The Rules of the Game

By Petersen, Anne Helen | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

The Rules of the Game


Petersen, Anne Helen, The Virginia Quarterly Review


A Century of Hollywood Publicity

ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2012, THE GOSSIP SITES WERE whispering: Two stars had been married, in secret, over the weekend, and readers were clamoring for details. Where had the marriage taken place? In front of how many people? Who designed the bride's dress? What did the ring look like? What did the grooms ex-fiancée (famous) and ex-wife (even more famous) think of the union? Most importantly, how did the pair manage to evade the public eye?

The wedding was between Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, who's spent the last decade on the cusp of true stardom. He's starred in handfuls of comedy films and tried his hat at action hero in Green Lantern, yet never truly broken through to stardom. Even a broken engagement to Canadian singer Alanis Morissette, a two-year marriage to established star Scarlett Johansson, and a very visible friendship with former co-star Sandra Bullock hasn't elevated him to bonafide stardom. Despite being named People's "Sexiest Man" of 2010, he is, as many gossip readers have termed it, "beige." Boring. Unremarkable. For Reynolds to become a star, he would need two things: a genuine hit (a popular "text") and a compelling personal life ("extra-textual" gossip).

With his new wife, he may have found one of those things. Lively broke into acting with a role in the ensemble teen movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005), establishing herself as an aggressively sexual, albeit precious, bombshell. True fame came with Gossip Girl. The CW series has never enjoyed massive ratings, but from the beginning, the combination of wealth + sex + beautiful bodies + New York's Upper Crust has yielded media attention disproportionate to its ratings. Critics never heralded Lively s acting skill, but she certainly had the body for Hollywood success. Her GG character's fashion forwardness became her own, attracting the endorsement of the notoriously picky fashion maven Karl Lagerfeld.

Lively began dating her GG co-star and onscreen love interest, Penn Badgley - which, as Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart could tell you, is the quickest way to make your romance as high profile as possible. They dated for a few years, weathered thousands of paparazzi shots, and as Gossip Girl began to wind down, Lively began her film career: a mumbling prostitute in Ben Affleck's The Town; a brief, highly documented fling with Leonardo DiCaprio; then off to play Reynolds's love interest in Green Lantern. Last summer she was at the heart of a steamy love triangle - and the center of the marketing campaign - for Oliver Stone's messy Savages (2012). Lively went from Traveling Pants to Chanel seemingly overnight. As they say in the business, "girl can run that game."

But Savages was a dud. Gossip Girl is hobbling into its final season. Dressing fabulously can only provide so much interest.

What, then, are two long-aspiring, almostthere stars to do? Have a secret marriage.

When it comes to publicity moves, a secret marriage is perhaps the most brilliant: You appear as if you're avoiding publicity at the very moment you double interest in the event. You appear humble, private, and exclusive, even as you generously release information. Instead of one magazine cover, you get weeks' worth; instead of one story, you get dozens of them, each divulging a newly discovered detail. One day there's a lovely, blissful photo of the pair embracing post-wedding; the next there's a close-up of the ring.

Beige becomes brilliant.

Reynolds's marriage to the notoriously publicity-reticent Johansson had always been under the radar. With her career and success, Johansson didn't need gossip to fuel her stardom. But now, with Lively and Reynolds both keen to keep their images visible until a new hit can justify their stardom, a secret wedding does the trick.

Of course, Reynolds and Lively did not make these decisions. Lively doesn't "run that game." Her publicist does. Or, more precisely, the phalanx of her publicist, agent, manager, and stylist, working with Reynolds's own publicity "team," do. …

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