For her day job, sex columnist/Gawker punching bag/celebrity commentator Julia Allison goes on cable news shows and assesses the behavior of people like Britney Spears by offering pithy diagnoses along the lines of, “Who needs a boyfriend when you’ve got the paps?” She — or someone — records those segments by pointing a camera at the television, then uploads the recordings to Vimeo, the video-sharing site founded by Jakob Lodwick, who happens to be Allison’s sometime boyfriend. A few weeks ago, Lodwick and Allison broke up and then got back together — both via blog post. Since their reconciliation, Allison has been using the same Vimeo account to display (generally PG-rated) videos of the couple…being a couple.
I pretty much missed the boat on Allison’s rise to Internet infamy, and I was content with that. But then, last week, I saw this:
Allison has clearly created a character for her cable appearances, an intolerably plastic soundbite spouter perfectly suited to the aesthetics of the medium. It doesn’t seem like it’s a person that could actually function in real life, but fascinatingly, the Jake & Julia clips are ultimately about the trouble Julia has letting go of that character. In the clip above, Julia and Jake are fighting. Jake indicates that Julia is able to be much more “eloquent” about her side of the argument when there’s a camera watching. A couple of days later, Jake posts an intimate (and rather beautifully shot) video in which he commends her for beginning to break down her on-camera persona. In that video’s comment threads, Julia notes that she was wearing no make-up in the clip. “Ever since I started doing TV,” Allison admits, “I’ve felt like makeup is my protection against the world.”
But it’s this clip that truly synthesizes Allison’s daily struggle between being a better talking head and being “more real” in her personal life. She tapes herself and Lodwick watching one of her media appearances, which she admits to doing religiously as a form of self-critique. “Are you gonna leave me for the paparazzi when you get famous?” Lodwick whines from behind the camera. “Yes,” Allison affirms. “Basically, I won’t need you anymore.” He tries to distract her with kisses, and she remains fixated on the camera — even as he’s pushed her down on the bed. “I don’t know if this is going to be a good angle here,” she says worriedly, and then convinces her boyfriend to sit up so she can talk about her first experience taping a segment for E!.
By day, Allison slams Britney Spears for seeking satisfaction in the attention of the “paps” rather than in the adoration of another human being. By night, Allison and Lodwick affirm their relationship by putting it through the same process. In Allison’s case, the “paps” are switched out for a hand-held camera; Gawker steps into Allison’s shoes as the talking head, calling the couple out for courting attention. Practicing what she snarks against, Allison seems to prioritize the gaze of the camera to that of her boyfriend. She’s far from clueless about the contradiction: all of that studying has taught her the importance of creating the conditions of celebrity all around her. It’s, like, a Horatio Alger story for our times.
Editor’s note: Karina Longworth is a film critic who writes a weekly column for NewTeeVee. She’s been on hiatus for the last six weeks as she globe-trotted the festival circuit, but we’re thrilled to have her back.