what happened to the taupes

I feel like I’ve never not known about Jennifer Aniston. I wrote about her this week, but I wanted to babble on a bit about my background thinking. She feels elemental to the ‘90s and 2000s, the time period when I became a teen an an adult — first through Friends, then through Brad and Jen, through the dissolution of Brad and Jen, and then through the fifteen years of continued Brad and Jen dissolution that I’m sure she experienced and thought about far less than anyone who went to the supermarket on a regular basis did.

Luckily, I gleaned most of my understanding of Aniston from reading Lainey Gossip, the site that first convinced me celebrities are actually interesting. People sometimes assume that I’ve always been obsessed with celebrities, but apart from the usual teen affections, I didn’t become interested in them, or even gossip magazines, until I started reading gossip blogs in the mid-2000s.

Lainey, real name Elaine Lui, started emailing her friends once a day about what she was observing in the celebrity world, and that email eventually grew into a website (where she posed new material just once a day, the 2000s internet was wild!) and then, gradually, a page that was updated several times a day, with multiple additional contributors, a podcast, and a lot more. In short: the celebrity gossip blog, like so many other celebrity gossip outlets, has transformed into something that might more appropriately be called “lifestyle.” (You can read a great profile of Lainey over at The Ringer).

That shift mirrors the shift amongst celebrities in general: from people famous (and rich) for acting, or singing, or being hot, or living fabulous lives, to people who are famous and made rich through explicitly selling their lifestyle.

Unlike many of her peers, including Morning Show co-star Reese Witherspoon, Aniston has resisted the explicit exploitation of her lifestyle. Like Angelina Jolie, whose name is so often, and often unfairly, mentioned in the same breath as Aniston, she’s just…..doing something entirely different with her stardom. I wanted to write “on another level,” which is true, but it’s more like she’s existing in a different paradigm. Until recently: No social media. No television. Old school marketing deals (Smartwater!) and old fashioned movies. No spon-con. Lots of magazine covers with lots of publicity protection.

Over the last few years, that began to change. Part of that has to do with the overall decline of mid-level films, or at least the migration of that market to television (Reese figured it out first). Part of it had to do with her reticence to do green-screen super hero action films (Gwyneth’s route). She’s not Meryl Streep, she’s not Charlize Theron, which is to say: she’s not a capital-a Actress. To be clear: that’s not a denigration. She’s the rarest of rare things: an honest to god movie star.

Some people point to the fact that her stardom originated on television, and thus will be forever tethered to it. There’s problems with that argument — George Clooney’s stardom also originated on television, after all, but Clooney’s image did not become fixed with Dr. Ross in quite the way Aniston’s did with Rachel. (And Gen-Zers and Millennials aren’t reconsuming early ER episodes on Netflix, and repinning him to that role, in the way they do with Aniston and Friends).

But Aniston’s Rachel image doesn’t make her less of a movie star — it just makes her a certain type of movie star. As countless profiles and headlines and gossip bits declared, she’s long been the sunny, cheery, girl next door. She was the ordinary, not the extraordinary. She was the girl who got dumped for the hot, extraordinary man-eating cosmopolitan blood-drinking vixen. She was the point of identification. She knew what made her look amazing, and she wore it. She knew what haircut looked good on her, and she kept it.

Again, I came to understand this through Lainey Gossip, whose primary understanding of Aniston, at least in the mid-2000s, was a variation on taupe. Taupe was the word she habitually used to describe Jennifer Garner, in an attempt to evoke the utter safeness of her. Never an adventurous fashion choice, or interview word choice. Nothing surprising, nothing scintillating. Just the very amiable girl down the suburban street. Beloved by what Lainey called “the minivan majority,” to whose tastes and moral righteousness the gossip outlets attempted to cater. Today, we’d call them Basic.

There were a lot of Taupes, and Aspiring Taupes, during the 2000s. For a bit, even Jennifer Lopez was aspiring Taupe (I think of this as her Wedding Planner phase).

But something happened to the Taupes in the 2010s. They grew older. They broke up with their (often publicly shitty) husbands. They got weirder. They became more….themselves, instead of some reflection of a non-existent ideal. Jennifer Lopez is with her perfect match and in a stripper movie. Jennifer Garner has somehow become appealing through by taping herself making dinner. Reese Witherspoon does Tik-Toks. And Jennifer Aniston, single again and fed up with endless, inane bump watch, is angry, on and off-screen.

That’s what I wrote about. How is it, on- and off-screen, amongst our friends and the celebrities that surround us, the less fucks a woman gives about conforming to some ideal, the more authentically interesting they become? I never disliked Jennifer Aniston. There was just no there, there, at least not for me. Now, I could watch her — specifically on the Morning Show, righteously pissed off at everything and everyone — all day.

I’m currently working on a big feature about debt (and a lot of other things), but I’m also putting together a second piece where everyday people talk, with great detail and transparency, about how they got out of debt. (It’s going to be the inverse of the “I stopped getting daily lattes” piece that pisses so many of us off on a daily basis). If you’ve found your way out of student/medical/credit card debt and want to talk to talk about it in a frank way, here’s the survey. (If you know anyone else who has, please consider forwarding it their way). The end product will resemble the one I did on house-buying from last year.

Oh also! I wrote a bit about the new Olive Kitteridge book here.

Things I Read and Loved/Was Compelled By This Week:

[SIDE NOTE: I’ve resisted putting the publication name next to these pieces for a long time because I think people’s biases often lead them to not click on things. But a lot of people complained. I’m still weighing making this a regular feature, but remember: even if you don’t have a subscription, you can always click and Pocket and in almost all cases you’ll still be able to read].

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