Charisma on Command, an organisation of two young men dedicated to cultivating one’s charisma, extrovertedness, and relationships recently released a video listicle entitled ‘5 Common Habits That Make People Instantly Dislike You‘. Centring on Brie Larson and her recent interviews in the Avengers Endgame junket, the video offers potential insight into the ways these determinations are gendered, not to mention raced and always subject to contextualisation (such as considering Larson’s recent arrival into this established club of mostly men).
According to the self-professed body-language experts, Larson fails in these five ways:
– Reading negative intent in an ambiguous situation.
– Failing to offer a clear “tell” when being sarcastic.
– Jumping on opportunities to praise or call attention to herself.
– Trying to “win” each moment of banter.
– “Handling a compliment improperly”
Although each point isn’t without its merits, it is telling that each positive example offered up save for one is demonstrated by white men, most of whom inhabit their rung of stardom comfortably. (That most are illustrated by a “Chris”, a category that has notably outnumbered all women in the Marvel Comics Universe [MCU] — and likely people of colour until Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018).
Questions of when a woman is ‘trying too hard to win’ banter or praise or recognition for work done can ignore the degree to which the baseline for achievement isn’t even. Forget that Larson is up against people who’ve been in multiple MCU films, she is also a young woman up against those whose excellence and worthiness as all powerful gods and men has not been questioned, save for in ‘banter’ or ‘jokes’. It reminds me of Hannah Gadsby’s powerful refusal of humility, which for people on the margins is more often than not a performance of humiliation. What does it mean to lower oneself, playfully or not, when the floor is further down for some than others? Or to put it in Gadsby’s superior words, ‘Because you do understand what self -deprecation means from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.’
Although in one occasion Larson is given a female counterpoint, the choice is telling. In an example of failing to give a sufficient ‘tell’ for her sarcasm, an appropriate example is offered through Aubrey Plaza, a comic actor known entirely for her flat affect and sarcastic delivery. That is, there is little reflection on what it means to be Larson performing Larson and a superhero/star on the rise, but rather an example of an already established character whose pretence to being better must be constantly sealed within clear performance. The men can play with being ‘less than’ because we all know they’re not. A young woman must play with being ‘less than’ to ensure that the audience does not assume she thinks more of herself than she is supposed to. To play ‘more than’ is to ensure that those claims are securely limited by inverted commas.
To be fair, this is a balance of stardom, which is to be both special and ordinary simultaneously: to be special yet close enough to be loved.At the same time, star performances are often balanced with character performances, and in the case of Larson, her ostensible superiority or distraction jibes with the performance of Captain Marvel in Endgame where her superior abilities were required in other parts of the universe.
Overall, the apparent anger Larson has incurred in the occasions named in the video and the methods through which lessons are offered show us that something more could be going on. Indeed, the entire junket narrative (which includes stories of both romance and battles with co-star Chris Hemsworth) could be worth a closer reading.
More food for thought:
Kate Gardner. Don Cheadle Defends Brie Larson from “Body Language Experts” on Twitter. The Mary Sue. 1 May 2019
Rachel Leishman. Stop Telling Brie Larson How to Act; It’s Exhausting. The Mary Sue. 7 May 2019
The Everyday Sexism Project (Laura Bates)