“Hag” and “hell swamp” are probably not the exact definitions one would use to describe Aubrey Plaza when you first see her, but they are what’s listed in her bio section on twitter. Quirky, sarcastic, and adorably awkward, Aubrey has played similar roles on television and film with characters like April Ludgate of Parks and Recreation, Julie Powers of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and more recently, Daria of Daria’s High School Reunion on College Humor. Her posts are very indicative and reflective of her sarcastic April Ludgate / Daria-esque self, giving us this “back-stage” view of her “front-stage” life. Her social media performance also incorporates social cues like incorrect grammar, incessant capitalization, and a mix of rowdy interactions with friends and family.
One of the more distinguishing aspects about Aubrey’s twitter is that her on-screen characters are often more or less like her off-screen self. Obviously, I am analyzing her off-screen self through her twitter, which technically is still “on a screen,” but what I’m trying to get at here is that the characters she portrays on her films and tv shows are still reminiscent in her “self” that the public sees of her while not on the job. Just by looking at her Twitter page, people will see her profile picture is a photoshopped image of Matthew Gray Gubler’s (of Criminal Minds) head on a NSFW voluptuous model body. And her username? @Evilhag, of course.
What we see here, is a persona that is much different than what a traditional “feminine” actress is expected to be like online. A username of “evil hag” probably wouldn’t be used by say, Taylor Swift or Angelina Jolie, for example. The more “masculine” attributes she presents on her twitter of humor, sexual mockery, and constant use of caps could also be seen as ways to “differentiate” herself from the rest of the female actresses out there who use their twitter account for more of self-promotion and attention. In this sense, Hugo Liu’s concept of differentiation, which is one of the four taste performances that he analyzes in his article, is applicable to Aubrey’s twitter. Her profile picture is also not accurate of what she actually looks like, and creates a form of mockery and sarcasm by using the photoshopped image of Michael Gubler. Both these aspects of username and profile picture are two of the most important labels and indicators on any social networking site; they essentially form the basis of your “identity” on that platform. Yet, we see that Aubrey Plaza takes it and uses it in a humorous way. This could be another example of her differentiating herself by reinforcing her celebrity status as someone not like the typical hollywood starlet, and that she is very down-to-earth, real, and funny.
Authenticity is another aspect of Hugo’s taste performances, and as mentioned, most of the characters she plays are similar to one another– sarcastic, disaffected, and unenthusiastic. Aubrey could have wanted to convey that her “self” on twitter is actually a somewhat accurate reflection of what her personality is like and prove she is authentic, and for the general public to see her as one fluid person who is authentic online just as she is offline, and not be attributed to the stereotypes of actresses of being bubbly, overly enthusiastic, fake, or ditzy. Her sarcasm, humor, and “untraditional” way of using her twitter as a young millennial actress makes a statement about femininity and at the same time conveys that she is different from the rest of hollywood actresses.
Aubrey’s twitter account does more than just reinforce the personality she conveys to the public while not in character, it also contributes to the ‘self-brand’ Sarah Banet-Weiser discusses in her essay on branding the post-feminist self. Ms. Plaza could have easily changed the way people view her by using her Twitter account as a way to provide a way for the public to see her a fun and quirky, or outgoing and sweet, which is what I think many actresses do (I’m thinking of celebrities like Chloe Moretz, who plays several characters in horror films, but her twitter is far from exemplifying that) in order to appear more well-rounded and likeable. But Aubrey has attempted to make a connect between her in-character selves and her off-character self, her “authentic” self, so to speak, and in doing so, has created a self-brand. She didn’t distinctively try to change the image of her twitter to convey her image as someone drastically different than how she acts on tv. Her “brand” could particularly reflect that she does not want to be seen as a typical hollywood starlet, and instead someone who is the same or at least, similar person as she is on-screen as off-screen.
Celebrities are (or more like, they have to be) very conscious of how the public views them, and especially with a platform like twitter, they actually have the capabilities to take it in the direction they want to and attempt to curate how the public views them, which they usually don’t have the power to do. Aubrey’s self-brand consists of various dimensions of “play” and social cues that Zizi Papacharissi discusses in her essay on self-performance on Twitter, like the consistent use of all caps, humor, purposely misspelled words and “rowdy” interactions with her friends and other celebrities. Play is commonly used as a form of humor and generates attention as well as response, and we can see that play is the dominant strategy for Aubrey to generate the image and self-brand she wants.
Aubrey Plaza may want the public to view her front stage to be similar to her backstage and to create this fluid authenticity, and in doing so has differentiated herself from the stereotype of hollywood starlets. She’s created a strong consistent self-brand, and performance or not, she’s funny, weird, sarcastic, awkward, and an indie-hipster goddess. But the main lesson here? Never undermine the power of sarcasm. Obviously.