Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Olsen Twins: Sign of the Apocalypse

Anyone struggling to understand this era we are living through must come to grips with the phenomenon of the Olsen Twins. I have known of the Olsen Twins ever since their "debut" on Full House back in the late '80's, when they collectively played the role of the Tanner baby "Michelle." Through the course of the show Michelle grew from a baby into an annoying, plastic troll-like toddler who would repeat the phrases taught to her by neurotic Danny, goofy Uncle Joey, and urban cowboy Uncle Jesse like a trained parrot. Then Full House was canceled and it seemed that the Olsen Twins (their separate identities not yet publicly disclosed) would disappear forever. Strangely, however, like a cancer which survives the death of its host, the Olsen Twins survived, and not only survived but became the sovereigns of a mighty empire of pre-teen product endorsement, fashion, and straight to video releases, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The answer to how this came about is surely one of the great mysteries of our time. First of all, there is no particular reason I can see that "Full House" would have catapulted anyone to lasting fame and fortune. Bob Saget had a good run hosting "America's Funniest Home Videos," Dave Gouliet did a similar show, and John Stamos married Rebecca Romaine and does stuff on Broadway. (As for DJ and Stephanie, I have no idea.) Then what about the role of "Michelle" was so compelling that the Olsen Twins went on to net untold millions? There's no parallel that I can think of. Second of all, ponder the fact that the role of "Michelle" is to this date the Olsen Twins' only "real" role, in either television or movies. You might be tempted to think of them as actresses, but they aren't. They are more like real life dolls. They've never appeared in anything separately, and they always play the same character, which is simply the character they play in real life. The next time you see Mary Kate or Ashley being cast in a role which requires either one to actually act, i.e. to play a part, will be the first time. Thirdly, there is to my knowledge no difference between them, which is why one of them always has to dye her hair a different color. I don't mean physical difference, I mean that they both play the same character, in their productions and in the reality show which is their life. They literally share the exact same identity. In fact their pure interchangeability is part of their appeal. Having been almost literally born on television, they have simply adopted the world as their set. They have no experience of private life. Rather, their entire lives are an infomercial, an endless loop of reality TV highlights. The mind-boggling, billion dollar 10 year contract extension they signed a few years ago was simply an agreement to continue broadcasting their lives through various corporate outlets. Thus the Olsen Twins represent some kind of weird stage of ultra-capitalism which we can only hope is not a prophecy. Their very identity is a brand-name - their lives are "brought to you by" and "sponsored by" the products they endorse. They have literally sold their souls to the highest bidder. The fact that a perverted entity such as the Olsen Twins can come into existence and be supported by this society is an indication of how bizarrely non-human our priorities have become. Their fame and fortune is not in spite of their complete vacuity, but because of it! Their real job (and once you understand it you can see why it is so highly valued by this economy) is to mirror back to Americans a pacified, completely non-threatening image of the corporations which are currently terrorizing the globe. The Olsen Twins are icons of globalization. They are nothing more or less than a fantasy of American imperial ambition, the soft sell that reaches the shores of distant lands just before the bombs begin to fall.

8 comments:

shorthispanic said...

CP: very eye-opening analysis of Olsen Twins. Fact check: they were in a movie playing "twins" i.e., two different people. That is as far as my fact check goes, 'cause I don't remember the name of the film. So they are beginning to metamophasize into two different people - at least in a celebrity/media sense. also, how do you explain their transition to college life and why do you think only ONE of them has an eating disorder? is this a cry for individuality on the part of whomever is anorexic - or the one who is more anorexic than the other?

weazoe said...

You are blindingly right shorthispanic that the Olsen twins recently played themselves as twins in a movie. I didn't say that their identity as twins was a secret, just that there is no difference between them, i.e. Marykate could play Ashley and vice versa. The anorexia thing was a plot line, as is their supposed college life at NYU, which for them is just a set. They don't even have a real degree program, and they live in a plush private villa, not a dorm. Note that their most recent movie was about twins moving to New York to attend college - i.e., their lives are just a setting for a movie, which is just a vehicle for product endorsement.

clarissee said...

CP:
I appreciate the insightful essay you wrote on the Olsen Twins. I would like to clarify the comment you made in response to shorthispanic's opinion that one of the twins might be trying to differentiate by her anorexia-inducing behaviour. You responded that that the anorexia "thing" was a plot line. Are you suggesting that the twin was (is?) not suffering from anorexia? That the "anorexia" was a publicity ploy? Would you consider the possibility that her behaviour might indeed by an attempt to differentiation from her sister, and/or an attempt to exert control over her eating, maybe one of the few things in her life that aren't controlled by others? Thanks again for interesting and thought-provoking articles.

weazoe said...

Actually yes I think that the anorexia thing was a publicity ploy. Note that her "rehab" consisted of one month at a resort, not anything resembling real treatment for this condition. I think that the Olsen Twins' producers thought up the whole story. If the anorexia was a real cry for individuality, then why only that? Why not start somewhere simple, like dressing differently, or appearing in different movies, or hanging out with different friends? There are a thousand ways to tell yourself apart from your twin sister and she hasn't attempted any of them.

clarissee said...

CP: I'm still hesitant to accept this explanation/speculation, because of the severity of the condition. Looking at photographs of the suffering twin at the time, she did look anorexic. Why put her health in danger, when there are so many other sensational publicity ploys? Has she recovered? Maybe she does suffer from the terrible condition? I guess it'll be hard to know.

weazoe said...

You are right escoter that I don't know for a fact that the twin in question wasn't actually suffering from anorexia. (Doesn't it say something that neither of us knows which one it was?) I can only speak from my position in the checkout aisle that I couldn't tell which one was supposedly anorexic - they both looked that way to me. If she really does have this condition, then I'm sorry for making fun of her and calling it a plot device. If she was just faking it, then she deserves whatever I say about her.

amarie said...

How do you fake anorexia? And if you are faking a mental illness without having it, doesn't that indicate you need help anyway? Her "rehab" consisting of one month is not a smoking gun -- it neither means she recovered nor does it mean that she's faking anorexic. All you can say is that she was in rehab for 30 days and then left.

I don't think the Olsen twins "deserve" anything you say about them. You don't know them - you know their media persona and a few minutes scanning a celebrity magazine in the checkout aisle and are using that to judge them. Because I can't tell two people apart is more reflective of my lack of time spent getting to know them than of their character. I was reading your blog expecting a theological perspective. Yet I don't see a very compassionate, humble attitude here towards other people in this article.

Sure, because of Full House, they were able to make preteen movies with bland plots that were somewhat popular. That was lucky for them because they were young enough for the teen movie niche that don't require good acting, whereas their older co-stars had to find other occupations. They then used that popularity to become businesswomen and entered the couture fashion industry (one of them was working with Proenza Schouler). The other, ok, not as successful. But hey, they're sisters, and they stick together. I mean, a few years ago they bought out the original founders of DualStar entertainment and are running the company.

That all being said, I don't see how the Olsen twins are the sign of the apocalypse or representative of the American 21st century zeitgeist. We've always been sold things that we don't need -- look at the financial industry, who wreaked considerably more havoc upon our social structure.

weazoe said...

amarie, you bring a level of sophistication and sensitivity to this blog it probably does not deserve anymore than the olsen twins deserved the ridicule. You're right that they are easy targets. But their era of celebrity gossip was so tawdry and pathetic that it was hard for me at least as a commenter to not feel profoundly disturbed by it. I think that ship has been at least partially righted in the intervening years. Thanks for your comments, you are the first visitor to This Old Blog in some time.