The movie Almost Famous reveals the truth about everyday life for rock band groupies. Groupies are fans of music performers and typically have sexual relations with the rockers. In this film, Penny Lane, a groupie for the band Black Sabbath, faces difficulties as a result of her unique lifestyle. Her devotion to the band consumes her life, and without the rock stars she supports, it is difficult for her to find purpose in her life. Her dependence on others puts her in a vulnerable position in society. Because she relies on the rock musicians, they are able to take advantage of her.
While watching this film, the term sexual objectification comes to my mind. Sexual objectification is when someone views another person as an object whose sole purpose is to provide sexual pleasure. People who are victims of sexual objectification are not seen in terms of their own personal worth but instead as purely sexual beings. This is dehumanizing but is unfortunately common in the music industry.
In Mimi Schippers’ article, “Gender and Heterosexism in Rock-and-Roll,” she poses the question, “‘Isn’t ‘getting chicks’ what being a rock musician is all about?” and explains how the “relationship between the rock musician and the groupie, as a key part of rock culture, is a heterosexual relationship” (Schippers 148). We live in a very heteronormative society, which is why the majority of famous rockers generally have a straight sexual orientation. This movie portrays the heterosexual relationship that is typically between male rockers and female groupies. The male rockers have primarily female groupies, and in this film, the famous men treat these women as sexual objects.
In the video clip above, Penny Lane becomes aware that the man she loves, Russell, sold her to another man for fifty bucks and a case of beer. She responds and says, “What kind of beer?” This portrays her desperation and desire for approval and recognition from her idol. Penny doesn’t want to believe that the man she admires so much shows such little respect for her and treats her like an object. If the beer is good quality, then she could feel better about herself because that would mean she is worth slightly more to him. Groupies often rely on the attention they receive from rock musicians for their self-esteem. Their lives revolve around rock stars, and without the celebrities they devote their lives to, they often feel lost and devoid of purpose in society.
This scene also demonstrates how disposable groupies are to rock stars. In this film, Russell has a wife and isolates Penny as a way of ensuring that his marriage survives. It is ironic that while groupies make rockers the core of their existence, these same rock stars see the groupies as replaceable people in their part-time recreational lives.
Although Penny generally seems to be the life of the party and behaves in a confident and happy manner, she actually suffers as a groupie. When Russell rejects her, she feels so hurt and dejected that she tries to kill herself. When groupies face the reality of their objectification, their lack of worth becomes more evident to them, justifying the ultimate expression of self-loath. There are definitely costs associated with this lifestyle.
This clip portrays a woman whose sense of self is based on external factors. Her self-worth is rooted in those she associates with, particularly people who are famous. She ties her ego to the image of people who have social recognition and success. This compels Penny to depend on Russell for her own self-gratification. Sadly, Penny feels that without Russell, her life is not worth living.
After her suicide attempt, Penny remembers how her “mother always said, marry someone grand”. This statement reveals two interesting points. First, throughout her childhood, the idea that she needs to rely on a man was instilled in her. She was sexually socialized to marry someone, and this creates the notion for her that she is not good enough. Being a groupie would suit her mentality to depend on others because she could live vicariously through them. Second, Penny feels the need to marry someone grand, not just any man. Her mother’s words reveal Penny’s mother’s own lack of self worth. If her daughter could marry an impressive man, she herself could in turn live through her child’s connections and enjoy the benefits of Penny’s success for her own defeated self. Thus, Penny’s lack of self worth and her frantic attempts to gain a sense of self are clearly trans-generational.
Ironically, Mimi Schippers’ article reminds us that “rock made sexuality public, and the musician/groupie relationship certainly dislodges sexuality from marriage” (150). It is very rare that groupies marry rock stars, so Penny is setting herself up for disappointment and rejection. She seems to have come to this awareness when she realizes that she is Russell’s sexual object, that she is living in a disillusioned world, and that she needs to face reality.
I noticed in my own life that, particularly among girls, musicians are idolized. Many of my friends decorate their dorms with posters of Justin Timberlake, John Mayer, Coldplay, etc. I feel that admiring the talent of musicians to this extend is reasonable, but that when people succumb to the groupie lifestyle, they are putting themselves in a very vulnerable situation. Perhaps people become groupies because their sense of self is not well developed, and their longing to develop their identity makes them more susceptible to sexual objectification.
How do we help fight sexual objectification? How should groupies be perceived in society? How are social norms portrayed in the rock-and-roll lifestyle? Why is the music industry all about getting girls? What happened to romantic love? Can the music industry reveal a message of meaningful relationships where sex, love, and respect coexist?