Tim Hofman, Celebrity/author: exploring literary celebrity, postures and identity

16 minutes to read
Paper
Mijke Akkermans
16/10/2020

In the Dutch public sphere it is difficult to avoid Tim Hofman (1988). He is a multi-layered individual who has taken on roles such as show host, filmmaker, social critic, and writer. Since kicking off his career in the spotlight he has created and hosted TV shows for broadcaster BBNVARA, started the problem-solving YouTube channel #BOOS, initiated the political youth project Coalitie-Y, and created the documentary Terug naar je eige land (2018) which galvanized the new kinderpardon (children's pardon) law. Additionally, he makes frequent media appearances to share his thoughts and opinions about various issues, for example on the talkshow De Wereld Draait Door. He is also often a topic of media discussion himself, such as when his Tweet concerning sexual abuse on the television show De Villa provoked its cancellation. One of the most recent additions to his personal repertoire, his second collection of poetry titled Grappig Jammer, appeared in November 2019.

As he produces within the realms of life-writing and self-fashioning, private and public, off- and online, Hofman becomes intertwined with the roles of artistic author and celebrity.

In a traditional context, the author is an individual who writes literary works based on their personal being. Successful writers are sometimes celebrated by the public and can consequently gain an (often inescapable) commercial status of ‘celebrity author’. Considering Hofman, however, this process is reversed: he is firstly a media ‘celebrity’ who later began producing poetry. Thus he challenges the value of literature as well as the divide between private and public. Drawing from theoretical concepts including posture and the celebrity author, this paper analyses Hofman's textual expressions, self-presentation, and motivations as seen in a selection of content from Grappig Jammer (2019), his social media, and a recent interview in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (2019). From this data this paper aims to explore which tensions are manifested between Hofman’s presentation of posture and identity as ‘private’ author in the cultural field and as ‘public’ person in the media, and how do these affect the literary value of his poetic writings?

Defining posture

The concept of posture, as proposed by Meizoz (2010), aids in defining the author’s position within the literary field through the way they consider their own background and oppose others. Posture is one component of a writer’s ethos, or their ‘‘(general) way of being’’ (p. 83), and is intertwined with so-called ‘sociopoetics’ which encompasses the author’s strategy in the field and the formal processes engaged in understanding their personal poetics.

Authorial posture marks out one's position in a singular way, as the status of author involves the advancement of a public self-image based on an identity created by self-assigned elements, such as a pseudonym. This new identity enables the author to express themselves with a persona or posture, for example as ‘elite’ or ‘down-to-earth’, in contrast with others in the field. Therefore, ‘‘the logic of a literary strategy […] is brought out through establishing a connection between the trajectory of an author and the various postures manifested in it’’ (Meizoz, 2010, p. 83).

Additionally, posture is a dual observation involving both discourse, the author’s textual self-image, their non-verbal behaviour, and their public presentation of self. Self-presentation is an interactive process which is co-constructed by the author or auto-representer and various other mediators or hetero-presenters through whom the author is ‘being represented’, potentially altering the way the author wishes to represent themselves (Meizoz, 2010).

Channelling the artistic author

Hofman’s reflected that ‘‘It feels like I gave my diary to the publisher. […] through this poetry collection everything about me is suddenly an open book.’’ (Huigloot, 2019, para. 10). The 74-poem book can be therefore be considered an act of life-writing. According to Smith and Watson this is ‘‘writing of diverse kinds that takes a life as its subject’’, in which autobiography is ‘‘the story of one’s life written by himself’’ and ‘‘celebrates the autonomous individual and the universalizing life story’’ (2001, p. 1).

Smith and Watson further identify autobiography as a form of life narrative, which involves the author’s reflection on self-referential practices that engage past lived experiences in order to reflect on identity in the present. The life writer simultaneously adopts an external and internal point of view in confronting the publicly visible self, the social, their historical achievements, personal appearance, social relationships and real attributes, and the self-experienced and self-felt from within (2001).

Furthermore, life writers take personal memories, sources like journals, and knowledge of historical moments as their primary archival source. They can therefore address readers in first person and persuade them of their version of an experience. Life writing is bound to an autobiographical pact, meaning that when the person who claims authorship of the narrative is recognized as the protagonist, the text is considered truthful, reflexive, or autobiographical regardless of fictional elements (Smith & Watson, 2001).

Revealing the intimate

Hofman's poems, the length of which ranges between two sentences and 3 pages, cover a wide variety of topics and discourses, each different in intention and narrative tone. The more intimate pieces, in which Hofman bares small pieces of his personal life, such as dealing with a lack of sex with his partner (Onseks, p. 61), feeling helpless towards a friend dying of cancer (Een dode vriend, p. 29), expressing his feelings towards his best friend (Talisia, p. 54), his past experiences with depression (Doodswens, p. 68), and his fears:

Ang, anger, angst.

ik ben nergens bang voor
behalve dat er niemand meer is
om dat tegen te vertellen (Hofman, 2019, p. 69)

Fear, fearer, fearst.

I am not afraid of anything
except that there is no one left
to tell that to (translation)

In the above poem Hofman reflects on his fear of loneliness, using irony to explain how he lives without any fears except that of being entirely alone. Generally, mental fears are not discussed openly and regarded as taboo, so Hofman’s claim to not fear anything can be considered brave and ‘masculine.’ He initially succumbs to this taboo, but ultimately challenges it by betraying his vulnerability.

The posture and image that emerge from such topics and poems are ones in which Hofman embraces the role of the literary artist, representing ‘the real individual’. Using the narrating ‘I’ as the subject of textual expressions, he (re)presents thoughts, emotions, and feelings about events and moments that have shaped his own life and identity. His vulnerable and open expression around personal issues and private topics in his artistic and literary narratives make Hofman appear human, down-to-earth, and approachable. The use of literary techniques such as irony additionally demonstrate wit and intelligence.

Using his life as subject-matter and allowing the reader to access the private provides legitimacy, especially as Hofman can be considered a figure of authority. By publishing this content he does not seem to value the judgment of readers enough to let it affect his publication. He even encourages readers to discuss such personal topics more openly among themselves. The style of writing and use of ‘I’, in which Hofman remains identifiable as the author and narrator, creates a certain relatability for those who are struggling with the same issues, as they can interpret the ‘I’ and protagonist of the poems from a personal perspective.

Addressing the public

Diverging from the intimate, a second type of poem can be distinguished which involves personal reflection or comment on specific cultural, societal, and political constructs and issues, ranging from generational differences (Slotpleidooi versie 4/'Closing arguements version 4', p. 86) to intersectionality (Gezonde witte cis-man zkt. identiteit/ 'Healthy white cis-man seeks identity', p. 24), sexual abuse (VER/KRACHT/ 'Rape(power)' p. 40), and political comments (HomEO en Julia/'Homeo and Juliet', p. 72).

Niqaab

‘Dat het je zo leuk staat,
dat patriarchaat.’ (Hofman, 2019, p. 43)

Niqab

‘It suits you so well,
that patriarchy.’ (translation)

This poem is a reflection on religious racism in the male-dominated social sphere, adopting a socially critical discourse that supposedly represents Hofman’s. Stylistically the piece is presented as a quote, implying it is a saying he has heard from others in society. Adopting sarcasm, Hofman implies there is a personal stance and judgment involved against those expressing such discourse.

Even though these poems also originate from Hofman, the initial ‘intimate’ posture shifts. Refering to issues not directly related to his personal life reduces the image of the author as personal ‘I’ as seen in Hofman's more personal poems. Hofman therefore plays with the tension between private and public by presenting the public discourse he supposedly stands for by referring to actual events. Despite potentially fictionalized elements, such as mentioning a son he does not have in ‘Loyale gezinsman’ ('Loyal family man', p. 14), these poems convey a specific message.

With these poems Hofman positions himself as both an artist and a critic of social issues, who, again, appears to not fear others’ judgments of his personal-yet-public opinions. This ‘free’ strategy combined with his authorial position in society and the creative affordances of poetry allow him to be more direct and critical about culturally sensitive topics than if he were subject to mediation. Furthermore, Hofman's writing spurs debate about what it means to be a citizen, what socially acceptable behaviour entails, how societies should co-exist, what freedom of expression means, and what cultural authority is. Similar to his more personal pieces, these poems are relatable to readers who share or recognise the stances or situations Hofman describes.

Challenging celebrity

Self-fashioning refers to the way an author creates a public identity, as expressed through their literary functions, behaviour, and work, and encompassing of social norms for public roles as well as more general behavioural norms and cultural structures (Greenblatt, 1980).

Further, Moran defines ‘literary celebrity’  as ‘‘the product of a complex negotiation between cultural producers and audiences’’ that spreads dominant and resistant cultural meanings and kindles discussions about ‘‘the relationship between cultural authority and exchange value in capitalist societies’’ (2000, p. 3). In the literary marketplace celebrities have to compete for popularity, commercial success, cultural authority, and the legitimacy that characterizes specific societal discourses (Moran, 2000).

Authorship and celebrity become intertwined as on the one hand, the author is celebrated for reformulating authorship, adopting it in discussing conflicting social values, and engaging with artistic commerciality in which they emphasize creativity or the greater good, and on the other hand capitalist society uses the individual as cultural signifier, denying the author function and de-subjectifying their writing (Moran, 2000).

The author's persona then becomes an inseparable combination of self-creation and external media invention, whereby they are promoted through their story, mediagenic profile, or discourse and provided legitimacy beyond the ‘I’. The author is both controlled by and complicit in the media’s presentation of their persona and can choose to revel in their superficially constructed image or  explore authorships’ inescapability by locating a ‘private’ self beyond celebrity. Ultimately, the blurry interchange of discourses of private self-referentialism and public intellectual stardom provide an interconnection of the ‘real’ author and their mythicized image, which authors are produced by but also help produce (Moran, 2000).

Disclosing the author

A direct act of non-verbal self-presentation and referentialism occurs on the cover of Hofman's book. It introduces Hofman the author 'beyond the text', and he is pictured sitting cross-legged on a wooden table, wearing a plain black t-shirt that reveals his tattooed arms, white sneakers, a nonchalant expression, and a relaxed posture. A dark grey tone provides a solid background for the contrasting white and pink letters that spell out his name and the book title in capital letters. The word ‘gedichten’, or ‘poems’, is placed below the title in a smaller font, giving it less emphasis.

Cover of Grappig Jammer (2019) shared by Hofman on Instagram

This image legitimizes Hofman as the real author of the book’s content, disregarding Barthes' notion that the author is hidden behind their work and that the literary space is one ‘‘where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes’’ (1967, para. 1). According to Barthes, the author is "dead," as he is a mere scriptor who combines what has already been written, leaving the reader to interpret the multiplicity of cultures and citations within a text and draw the text’s meaning and layers from their personal context, experience, and culture (1967). The cover thus takes on a commercial element, as Hofman consciously chose to be pictured prominently, perhaps tempting those who recognise him from his other work to purchase the book.

Additionally, the narrative presented on the book conveys the message that the person pictured is how Hofman sees himself, and his body language reveals how he feels about the content of his poems: not extravagant or dramatic but basic and down-to-earth, further implying the photo’s setup involved a personal choice. It gives the impression that the ‘I’ presented is human and sincere, coinciding with the openness of his poems,  discussions of contemporary political and societal topics, and relatability. Hofman ultimately presents himself as an artist who does not shy away from visibility or commerciality.

Privatizing the public

Instances of Hofman’s self-presentation and identity-expression also occur on Instagram. The publicly accessible social media site allows aspects of celebrity and media to intertwine with self-creation. Under the username @debroervanroos (‘Roos’ brother’, the self-assigned pseudonym also used for his first poetry collection), a post captioned ‘televiziergala omw’ garnered signifcant media attention. The photograph depicts Hofman and his partner Lize Korpershoek outdoors, dressed up for the annual 'televisiergala' awards show, wearing gender-swapped outfits: Hofman is wearing a ‘feminine’ jumpsuit, heels, a purse, and a pink scarf, whilst Korpershoek is dressed in an oversized ‘masculine’ suit and flipflops.

Hofman (@debroervanroos) on Instagram - 'televisiergala omw'

The image received thousands of likes and comments and sparked debate among entertainment-oriented media about Hofman and his partner's challenge to gender roles. These media mythicized Hofamn with statements like ‘‘the couple is known for thinking outside the box and will surely try to make a statement with their outfits’’ (Boulevard, 2019), and ‘‘[they] did not care about [the dress code] and broke with normative gender roles’’ (Glamour, 2019), using him as a cultural signifier of alternative societal norms.

Hofman reflected on and deflected these claims, saying to De Volkskrant, ‘‘Everyone is saying we wanted to break with normative gender roles, that I wanted to make a statement about masculinity […] but I just wore what I think is nice" (Huigsloot, 2019, para. 2). With this statement, Hofman refuses to play into the media’s construction of his persona and attempts to escape their discourse by countering their interpretation of the Instagram image, making the public private again.

However, even by wearing an outfit that is simply ‘his own taste’, Hofman is normalizing his stance towards gendered fashion and the way gender is manifested in social constructs. Later in the same interview he stresses that he is part of a generation of change and rethinking expectations, saying, ‘‘I know I shouldn’t care about the expectations of others. I can’t wear heels to the televiziergala? Stop it man!’’ (Huigsloot, 2019, para. 32). The Instagram photo is therefore both a visual presentation of self and a statement of personal and societal identity, similar to the one expressed in his poems. Further this self presentation does, to some extent, include his celebrity value as constructed by the media.

Acknowledging stardom

Ik schijnheilig te zijn

applaus, applaus
zie me lekker gaan
’t gaat niet om de veren

applaus, applaus
ik heb het goed gedaan
en je mag me tutoyeren

applaus, applaus
nee, ’t gaat niet om m’n baan
kijk me geven om de wereld

applaus, applaus
staat de camera wel aan
ik ben echt een fijne kerel (Hofman, 2019, p. 81)

I must seem holy/hypocritical

applause, applause
look at me go
it’s not about the praise

applause, applause
I did it well
and you can thee and thou me

applause, applause
no, it’s not about my job
look at me caring about the world

applause, applause
is the camera switched on
I really am a pleasant guy (translation)

Reflecting on such publicly mediated fame in his ‘private’ literary work, the poem Ik schijnheilig te zijn is Hofman’s commentary on his own frequent glorification in the media. He describes himself as ‘schijn heilig’, or ‘holy-seeming', but by melting ‘schijn’ and ‘heilig’ into one creates the word 'hypocritical.' Opting for sarcasm, he expresses feeling two-faced and reflects on the inaccuracy of the saintly status assigned to him by the media. With this poem, Hofman acknowledges the media’s presentation of his persona and even adopts it in his creative processes but, as with the Instagram post, does not necessarily agree with it.

Expressing further awareness and dislike of his celebrity-status and the ‘applause, clicks, views, and likes’ that are inevitably part of his work, Hofman stated that ‘‘I want to be a conduit for our generation, solve problems. […] for me TV is more than just getting a pat on my glitter-jacketed-shoulder, descending down a show-staircase and collecting a few tonnes from the commercial broadcaster. That is not to sneer at my colleagues, but for me that doesn’t work.’’ (Huigsloot, 2019, para. 5). He presents a posture in opposition to his colleagues who, according to him, are primarily interested in fame, showbusiness, and the financial benefits of stardom.

Celebrity/author status

Even though a more extensive body of content both by and about Hofman exists, the above analysis has revealed how the postures presented by him as ‘private’ author and ‘public’ media-person are intertwined, bending traditional tensions into novel ones and establishing a peculiar ‘genre’ of writing.

The main tension lies in the fact that Hofman is, above all, a media persona who operates in the public sphere, who has adopted ‘offline’ poetry as a platform for expressing intimate feelings, experiences, and worldviews. Considering the content of the poems, especially the socially critical pieces, highlights the influence of this public identity and the prioritization of public posture in supposedly private writings. By addressing issues of ‘the greater good’ Hofman incidentally address his role as a socially relevant celebrity. Furthermore, the simultaneously personal posture brought forward in these poems corresponds with the ‘I’ perspective adopted by Hofman in his other performances.

The media’s interpretation of Hofman’s public posture and his particular response to it represents a deviation from a traditional media influence on the writer’s persona. A tension is established through Hofman’s initial rejection of identity-negotiation with alternative parties. The media frame his public performances as heroic, but he makes a conscious effort to deny their characterizations and emphasize his individual personal posture.

By rejecting fame-oriented celebrity culture and the media’s attempts to affect his being and performances, Hofman stays true to the ‘I’ as presented under his terms in his own writing. Hofman's ‘real’, simple, and sincere persona comes forward both in the Instagram post showcasing his 'unconventional' but self-chosen outfit and in poems such as Fear, fearer, fearst, turning the post into a personal poem that discusses both personal and societal issues.

Overall, through all types of content, on- and offline, Hofman maintains a consistent and deliberately constructed persona, in which the public media person is consistent with the private writer.

It can be argued that the prioritization of the media-person and its intertwining with personal views, when considering the poems in the context of a literary genre, affects the literary value of Hofman’s writings. On the one hand, considering the relatability and content of the non-individual-life-experience pieces, the poems carry literary value as Hofman broadly discusses issues that are relevant for a broader public or ‘the greater good’. On the other hand, the writings as presented on ‘just’ another trendy platform lack potential to be literary masterpieces as they contain views similar to, for instance, Hofman’s show #BOOS or his tweeted criticism of The Villa, and could therefore just as well be posts on social media.

References

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Redactie Glamour. (2019). De geniale outfits van Tim Hofman en Lize Korpershoek tijdens Televizier-Ring Gala moet je zien. Glamour.

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