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Game of Thrones‘ Jack Gleeson Rails On Celebrity Culture

Jack Gleeson might play someone in Game of Thrones who absolutely insists, on pain of death, upon being loved by the plebes he rules over, but in real life the actor’s about as far from that as it’s possible to get. He was invited to speak at the Oxford Union, Oxford’s debating society, which Gleeson points out “has heard speak some of my greatest heroes, people like the the Dalai Lama, Malcolm X, Albert Einstein… all I’ve done is act in a TV show and pretend to be mean, for money.” I don’t know what it was proposed Gleeson talk about, but what he ended up doing is treating the crowd to an essay the wrote the night before about the evils of celebrity culture.

I’m trying really hard to come up with a way to compliment that that doesn’t sound like I’m engaging in the sort of behavior Gleeson’s talking about. Here goes: It’s a pretty authentic move. Admirable, even. Way to go.

Gleeson starts off by acknowledging the irony of someone who benefits from celebrity culture, however unwillingly, talking about how pointless and even harmful it is, “but I hope the irony is taken with a pinch of salt.” The actor was exposed to a small amount of fame for his role in Batman Begins, but it was joining Game of Thrones at age 17 that thrust him into the celebrity landscape:

“I really did not expect all the subsidiary things that come with being an actor on a successful television program…I was literally just exited to act in a cool show. Perhaps that was naïveté, or perhaps, like everyone else involved in the show, I just simply didn’t anticipate the success of it. In any case, whatever the reason was, what it led to was a sharp shock when I realized that I had, unbeknownst to me, signed an invisible contract which required me to enter into a strange new echelon of society. People suddenly wanted to take pictures of me on the street, and journalists were interested in what kind of socks I preferred. It was an atmosphere from which instantly wanted to retreat. I detested the superficial elevation and commodification of it all, juxtaposed with the grotesque self-involvement it would sometimes draw out in me.”

He goes on to talk about the history of celebrity culture and its possible root in evolutionary biology, and continues: “I myself shy away from interviews and the public eye sometimes for this very reason. Having one’s image and, effectively, life democratized dehumanizes and sometimes objectifies it into an entertainment product.”

You can see the entire video below, and I recommend it: Separate from Gleeson’s status as an actor (he also studied theology and philosophy at Dublin College), it’s an intelligent analysis of a pervasive part of our culture. And before you cry hypocrisy, Gleeson has said he’s quitting acting post-Game of Thrones.

(via: The Daily Dot)

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  • Kathryn (@Loerwyn)

    *Standing ovation based on the quote alone*

  • frankenmouse

    I honestly cannot imagine the amount of pressure that famous actors must feel. Nothing they do is really their own or private. They can’t go shopping for groceries without getting mobbed, can’t pick their kids up from school, can’t just take a nice walk in the neighborhood.

    I was actually talking about this with my family the other day. We all more or less agreed that the only position we’d want to be in is that of successful character actor. You get plenty of work, you don’t get put on the shelf once you age out of the “sexy and attractive” stage, and you can go to Walmart in jeans and a sweater without being followed by paparazzi and fans. Hell, if anyone seemed to recognize you, you just laugh and go “I get that a lot.”

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think it’s hypocritical even if he stayed in acting. He just wanted a job he loved, and he has every right to question the crazy culture that he fell into when he got that.

  • Mina

    I always thought voice acting could be fun, and part of that was indeed the lack of recognizability.

  • AverageDrafter

    I like thoughtful people.

  • javakoala

    I think I read something somewhere ages ago that after GoT, he’s done with acting.

  • Jill Oliver

    I agree. If he enjoys acting it is not hypocritical to continue working. Participating in celebrity culture is apart from the job itself. Also, fans bear so much responsibility for their behaviour. I was in a theatre watching some Start Trek premiere with James Doohan in the audience. A few people went over to shake his hand but most folks remained in their seats. Of course, “Scotty” might not be in the same class as some of today’s celebs. : )

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Linked at the end of the article. :)

  • Anonymous

    I absolutely hate the fact that he’s quitting acting (but I get why). The sheer amount of hatred that the world has for Joffrey is all shows you how talented Jack Gleeson is. I hope he takes his sabbatical and then comes back in 5 or so years. Ughh, Jack please don’t leave us!

  • Guymelef

    He’ll likely be in GoT for another few years yet (I am presuming as I have not read the books so I have no idea what becomes of his character), so he may yet change his mind about quitting acting when/if he becomes used to the whole ‘fame’ thing. It’d be a shame if he were to stop doing something he loves due to a negative side-effect. And it’s totally legit to criticise an aspect of an industry that you may choose to remain in but do not approve of.

    Also, totally nitpicking, but he attended Trinity College, Dublin. There’s no such place as Dublin College ;)

  • platypism

    Joffrey quoting Weber is blowing my mind right now.

  • Emily Neenan

    He studied at Trinity College Dublin, there’s no “Dublin College”. (Technically Trinity is the single college that comprises Dublin University). Anyway, I know, cause that’s my college, and I’d see him around the place.

    On the one hand, Dublin (and Ireland generally) has a very relaxed attitude towards celebrities, they generally don’t get swamped here, if they’re just out and about. On the other hand, I have been in a pub at the same time as Gleeson and seen drunk strangers go up to him to effectively give out to “Joffrey” for stuff he’s “done”. Sooo… maybe Dublin is a bad place to be if you’re a celebrity famous for a particularly hated character.

  • AverageDrafter

    Gleeson and Ronan Sinatra err Farrow might have a nice conversation to discuss the evils of celebrity culture.

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  • javakoala

    Heh heh heh… You know nothing, Jon Snow.

  • Pink Apocalypse

    Careful, there….

  • Lapin

    Jack Gleeson is such a lovely person. I could see him going on to become a great philosophical speaker or writer in the future, because he has a lot of awesome things to say.

    He totally won me over when, during an interview in which he was asked if had a girlfriend (he said no), and then asked if he had a boyfriend, instead of being all “no waaaay, I’m soooo straight” and joking about it, he replied with, “Thank you for asking! I was going to say, I’m straight, but I thought [do you have a girlfriend?] was quite a gender normative question. No, I don’t have a boyfriend, thanks for asking.” He’s outspoken about equality for everyone, and so sweet about it.

  • Ashe

    Ha! That’s a good response.

  • Ashe

    Exactly. Fields of work all have their unique poisons and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to participate while also contributing your own positive change.

  • Aaron Foster

    Yeah. So true. It’s actually like my wife’s thoughts. That’s why she had fun doing work for students wherever she could. However, career-wise she chose to purse a medical degree instead. She originally wanted to act growing up. She loved doing it, got tons of roles in local theaters growing up and was just…amazing. I know I’m biased, but I’m always in awe of her talent to this day. (Particularly with changing her dialect and accents)

    Honestly, she had a decent chance of “making it” if she tried, as she was talented, had a bold personality, and is “Hollywood pretty”. (She gets mistaken all the time for Anne Hatheway, but she more has Jennifer Lawerence’s personality.) But by the time she got into college, she realized just how much it controlled your life to be in the limelight. She still craves to act, particularly on film. She loves it. But she hates the idea of that lifestyle. She just wants to act, no fame or fortune stuff. Which is not how Hollywood works now. I feel bad for the actors/actresses.

  • imelda

    SO GLAD this is the top comment. I completely agree. But try saying something like this on, say, ONTD, and people will tear you apart.

  • Anonymous

    That’s awesome.

    It’s quite refreshing—a lot of times when you get actors talking about how ~terrible~ their celebrity is, it ends up being a huge humblebrag. But he’s just really down-to-earth and politely indignant about it. Respect.

  • Anonymous

    How the hell is he this awesome, well read, self aware and thoughtful at this age?!
    How do I raise my kids to be like him? (minus the celebrity status)

  • Charlie

    I’ve never understood this myself really. I respect writers and actors but I don’t get why people go nuts over them. I find say, Tom Hiddleston, attractive but I wouldn’t watch a reality show about him. I don’t see the interest.

  • sicklygreyfoot .

    Every site I’ve gone to about this topic yields the majority of comments in favor of Gleeson’s position.

    I hate to be the contrarian in this, but I think too much is made of a 21 yr old actor’s views on society. He is a very, very young man with very little experience in the world. Of course the things he says about celebrity culture are correct, but that’s like saying “murder is wrong.” Wow, thanks for the newsflash. I don’t doubt his sincerity about the negative experience he’s had with celebrity/consumerism. But it’s the ONLY experience he’s had so far. In ten years, he could completely change his mind about everything. He needs to gain more experience–get his heart broken, struggle to pay bills, raise a family, wrestle with conflicting philosophical views–before lecturing about the ills of society. He’s very idealistic, and doesn’t see the world for the gray, messy, complicated place that it is. Until he does, I can’t put much stock in his views.

  • Charlie

    I think that’s kind of his point though isn’t it? He doesn’t know much about anything yet he’s invited to speak at the Oxford Union. I will agree with him when he says that’s kind of weird, because it is. You aren’t being a contrarian at all, you are agreeing with him.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Can’t watch videos very well on my phone, but the “evolutionary biology” part has me worried…it’s not that super sexist and racist branch of evolution study, is it? Also, from the quote alone, awesome. Weirds me out how we elevate people like that, even myself. Had conflicting feelings while at Comic Con, I had to remind myself, “You respect these people, and they are human, like you!”

  • Anonymous

    A lot of people act as if celebrity was an obligatory by-product of acting that most actors are seeking. All the “hey, if you didn’t want to be followed by paparazzi 24/7, you should have done something else” comments fail to see the point. A vast majority of actors would be perfectly happy to do their job and make a living as actors without having to deal with the fans, the paparazzi and other invasion of privacy, or even the perks.

  • Yamifly

    He actually talks about evolutionary psychology, which is, indeed, that super sexist and racist branch of evolution :( The points he made were good, but I didn’t like that he drew some of his arguments from that field of study.

  • sooverit

    I love Jack so much. I guess I’ll suffer through this season of GoT for him.

  • sooverit

    You should watch the Q&A section. He explains why he’s leaving and that he’s not that into acting even now as he’s acting. Either way, I wouldn’t consider it hypocritical either.

  • Anonymous

    And yet another expectation of celebrity culture. Just because one is an amazing actor, does not mean one has any ability as an off-the-cuff extemporaneous speaker. And actors are often thought less of when they don’t present well in an interview or public speaking venue.

  • Anonymous

    Paparazzi culture just kind of puzzles and repels me. In general, I try to avoid finding out too much about the personal lives the actors/celebrities whose work I enjoy. Almost invariably, I find out something about their behavior in their private lives that leads me to somehow lose respect for them and then struggle with enjoying their work in the future. I don’t tend to hold celebrities to a higher standard of behavior than I do people I know personally, but it is easier to view their failings without the kind of nuance that shades the way I would interpret the behavior of non-celebrities.

    It’s weird, because I know, logically, that there are a lot of issues with my view of things, too. Is it okay to appreciate someone’s professional work while being unhappy with their private failings? (My thoughts are that this depends on the kind of professional work being done. The Mennonite church, in which I was raised, has struggled for the last fifteen years with the legacy of a prominent theologian whose work has been influential but whose sexually abusive behavior to a number of women has led to a great deal of controversy surrounding the ways his work should be read. Considering that his work has moral/ethical implications, his private behavior is relevant when interpreting his professional work.)

    When it comes to entertainers, the flip side of the positive attention that comes from celebrity culture (Gleeson talks about journalists wanting to know his preferences about socks, an illustration of the emphasis consumers place on celebrity opinion, even on areas in which they are no more informed than the average audience member.) is the intense scrutiny celebrities are under when they behave badly. There are issues of special positive treatment, but there’s almost an equal amount of special negative treatment.

  • Arjan den Hollander.

    He is as repulsive in real life as he is in the thrones!
    Sorry for the lad, he’ll probably never date a tender woman in his formative years again.

  • Anon Amos

    What he says is very true and it’s extremely refreshing to hear it said out loud.