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Why we’ve run out of first-name-only stars.

Why we’ve run out of first-name-only stars. (photo)

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At The Wrap, Mali Perl suggests that the crop of upcoming stars doesn’t seem to have anything on our long-established favorites: “George, Matt, Sandra, Angelina, Brad, Will,” an array of first names that you don’t need surnames to reflexively picture.

Perl doubts that in time the name “Amanda,” say, will be automatically completed with “Seyfried.” For this she blames… well, it’s hard to tell. “It wasn’t the times or the ginormous paychecks that made A-listers out of movie stars. A lot of it was luck, much of it was us but a significant part of it was them. And what’s missing today is more of them.”

I don’t really know what that means, but I’ll give it a crack anyway. As Andrew Johnson pointed out in the Independent this weekend, tentpole films are being headed by a surprising number of British actors — not just Mr. Robert Pattinson, but also the new Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, and Jamie Bell, who’s in the upcoming Spielberg “Tintin.”

If you wanted to boost Perl’s theory with some supporting evidence, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s apparently no American actor in his 20s with enough draw to play Spidey, so Sony’s decided to bring in a total outsider and manufacture a star from scratch. This isn’t part of that whole “the star is dead” argument people have been making for a while now; this is something slightly more compelling. Apparently we live in a climate that’s domestically incapable of manufacturing totally new stars.

And I’m going to say: that’s just fine.

07072010_judy.jpgStardom isn’t an ineffable characteristic — except insofar as charisma requires two players, one to produce it and one to be receptive to it. When audiences become more interested in, say, seeing pictures of how stars are “just like us,” the game’s over. Stardom requires an audience willing to concede some things are off limits.

Arguing about the dearth of first-name-only stars ignores some basic facts, the simplest of which is that the star machine worked best in the ’30s, when studios could micro-manage their properties in a way that, in retrospect, were deeply frightening. This was a time when Louis G. Mayer could strap Judy Garland’s chest to make sure she wasn’t freaking out or arousing anyone. And this stuff worked. It’s no coincidence that many stars who wouldn’t really blow up til the ’40s and ’50s — Cary Grant, say, or even Humphrey Bogart — rose up through the ranks of that system.

There are two ways to manufacture a star: from the ground up, or via the natural entropy driven by people who can manage and manufacture their own images cleverly without having the media puncture their mystique early on. Take away both of those factors, and you’ve got a series of flash-in-the-pans regardless of talent levels, with the celebrity cycle sped up for the instant-update age.

In other words: it’s not them. It’s us (or maybe just Us Weekly).

[Photos: “Chloe,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010; “The Wizard of Oz,” Warner Home Video, 1939]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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