George Takei: Why we care that his Facebook is 'fake'

George Takei: The Star Trek actor allegedly paid a journalist to pen his Facebook jokes. Why are we surprised by George Takei, and why are we upset?

(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Actor George Takei gestures with a hand greeting ('live long and prosper') made popular by the television series Star Trek while in Singapore at the inaugural Social Star Awards last month.

“First rule of the Internet: Don't believe every story you read,” said George Takei on Facebook Thursday morning.

Including that post, of course.

In an interview with a media blogger earlier this month, journalist Rick Polito disclosed that he’s one of the authors behind Takei’s Facebook page, earning a rate of $10 a joke. That seemed to be a blow to some of the fans of Takei’s page, which has almost 4.2 million followers and posts – mostly funny pictures – that round up tens of thousands of "likes."

But why do we care that Takei’s jokes are "fake"? And why, when celebrities are the most inauthentic parts of a world where most everything from smiles to stunts are faked for our pleasure, did we ever expect it to be ‘real’?

Not much about celebrities is unmanaged. When a starlet glides down the red carpet, someone else has choreographed the ‘look’ to be consistent with a brand: pouty and rebellious, in a teen-friendly sort of way, for Kristen Stewart, or goddess-gracing-us-on-earth, for Beyonce. And when a heartthrob goofs in an interview out there in the wild, someone else will handle it, beaming out a press release that expresses whole-hearted, sincere regret.

That’s all part of celebrity culture: novel ghostwriters; clothing lines they didn’t design; body doubles; perfumes and colognes they’ve never smelled.

We know this, and we hate it.

And that’s where social media steps in, as the perceived last (or new) frontier for celebrity authenticity. Facebook and Twitter have been touted as places where we can really get to know those unearthly beings with great hair and white teeth, where celebrities do a bang-up job of convincing us that they really are "one of us," the people.

Mostly, they do so by making us cringe. Those Twitter feeds include those of Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes, tweeters of tweets so outrageously incriminating it’s patently unlikely that a publicist, or at least a good one, was not consulted.

“If U tell lies and post awful things and post awful photos of me on ur blog them ask me to follow you on twitter – I’ll post awful photos of u then block you forever,” Bynes recently tweeted, maturely.

But then, there are also Twitter handles that make us actually like the person.

“TODAY I AM DOING WHAT MAKES MEEEEEEE HAPPY! Join me!!!!,” tweeted P.Diddy, affably, earlier this June.

“My hotel room is Sherlock themed, I'm breaking out the vintage Burberry & archive YSL rive gauche detective coats playing w magnifying glass,” tweeted Lady Gaga, relatably, in February.

Perhaps our very favorite social media presences, though, are the funny ones. That’s in part because authentic is often touted as synonymous with "funny," and Twitter and Facebook, as well as YouTube, are neat platforms on which to be so. Funny, very often, is read as candid and original – it is, it seems, "real." It’s upsetting to think that those jokes, and that down-with-the-bros-attitude and man-of-the-people attitude, can be faked.

In March, doe-eyed and extremely cool Mila Kunis did an interview with a BBC reporter in which the two chatted about soccer jerseys, chicken, and the ‘massive lad points’ the young journalist will win for talking to her. After this has gone on a bit, Kunis’ off camera handler suggests that the two discuss Kunis’ upcoming film. Kunis complies, deadpanning the trite talking points she has been given, and then quickly gets back to the "real" stuff, the funny stuff.

Kunis is hilarious. We want to see a soccer game with her, fry up the grill with her, and enjoy how wonderfully, caustically entertaining she is. She’s not alone in that appeal. Supermodel Kate Upton won fame in a video of her looking accidently perfect as she jovially danced the Doogie in some basketball stands, Justin Timerblake is loved for his sweet silliness, and actress Jennifer Lawrence is our latest totally-accident-prone, sardonic home-girl.

The trouble is, those celebrities might not be as authentic as like to believe. It’s possible that they might very well be characters, playing for us a clever, down-and-dirty version of themselves. We like to think we can spot that kind of performed goofiness – boy, is the Internet unkind to Zooey Deschenel, with that ukulele and those manic-pixi-dream-girl bangs – but can we really? 

That, in part, explains the sense of betrayal when it turned out Takei might not actually be as funny at his Facebook had suggested. Paying for jokes seemed to violate a hopeful assumption about how social media is used, as well as about what it means to be funny.

That can either bother us, or we can go on laughing.

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