Written by Brooklyne Gipson (@Brooklyne)
The higher her star rises, the more polarizing of a figure Beyoncé Knowles becomes. On the one hand, she’s worshipped by her legion of fans as a goddess among mortals here on earth, and on the other she’s lambasted by critics hungry to knock her down a few pegs. Her 90 minute HBO documentary special Life Is But a Dream, which debuted last Saturday night, is the latest point of contention for fans and critics.
Billed as an expose on Knowles' private life, the documentary failed to live up to the tagline: “Raw. Real. Revealed.” Admittedly, what was promised was virtually impossible to deliver, considering the fact that the project was both executive produced and co-directed by Knowles herself. This was Beyoncé as seen by Beyoncé.
Still, amid the generic home video footage, the contrived couch interview, the “Bey-roll” from the superstar's laptop camera, and other fanbase fodder, there are a number of real surprises and thoughtful moments. Life Is But a Dream provides real commentary on today’s celebrity-obsessed culture.
In a moment of lucidity, Knowles talks about how stifling her public persona and success have been to her creatively. She also shares her opinion of the increasingly intrusive media.
“When I first started out there were no Internet people taking pictures of you and putting your personal life or exploiting your personal life as entertainment,” she says. “I think people are so brainwashed. You get up in the morning, you click onto the computer, you see all these pictures and it’s—all you think of is the picture and the image that you see all day, every day, and you don’t see the human form... When Nina Simone put out music you loved her voice. That’s what she wanted you to love, that was her instrument. But you didn’t get brainwashed by her day-to-day life and what her child is wearing and who’s she’s dating and you know all the things that really, it’s not your business, you know? And it shouldn’t influence the way you listen to the voice and the art, but it does.”
Since splitting with her father as management in 2010 (another aspect of her life glossed over in the doc), Knowles has expressed an interest in connecting with her fans on a more personal level. Early last year her new management company Parkwood Entertainment turned to Madison Avenue for pitches on how to revamp her website. Her desire to be more open, or at least to give the illusion of transparency, could be understood as another marketing gimmick, like the development and promotion of the Sasha Fierce alter ego. In recent months we’ve seen the fan group entity “The BeyHive” become more active to that same end.
However, it becomes apparent in between the lines of the documentary that Knowles didn’t put out the clarion call to increase her web presence simply to share every meal on Instagram or to secure TMZ headlines. It seems as though her current goal is to demystify her presence while putting forth a sound argument for why she’s maintained her distance, especially in regards to her private life.
The move is surprising for a woman who’s made her bankroll by establishing a brand of perfection over the years. However—and this becomes clear in the documentary—Knowles isn’t happy with the Cult of Personality constructed around her. Although she doesn’t speak about it in relation to herself, she’s clearly as disturbed by fan infatuation that rivals idolatry as her critics are. She appears to be humbled by her success and peak position.
“How do I keep my humility? How do I continue to be generous to fans? How do I stay current but soulful?” She says these questions plague her constantly, and later in the film, she reveals her thoughts on male privilege, an issue which weighs heavily on her mind.
“It really pisses me off that women don’t get the same opportunities as men do, or money for that matter,” she says. “Because, let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what’s sexy and what’s feminine, and that’s bullshit. At the end of the day it’s not about equal rights it’s about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead and reach as high as humanly possible. that’s what I’m gonna do. That’s my philosophy and that’s what [the song] ‘Girls’ is all about.”
Although it might be difficult to process such explicitly feminist ideas from a woman who lets herself be subject to the male gaze, you have to sympathize with her. For the title of her upcoming world tour, Knowles subs her well-established mononym for her married name, Mrs. Carter, while also appearing in the promotional materials as a monarch in the style of Queen Elizabeth I, evidence that she’s trying to reconcile her onstage diva persona with her real-life roles as wife and mother.
The underlying association between divinity and royalty hasn’t gone unnoticed. In the days after the tour was first announced, a widely circulated photo satirizing the BeyHive featured Queen Bey’s face superimposed over that of Jesus with text reading: “Bitches be like, ‘Thank you Beyoncé for waking me up this morning’.”
Knowles agrees that she has it all, and that everything in her life is just as it should be, but she admits this amidst talk of serious personal tragedy and struggle, including a miscarriage and the rift between her and her father. But instead of placing the crown on her own head, she shifts responsibility to her personal savior, Jesus Christ, whom she credits for any similarities between herself and any goddesses.
So who has the responsibility for her success? She won't crown herself, so who do we crown? The p.r. team? Life Is But a Dream places Knowles squarely on the throne of another stereotypical position: the luckiest woman in the world. But why not the most powerful woman in the world instead?
If nothing else, the documentary gave us a portrait, albeit a somewhat superficial one, of a spiritually open, humble superstar who’s willing to let us look into her life, but not without troubling viewers by asking if we should be allowed to in the first place. It’s unclear how this move will affect her music and image right now, but if the end result is a more tangible Knowles, I’m all for it. If we don’t ever get to find out what Blue Ivy is up to around the clock, I’m okay with that, too.
Written by Brooklyne Gipson (@Brooklyne)
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