(THROWBACK!) Why Not?

Published on September 14th, 2011

Alex decides to retire his hopes of ever being seen as a cool person and writes about Hilary Duff. Originally run on August 30, 2011.

When I’m meeting somebody for the first time, a singular fear often comes over me. I don’t worry that this person will find out that I see AC Slater’s hybrid jheri curl/mullet hairstyle as a metaphor for Reaganomics, nor do I worry that this person will discover that I once consumed two Double Gulp Slurpees in the span of six hours. Instead, I worry that they will find out I have an odd amount of appreciation for the career of Hilary Duff.

Now, if this topic comes up in conversation these days, I never deny it. I tend to try to skirt away from the topic as soon as possible, but I’m man enough to accept my odd tendencies, if not man enough to avoid appreciating the career of Hilary Erhard Duff. However, I certainly don’t bring this topic into conversation myself… except of course right here. But here we’re on the internet, The Anonymityville Horror. Here, I’m Ryan Reynolds*, and this keyboard is my axe. I guess I’m about to kill the family dog.

*I’m a modernist.

I also look just like this with my shirt off.

Every time Hilary Duff does something TMZ-worthy, such as announcing a pregnancy or when she gets photographed blowing a hockey player, I get a handful of emails from people I rarely talk to anymore saying that the Cankled Wonder made them think of me once again. I enjoy this, although not necessarily because the thing that seems to make people think of me is a gossip magazine headline saying ‘Duff Stuffed!’ What I appreciate more is that there is still something that makes people think, “I should email that periodically bearded gentleman I used to work/go to high school/eat 7-11 hot dogs with.” Hilary Duff may not be relevant in how we typically use that word for actresses, but she’s still relevant to a certain section of people. And that’s something, somehow.

My history with Hilskie probably started due to nothing more than timing; her Disney-produced launching pad, Lizzie McGuire, played every weekday at 5:30, which followed my 5:00 appointments with the cast of Even Stevens*. And while lead-in shows don’t really affect what shows get ratings out of me anymore, they did when I was fifteen. I didn’t especially love Lizzie McGuire, but I found it entertaining; I still think the cultural memory of it is (slightly) lower than it should be, mostly due to how postmodern it occasionally was**. That being said, if I got hungry halfway through an episode, I wouldn’t hesitate to make some chicken fingers with the unresolved plot hanging in the balance. I could live with not finding out if Lizzie got a ride to the mall, or if Gordo would actually go to the dance as a member of the Rat Pack, or if Miranda would ever shut up. But then, chance conspired with the one thing I did to pass the time.

*A show that everybody still remembers fondly because of Shia LaBeouf, despite the fact that I’m one of only six North Americans who still likes him. (And my apologies if you’re a big Christy Carlson Romano fan.)

**See also: Boy Meets World.

 

 

 

 

Throughout high school, my friends and I never did any extra curricular activities*. We essentially realized that our after school time would be far more special if we spent as much time as possible at the local second-run movie theatre instead of sticking around school for an extra hour. And as classes would slow down in June**, we would end up at the movies even more often than usual. Since this was a second-run theatre, mid-June was the time where all the shitty movies of the then-movie-dead-zone of April and early May were playing. This lead to me seeing some mediocre or shitty movies too many times, like Identity three times, or 13 Going on 30 once***.

*Although I once wrote an unfortunately positive review of The Legend of Bagger Vance for the school newspaper in Grade 9.

**This makes it seem like I spent a lot of time doing homework, which would be untrue. I mostly just did that in other classes so I could watch more movies after school. Sorry for shattering the illusion, Mrs. Jaremko.

*** 2004 was the best year for the June phenomenon, in that Mean Girls was released in late April, hitting our theatre just as school got out. June 2004 involved a lot of Kevin Gnapoor quotes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the first weekend of May 2003, The Lizzie McGuire Movie opened opposite X2: X-Men United, and drew almost $20 million of counterprogramming box office money. When Lizzie McGuire got to our theatre in early June, we ended up seeing it. And then since X2 was a superhero movie-sized hit* – meaning it didn’t get to us until much later – we had nothing else to see. So we saw Lizzie McGuire again. And I realized I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Duff may not be particularly talented, but the movie is sporadically funny, Alex Borstein is typically a good time, and Ethan Craft explaining the difference between the Sting and the Approach is just objectively funny. I recognize it is a kids movie, and I treat it as such, but it is a decent, occasionally charming kids movie**.

*$83 million opening weekend.
**And I’m on record as being a fan of shitty kids movies:
I still defend the Vin Diesel vehicle The Pacifier, despite it being awful.

After The Lizzie McGuire Movie was an unexpected hit of sorts, Hilary Duff went from being a Disney star to a legitimate Hollywood property. Her album went triple-platinum upon its release in August, and her supporting role in Cheaper by the Dozen couldn’t have hurt that film’s box office returns. A Cinderella Story and Raise Your Voice followed the next year, and then another album. But by the time The Perfect Man hit theatres in summer 2005, Duff’s star was fading pretty fast. It turned out she wasn’t actually much more than a Disney star; should Miley Cyrus’ career end up not getting any better than where it is now, we’re currently in her A Cinderella Story period. Now, when we hear about Hilary Duff, it is in mere blips. Her baby bump doesn’t trend for a day like Beyonce’s does, but it still shows up for enough time for you to be conscious of its existence, say ‘Hmm,’ and then continue on with your life. Duff’s life is still kind of in the public eye, but the highlights of her career came in fare that is seen as just as disposable as the information about her that flashes by us on our Twitter feeds, so she has been (and probably always was) dismissed as a media figure.

When we see things like a Kardashian getting married, or read updates on what Lindsay Lohan’s vagina looks like today, the main question the uninterested ask is, ‘Who cares?’ which always just sort of means, ‘I don’t care and if you do I’m about to give you the stink eye.’ Even as an NBA fan, I don’t care who is married to Kris Humphries, and until Kim Kardashian costars with Jaden Smith in some talking car movie, that won’t change*. And despite generally hoping she enjoys her life as she continues the transition into hockey wife, I don’t care at all about what Hilary Duff names her forthcoming child. But the publishing of these tidbits of information does mean something more than just, ‘Well, people are bored while they wait to pay for their broccoli, right?’ That kind of philosophy is likely the prevailing thought to the publishers of these magazines and websites, but to say that there aren’t people who are legitimately interested in these things for their own personal reasons would be contradictory.

*I draw the line sometimes; I wouldn’t see that.
I avoided The Tooth Fairy and The Spy Next Door, you know.

I don’t view ‘good taste’ as a thing that exists; my tastes are my tastes, and they’re all good to me, and thinking any other way doesn’t make any sense. So I can’t begrudge anybody for reading US Weekly, or for emailing me some celebrity gossip story, even if they don’t really know why they’re doing it. It’s probably unhealthy for culture that these things happen, but then again, one of the more unhealthy aspects of modern culture is how we instantly judge people on what they care about. That I still occasionally worry about people finding out I have seen The Lizzie McGuire Movie a bunch of times means that we can have different reasons to care about a celebrity. Maybe that person who is curious to know what rehab clinic Lindsay Lohan broke out of was an even bigger Mean Girls fan than me. Maybe that Kardashian fan sees Kim’s ass as a metaphor for the modern financial crisis, not unlike I look at Slater’s hair. Or maybe not.

I didn’t – and still kind of don’t – know why I cared about Duff so much; I just kind of did. And now that I’m a bit older, I realize that I’m past the point of blindly caring about something without being able to articulate why. Her fizzling star might as well have been me aging past the point of ignorance. I spend so much time thinking about these things now that it’s implausible that this type of thing will ever happen again. I’m probably past the point of media, or media figures, being able to make me smile for an unknowable reason. I’m even past the point of being able to like blockbuster action movies just because things explode; after the initial excitement wears off, I always try to figure out what those say about society or some hopelessly pretentious thing like that. But Duff is something I still can’t figure out, and neither can the people that will email me again once her kid is born. And knowing that some elements remain unknowable is the only reason to continue caring about anything. I’ll always care about Hilary Duff, and I’ll always care about what you think about this fascination. But I will never know why. And that’s spectacular.

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