Prozac Princess: The Complex Imagery of Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking

Curator's Note

Carrie Fisher’s memoir Wishful Drinking (2008), based on her one-woman show of the same name (2006), details her life, including her battle with addiction and bipolar disorder. The memoir lies at the intersection of Fisher’s stardom, mental health advocacy, and candidness about substance abuse, and its cover engages with these themes in one complex image. 

The image presents Princess Leia, passed out from alcohol/drug consumption. The lack of separation between Fisher and her famous role on the cover of her memoir demonstrates her awareness of her public image. Ellis notes how star images rely on tension between the extraordinary and ordinary, and in Fisher’s case extraordinary elements of stardom have often overshadowed the person under the ‘surface’ of Leia.[1] Dyer also discusses the necessity for stars to negotiate various components of their image.[2] Wishful Drinking presents Fisher’s negotiation of these tensions between her public and private image: the cover engages public desire to see Leia in place of Fisher, but hides her face, signaling the hidden, private person.

The absence of Fisher’s face also fosters a complex engagement with her fame. Withholding the face serves to re-appropriate her self: she discusses her sense of loss because George Lucas “owns” her likeness to use on Star Wars merchandise.[3] In a study of celebrities’ phenomenology Rockwell and Giles note that “celebrities feel as though they have lost the exclusive rights to their own face”, but in Fisher’s case this is actually true. Thus, the absent face works to reclaim Fisher’s identity by separating her personal life described in Wishful Drinking (no face) from commercial uses of her face (as Leia).

Moreover, merchandise is used to imply causality between Fisher’s stardom and addiction: the Martini glass includes a lightsaber drink stirrer. The pills at the bottom of the image complicate this, as it is unclear whether they are ‘recreational’ or medical. Consequently, they hint at both Fisher’s addiction and her bipolar disorder: her openness about her illness and medication, including in Wishful Drinking, has raised public awareness about this condition and she was an important mental health advocate. Thus, the image, like the memoir, is extremely candid in its connections between Fisher, Star Wars, substance abuse, and illness.

Looking at this image retrospectively adds one final layer, as some pills closely resemble the Prozac pill that Fisher’s urn was modelled after. As such, in 2017, this image presents an uncanny link to Fisher’s recent, untimely death. 

[1] Visible Fictions, p.93

[2] Heavenly Bodies

[3] Wishful Drinking, p.87

 

Comments

Tanya Zuk's picture

This is a wonderful analysis

This is a wonderful analysis of an image and icon! Though I always knew that Lucas had kept the rights for merchandising, it never occurred to me how that would affect the actors and their own need to interact with the icons they have portrayed, which is particularly important for Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia—as the two are so often publicly intangled.

Mariana Lins's picture

Leia as a burden

The intersection of Fisher’s stardom, mental health advocacy, and candidness about substance abuse that you pointed out here can also be seen on the cover of Shockaholic, the next memoir she wrote after Wishful Drinking, in 2011. Again the picture of Princess Leia is on the cover, but we can’t see her face. Last year, her last memoir The Princess Diarist’s cover finally had a picture of Leia on it though. I wonder if the absence of her face in the first two books but not in the last one can be explained by her settling down when it comes to this role.

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