Would it be a week in the news cycle without a celebrity getting called out for saying something out-of-touch? The latest celebrity to face backlash is Jennifer Aniston, who came under fire this week for recent “out-of-touch comments about Hollywood” and for being a nepotism baby. Before you go burning your Friends DVDs, here’s what happened.
Earlier this week, Jennifer Aniston and Sebastian Stan appeared in Variety’s Actor on Actor series, in which they had a chat about a variety of topics, including Friends, Pam & Tommy, and how they got their starts in Hollywood. At one point, they both discussed how the acting landscape has changed with the rise of social media. “I feel so lucky that we got a taste of the industry before it became what it is today, which is just different,” Aniston said. “More streaming services, more people — you’re famous from TikTok, you’re famous from Youtube, you’re famous from Instagram… it’s almost like you’re diluting the actor’s job.”
People on Twitter were quick to point out that both of Aniston’s parents were famous actors. They accused her of being a nepotism baby and trying to gatekeep fame. Not everyone agreed; some Twitter users argued the Friends actress was simply pointing out how the industry has changed. But the focus on whether Aniston is being hypocritical overlooks some other problematic implications made.
These youngsters with famous parents are doing big things in music. https://t.co/XqV5T07Hmg
— SheKnows (@SheKnows) May 12, 2021
Immediately preceding this conversation about who gets to be famous, Stan discussed how he himself was unaware of many of the details surrounding Lee and Anderson’s sex tape (mainly, that it was stolen from the couple and that they tried to prevent its release) until he was playing Lee for the limited series. He remarks how many people didn’t know this either: “That’s what was surprising about doing the show — how many people really didn’t know that the tape was stolen, or they had nothing to do with it,” he says.
In the written transcript of the interview, which is up on Variety, Aniston is quoted saying, “And it was right at the time when the internet really shaped a new culture about people becoming famous. This thing of people becoming famous for basically doing nothing. I mean — Paris Hilton, Monica Lewinsky, all those.” Stan then makes a (not totally correct) comment about how this time period was also the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle.
(The video of the interview posted to YouTube plays out a bit differently: Aniston appears to remark, “the internet was just becoming and it really sort of shaped so much of a new culture, kind of about this thing of people being famous for basically doing nothing, but yet having these incredible careers. And then women’s sort of reputation — I mean Pam, Paris Hilton…” She trails off. Stan cuts in with, “we’ve been in that kind of invasive privacy since and it’s only gotten more and more.” The written interview quoted above contains no mention of Stan’s privacy comments.)
— SheKnows (@SheKnows) August 13, 2021
Whether this discrepancy in their quotes is due to video editing or a transcription error, the fact remains that lumping in Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson as two women who are “famous for being famous” is problematic for two reasons. One, Pamela Anderson was already a famous actress on Baywatch by the time her sex tape was leaked. Hilton was a member of a well-known family and a socialite, a concept which has existed for hundreds of years. Two, it ignores the role that the nonconsensual release of their sex tapes played in their notoriety — and the fact that they didn’t want it. Hilton and Anderson had no part in the release of their tapes. Anderson’s was stolen from her garage; Hilton’s case could be considered revenge porn if it were to happen today. “It was a private experience between two people… to have your trust betrayed like that and for the whole world to be watching and laughing,” Hilton told Vanity Fair, adding, “It was even more hurtful to me to have these people think that I did this on purpose.”
Lewinsky’s inclusion feels like an especially low blow. While she was a private figure until the news of the affair broke, she wasn’t famous for “being famous.” She was thrust into the public sphere for having entered into an affair with just about the biggest power imbalance imaginable. The so-called “fame” she achieved came at the expense of her privacy and well-being; she was publicly derided, not exactly celebrated, as the word famous connotes. Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair in 2014, that when news of the affair broke, “I was arguably the most humiliated person in the world,” and her mother was afraid she would “literally be humiliated to death.” The fact that she was able to build a career afterwards should be lauded, not dismissed.
To say women like Lewinsky, Hilton, and Anderson — all of whom achieved notoriety because they were publicly violated — are “famous for being famous” almost feels like victim-blaming. None of these women welcomed the attention that their public betrayals brought. None of them sanctioned their humiliation. It’s not Aniston’s fault that our culture writes off these women that way, but as a public figure who herself has been treated poorly by the media over the years, it’s disappointing that she took this dismissive tone. The acting world may have changed in ways she doesn’t recognize, but that’s in no way the same as what happened to Anderson, Lewinsky, and more — and Aniston should never have brought their names into the conversation in this light.