and respond as well. Deep as the deep blue sea response, Stella-you go girl!

  9. You know, it hurts to say what I did. I love Gabriel Byrne, the actor.

    He brings nuances and textures to his roles that were not in the script because he makes the part his own and he brings “himself” to the film.

    What do I mean by that? I don’t really know. But he does. I’ve seen it time after time.

    I realize that to suggest that somehow he must turn from acting in order to write seems a Draconian measure, but perhaps it is true. I don’t know that, either.

    What I want for him as an artist is to be true to himself, wherever that takes him.

    Sangria, Dr. Turpin? Too cold a drink for up here in the Texas mountains which are, by the way, covered in SNOW at the moment. I am drinking hot mulled TEQUILA.

    PS. I should add: My friends all observe that I am a “black and white” thinker–I tend to put things in stark perspective. So you should know that. ;-)

  10. Hi Stella, I think my detailed response should come in several response pieces. Here’s one piece: Diversity and Empathy: each word carries its own baggage in American culture, especially in a city like New York with its complicated racial/sexual orientation history and politics. Artists and writers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to build bridges across cultures and communities, and part of that process includes sharing the stage with those whose voices have not been heard. Another way of looking at this issue is to consider these questions: how does one examine diversity of manhood in a culture that tends to idealize heterosexual, white, cis, christian, land-owning men? Within such an ideological framework, what exactly are we asking the audience to do when we say “diversity” and “empathy?” How do we (the audience, the writers, the artists) disrupt the social order and truly diversify, include, and empathize?

  11. And yes, Stella, you are speaking your truth to power, and that’s part of the process. Writing is painful at times, but one is compelled to write through the pain. At the risk of over-quoting, I share these favorites:

    “Language is a struggle.” – bell hooks

    “I think what we have in this country is a little more dangerous in a way because it can’t be seen fully. It’s sorta internal censorship. We censor each other.” — Kathy Acker

    “Your silence will not protect you.” — Audre Lorde

    I have more to share on your two responses later on today.

    Peace,

    Cherie Ann

  12. Celebrity: clearly not a new concept in Western civilization, but one that overlaps with many of our cherished social institutions, and tends to do two things: keeps us spending money as consumers, and keeps us pacified and distracted from the ugliness of our socioeconomic disenfranchisement.

    When you are a celebrity, your name becomes a brand, and suddenly your mere presence in a coffee shop or boutique becomes an endorsement. That’s why you see people like Paris Hilton and Snooki doing paid appearances at clubs, why you see rappers like Jay-Z stamping their name on overpriced goods, and why you see weight management companies sponsoring weight loss programs for overweight celebrities. In other words, celebrity culture is selling something. Being a celebrity does not make you an artist or even talented.

    So what happens to that talented artist or writer who happens to be a celebrity?

    Being an artist or writer who happens to be a celebrity can complicate the best intentions in his or her efforts to connect with the audience beyond the constraints of celebrity image. Sometimes, the audience isn’t really paying attention to the work being done on that stage–they are distracted by the fantasy of their icon playing in their heads, using the live appearance of their object of worship to confirm that the fantasy must be real, that he or she will sweep them off their feet and take them away from their boring lives.

    So much for celebrity culture.

    I do not envy anyone living in that fishbowl, least of all that artist or writer seeking to push at the edges to present some ideas, images, concepts that disrupt social order or at least make some of us uncomfortable.

    But even “celebrity” can be turned on its head, subverted, turned upside down for the sake of art–and for social justice. It’s up to the audience to see it, to be something other than a passive consumer of mental junk food. One must begin to challenge and question what one is being asked to consume. For those of us who work in humanities’ fields of academia, it’s difficult to “turn off” that way of looking at media and art, but I am a believer in empowering those who are not professional intellectuals to become a much more discerning audience that questions and interrogates, i.e., becoming resisting readers. I’m hoping readers of this response thread can discern between appreciating Gabriel Byrne’s work as an artist and writer and consuming his celebrity image as some sort of deity incapable of imperfection or flaws.

  13. And just to clarify, I don’t necessarily believe Gabriel Byrne has to either be a writer or an actor. One can do both. I’ve actually heard some people say the same thing about academics, as if one cannot do research and publish critical essays and books while writing and publishing poetry and novels. It’s not easy, but I don’t get the sense that Byrne is confused by chewing gum while peddling a bike. I suppose one would have ask him why he hasn’t published much over the last few years. Ralph Ellison published Invisible Man, along with some smaller works, while sitting on Juneteenth for the remainder of his life. Toni Morrison waited till midlife to publish her masterpieces.

    My critique was not to discourage or admonish, but to encourage. Byrne appears to be a man with stories that need to be told. If not now, then when? Only he can answer that question, but let’s hope the answer is soon.

    • Dr. Turpin, you have given us even more to think about! That’s so good.

      Being tired after a long day, I will reiterate. You can expect more from me later but for now…

      I said this:

      “And I hope he chooses the world of writing, for it is in that world that he can be his own true voice.”

      Film-making is an intensely collaborative process. And a technical one, too. The script has been written by someone else. The director leads everyone in a particular direction. And then the camera breaks and all is put on hold.

      Even when the collaboration is going well, where does the actor fit in? Mr. Byrne has chosen to work with some remarkable directors over the years and we hear stories of his collaborations, but that is what they are–collaborations. He is telling the story of someone else and he is playing someone else in order to tell that story. The “someone else” may have a great deal of his own–what? Personality? Psyche? Understanding? Life experience?–but it is still not his story, even if he identifies with it and values it.

      Writing is very different, of course. Gabriel Byrne has his own story to tell. Writing is an avenue now open to him. Can he do both? Acting and writing? I don’t know. But writing requires a true commitment–of time, of energy, of heart and soul. And a willingness to endure pain, as you, Dr. Turpin, have noted.

      I think in writing Mr. Byrne can be himself, tell the story he needs and wants to tell, and make his true voice be heard in a way that film and other pursuits just cannot provide.

      I don’t mean to suggest that he cannot chew gum and ride a bicycle. I am sure he can. But the art of film and the art of writing are such different worlds. They require different talents and skills and they demand different sacrifices.

      So, if he can chew gum, ride a bicycle, AND juggle flaming swords all at the same time, then I say: Go ahead!

      PS. This is a hypothetical discussion, folks. Mr. Byrne will do as he pleases. We are just talking about what he might do and why. And, along the way, we are also talking about celebrity, culture, writing, and acting. That’s pretty cool, no? Join in! Dr. Turpin won’t bite you and neither will I. Gabriel Byrne might, but only if he is playing Victor in Vampire Academy…
      ;-)

  14. I think that how we treat celebrities in our society and in our minds are very interesting questions to think about. Celebrities are very different and that are we as individuals too. Some celebrities as murderes and some are heroes. They have special qualities, bad or good or both.
    I am glad that Turpin write about it here. Because as a Byrneholic I am certainly interested in a celebrity: Gabriel Byrne.

    Why?
    Do I see him as a handsome hero and do I like to think about him as in a romantic movie or in a dream? Yes, I do.

    Do I see him as a normal human being that have both good and bad things in his personality. Yes, I try to.

    So I try to combine the two things inside my mind.
    Sometimes I let the unrealistic dream take me away and make me smile and feel good. And other times I smile at myself and remind myself of the real world.

    Thank you Turpin, for writing about this topic here!

    • Hi Nora,

      Thanks for taking the time to discuss some of the points of my review.

      Anyone can be a celebrity, but not all of us can be artists. That being said, I don’t see celebrities as being different from the rest of us, and in fact, are often star struck by other celebrities they see as their rivals or “betters.” To me, celebrity culture is about marketing, selling products, brand names, and/or a political belief. Politicians have had a long history of using the faces and names of famous people to gain inroads on possible voters, or sometimes to promote a particular stance on a controversial issue. As we are right around the corner from the 2014 Congressional and 2016 Presidential elections, I expect to see the usual celebrity donors opening their doors to other VIPs and lobbyists to raise the billions of dollars needed to fund these campaigns.

      Of course, you’re probably like “what does any of this have to do with Gabriel Byrne?”

      Indeed, why talk about “marketing” and selling stuff in the same sentence?

      When it comes to celebrity, the name “Gabriel Byrne” as a brand is not the same as a person who happens to carry that name. As such, his personality, quirks, attributes, needs, flaws as a human being are not discernible to the public. The only people with access to Gabriel Byrne as a flesh and blood person are those who he deems to be relevant to his existence as a “real” human being. Everything else is either image or artistic output.

      As such, my review of his work is not a judgment or reflection on his personal issues, the quality of his character as a sentient being, or his soul/spirit. I focus on the product of an artist who uses the brand name “Gabriel Byrne.”

      Stripped down to these basics, I guess you could say that I look at “Gabriel Byrne” with academic eyes, and as a result, tend to see something different from the romanticized image of him or the characters he plays in film, TV, and on stage. While you may see him as emblematic of the strong, virile hero who comforts and dominates you, I see him as “embodying” an image based on heteronormative ideals of masculinity that continue to prevail in our collective Western cultures as a hot selling point—the leading man who has all the answers and whose voice overpowers/overwhelms the masses. It works for you because you (and I, and everyone else reading this response, including Gabriel Byrne) have been socialized to believe in those who represent this archetype. Otherwise, patriarchy would have faded into the wind long ago.

      I believe that men are just as caught up and trapped by this myth as are women: can you imagine what it must be like to live up to this impossible ideal? We already know what it’s like to live under the oppressive ideals of woman as submissive sex object, as well as woman as “angel of the house,” aka “cult of true womanhood” aka “Cult of Mary.” Maybe it’s time to unravel the male hero/perfect celebrity/leading man archetypes as an audience, instead of leaving it to us academics to do it in books and articles the masses won’t read.

      Check out bell hooks’ essay “The Oppositional Gaze” to get a better understanding of where I’m going with this discussion: http://www.umass.edu/afroam/downloads/reading14.pdf

      I would like to also note that many of the films (and the TV show In Treatment) Byrne has completed within the last 10-12 years begs an audience that is active in its reception of the work on screen, as opposed to an audience that simply imposes a romanticized notion of Byrne. That includes Just a Sigh.

      I guess that means it’s time to finish writing my review of the film.

      I guarantee my take on it won’t please the romantics in the room.

      Keep doing you, Nora—you inspired me to type much more than I expected tonight.

  15. I have been following the discussion with great interest.

    Hi Stella,

    I agree with your comment about the subdued anger and the unmellowed sadness of Gabriel Byrne.

    Hi Dr Turpin,

    I do agree that Gabriel Byrne can be an actor and a writer.

    As a writer, he would certainly find his voice whether it’s in a memoir or through the characters in fictional writing.

    Hi Stella,

    Writing does require true commitment of time, energy, and of heart and soul, which I am aware that it can be quite challenging!

    • Tess:

      Writing is a challenge, but look at it as an exercise routine or a habit that you must maintain to keep it close to your heart as a source of expression. Let it become addictive, like a cigarette habit so deep you hide out or travel just to smoke.

      Write on napkins, church programs (I did that while writing my MA thesis back in 95), notebooks, or anywhere the words can fit. Writing like that becomes your high, your ecstasy–even pain feels good once the words leave your hands and transfer to the paper or screen.

      Write for yourself, and tune-out the audience so that you are not inhibited by their reception of your work.

      I have no idea as to whether he’s committed to the passion of being a writer in such a vein, but I do know the pain and frustration of seeing blank pages with no words.

      One can only speculate as to his process.

      I gave my critique. Now we watch to see what happens next.

  16. Turpin wrote that she is looking at Gabriel with academic eyes. I appreciate that very much, because my eyes are not very academic and when it concerns Gabriel my sense often gets carried away with engagement and emotions.

    Turpin wrote:
    Maybe it’s time to unravel the male hero/perfect celebrity/leading man archetypes as an audience, instead of leaving it to us academics to do it in books and articles the masses won’t read.

    Then I have to admit that I like the old archetypes a little. Maybe I am old fashioned? People often divide the world and people who live in it in boxes, and things will be black and white, or square or round. But maybe it is easier to understand the world with boxes? For what do we have without boxes? Many questions and no answers?

    I think we need the academic people to help us put things in perspective, and to teach us to question things.

    So I like the archetypes and the boxes, it feels comfortable to me, but on the other side it is challenging with questions and new ways of thinking too.

    So thanks again to Turpin for making me think about things like celebrities and archetypes.

  17. Hi Nora,

    Thanks for writing back. If you haven’t listened to Gabriel Byrne’s interview with his friend Michael Desbarres, I think you should. And then, rethink the whole concept of celebrity and fan culture, and remember what I said earlier about marketing and branding. Then ask yourself what exactly are you are consuming.

    Nothing he said was particularly surprising. Then again, we are living in a post-Kanye West/Lindsay Lohan/Charlie Sheen world, culturally where we are sometimes bombarded with what some would describe as surreal responses to our collective existence in the virtual world.

    No one knows why he trivialized his own audience and allowed Des Barres to describe his female fans as “…slipping you numbers, slipping you underwear, and slipping…”. No one likes losing their privacy to fame, and he’s no exception to that–and here’s the real deal–his fans are not his friends or family. The only people who “know” Gabriel Byrne the human being are those he chooses as his “friends” and his family. While some celebrities, like Mo’nique (who clearly stated recently in a radio interview (Hot 97 in NYC) that respects her audience and feels a spiritual connection to them), work very hard to connect with those who appreciate their art, others see the audience as at best passive consumers of the products they produce and at worst, as irritants. One really cannot take that stance personally. It’s the nature of the business of entertainment. On the other hand, it begs the question as to why one should possess an emotional investment in strangers on stage.

    That’s the problem with holding onto boxes and archetypes like the hero on the white horse–they don’t exist in the real world.

    There are no heroes, at least not the ones popular media would like us to believe in existing, and as women in the 21st century, it is important that we the audience question and challenge what we are being asked to consume at the expense of our ability to be seen and heard as equals to men. To put it bluntly, we must challenge the ways in which the dominant ideological framework that produces these boxes (that you see as comforting) socialize women into worshiping male celebrities who do not respect them.

    For some, it is difficult to let go of the fantastic and look at the reality because it means seeing the ugly, seeing the brutal, seeing the harsh ground of the real. I am very certain that many of your fellow fans listened to that interview and felt reaffirmed in what they believe to be a validation of their fandom. On the other hand, it confirmed for me the importance of not becoming a “fan” so to speak, when looking at an artist who lives in the public eye. It also confirmed why it was important to post something that challenges fan culture and the worship of celebrities in the midst of a fansite.

    Some of you reading this post will find my words uncomfortable or perhaps offensive, but you do need to question yourselves as to why you worship celebrities, why you consume their products, and most of all why you tolerate trivialization of the part you play as an audience member.

    Do read the bell hooks essay, and do consider the possibility of empowering yourself with an “oppositional gaze,” one that may indeed lead you to rethink how you invest in those “boxes,” including that box named “fan.” Fan, or fanatic, means you don’t see the cracks in the public facade, means you don’t see when someone you’ve worshiped has decided to spit in your drink while smiling at you, means you haven’t noticed that the archetypes you depend upon as sources of comfort oppress you.

    As an intellectual, I encourage you to enjoy his movies and his live performances, but I also encourage you to make a radical move from “fan worship” to “oppositional gaze,” one that made me a much more discerning audience member back on November 6.

    Be appreciative of Byrne’s honesty and use it as an opportunity to reassess popular culture as a whole. Think of it as a call for liberation from the bondage of fandom. An informed and empowered consumer is less likely to become entangled in the limits of fan culture, and as such, appreciate the art while challenging the limits of elitist and sexist attitudes encouraged by the dominant ideological paradigm that uses celebrity culture to blind you to your own oppression.

    Thank you, Nora, for responding. I hope you will read this response as one sister to another using this forum to encourage you to open your eyes to the real.

    • And just on another note, sisters, you need to ask yourself what you could be doing with that creative energy if you were to apply that critical eye Byrne mentioned in his interview to his work and drop the fan energy once and for all.

      You might find yourself looking at the ways in which that the Desbarres interview draws from some very retro and sexist tropes about female sexuality, female desire, tropes that tend to shame women for being subjects of desire as opposed to being objects of desire. You might find yourself questioning those fantasies that bring you back to this page, and yes, perhaps rethink the whole notion of feeding the celebrity machine.

      Critical thinkers need to interrogate Byrne on his blind spot when it comes to his personal gender politics–it is not revolutionary to on the one hand claim to want to see women as priests and critique the RCC on their misogyny while relying on misogyny to put women in their place with regard to sexual politics and celebrity. One should ask him: why is it that it’s okay to objectify women and purport to speak for women, while at the same time demonizing women who are subjects of desire?

      Sisters, do this man a favor and stop being his fan. Watch his movies, but stop collecting his stuff. Refuse to consume, and refuse to be put in your place. Be a critical audience, and talk back. Be uppity.

  18. Pingback: A response to a reader’s response to “Manly Voice” – and a call to | afro-futurism scholar

  19. Hi Turpin.

    Thank you for using so much time on commenting on my thoughts. I know you write it to help me get a wider perspective on WHY I am a fan of a celebrity and an handsome actor. In fact I have asked myself that question, and I think my friends wonder about it too. But it just is the way it is.
    I have listened to Desbarre’s interview with Gabriel, but only once, and I need more time to listen to it, that I don’t have just for the moment. Yes, Turpin, I found that you wrote things that is not comfortable for me to read, but I do believe you wrote it to make me see things in perspective. I cannot see myself as a “rabid female fan” but just as a female fan.
    So why have I become this devoted fan who use a lot of time on thinking about Gabriel and all his work on different “stages”? It has something to do with that I admire his intelligence and his attitude to art and life and his ability to make me think about many things that are going on in this world.
    He is very eloquent when he talks about most things. Like religion, politics, literature, Ireland and other things. I feel that his engagement in those things, have made my own eyes more open for the world around me. But that does not mean that I agree in everything he says.
    I work in The Norwegian church so I have a different view on religion than him, but I try to see my own church in perspective and think about what Gabriel says about the Catholic church. (The Norwegian church is Lutheran, not catholic).
    So what I try is to learn from Gabriel and to learn from you when you give me thoughts that maybe is difficult to handle, but that probably can make me see the world with bigger perspective. This is my little words for now. I have to think about all this more.

    Maybe one more thing:
    I got interested in Gabriel because he is an extremely talented man and a very handsome actor. But I continued to be interested in him because he opened my eyes to many interesting things like literature, politics and Irish and American history and society. (I am a Norwegian woman.) I would not have been a devoted fan of him if he only was a handsome actor, and only that. Then he would only be one of many guys. But to me he is special. So I just have to stay being a fan, I guess.

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