SOUNDS LIKE A CULT
Lydia Tár may not be real, but Cate Blanchett is—and the award-winning actor’s fans have become shockingly intense with their love since the release of her latest Oscar contender.
On the evening of my 28th birthday, I received a paper mask of Cate Blanchett’s face. It worked like a charm for taking the sting out of missing her at the London Critics Awards the next day—something I mercilessly relayed to my friends who managed to see her. Soon after I received it, I started to feel like this was a part of something larger. It wasn’t until everyone and their dog had told me they were going to see Cate’s latest Oscar-nominated feature Tár, and afterward their thoughts, that I realized I had a reputation: I was a Tárt, if you will.
“Tárt” is one of many terms that have been coined by the internet (Tárt, Tárfluencer, Tárnation) since the film’s release last fall, encompassing the uniquely dedicated fanbase following both the character (and the actor) like sheep to a shepherd. For me, years of obsessing over minute details in Blanchett’s work and saving memes and magazine photoshoots on social media finally had its own label.
It only takes a quick social media search to see that I’m not alone in my Cate-meets-classical-music appreciation. Something about the cold-hearted and callous Lydia Tár has elevated Blanchett’s fandom to an entirely new level. Since its release, young girls have begun lining up in red carpet fan pits to vie for handwritten tattoos from the actor. There are T-shirts in honor of the character. Friendships are put to the test when someone claims that the film didn’t work for them. And on top of it all, Lydia has become her own self-aware entity. As Cate gears up to compete for her third Oscar win, her #Tárnation is ready to risk it all to support her: friends, social media followings, and sanity be damned.
It’s no secret that the idea of fandom has changed. People now have direct access to the stars they love, whether that’s through social media accounts or live updates of their whereabouts. In Cate Blanchett’s case, our celebrity fascination has been taken a step further. The internet is making Lydia Tár into an omnipotent digital presence, and as a result, the actor has been catapulted into a torrent of endless tweets, memes, and TikToks that keep her at the forefront of our minds. In short, Blanchett fandom is now a kind of cult. The latter can be defined as “devotion directed towards a particular figure,” and the intensity of the Tárts is just warming up.
To fans, it’s easy to see why Cate Blanchett commands this level of obsession. Murtada Elfadl, host of the podcast Sundays With Cate (in which Elfadl discusses every aspect of the actor’s films—or in his words, “The Blanchett of it all.”), says it’s all about the acting. “Carol, Blue Jasmine, and now Tár are Cate’s pinnacle,” Elfadl tells me. “I like to see her unraveling emotionally on screen, that’s my favorite mode. She always plays exceptional people—those who are at the top—and to see her chart these characters’ downfall is such a treat.”
Tár seems to feed into the trifecta of checkpoints that Cate excels at—epic downfalls, subtle nuance, and effortless intellect. The movie follows the fictional conductor Lydia Tár, who becomes embroiled in a sexual assault scandal weeks before the biggest moment in her life’s work. “She can go big and give us a bigger-than-life moment,” Elfadl says of Blanchett’s performance, both in Tár and throughout her career. “Of course, she can be subtle when needed, but she’s not afraid of ACTING. I love her duet with Judi Dench in Notes On A Scandal, perhaps the only time she played someone who’s not smart.”
Though some fans cite her acting as the inspiration for their obsession, others connect more with Blanchett’s off-screen persona. “With some other actresses I like, I often find myself enjoying their interviews more than I do their films. With Cate, I thoroughly enjoy both,” says the user who runs the Cate Blanchett fan account @willspoe. On the Twitter account, they post memes and real-time updates on the actor for the 500 followers they have already amassed in two weeks. “I love how she’s always this balance of eloquence and spontaneity. She’s highly intelligent and educated and is always well-poised, but she can also be a goofball. She has everything to keep you both genuinely interested and entertained.”
This goofy, unpredictable side that she demonstrates in interviews is exactly what makes Blanchett such amazing meme fodder. From the classic gays-or-the-gaze interview to her chaotic Today chat with Sarah Paulson during the Ocean’s 8 press tour, there’s a sense of frantic mystery Blanchett holds both off and onscreen. Whether you’re a fan of her films or not, you’ll likely find one of her hilarious quotes shared online—and what’s a more perfect foundation for a dedicated fanbase to connect over?
The ability to connect with each other is key for long-standing Tárts and other Blanchett-heads, Elfadl says.
“There are such nice, lovely people who’ve been so supportive of the podcast. We bask together in the glory of Cate,” he tells me. “We create such a safe and non-hateful community,” agrees the user behind the social media fan account @cate.blanchett.cb. “I remember that a few years ago we created a Google Map for Cate’s birthday. Everyone who wanted to be involved was pinned to the place where they live. You could click on the pins and you could see the name of the person, age, and note for Cate (from that particular person). The map was covered by hundreds of pins worldwide.” Why were these fans inspired to do such a thing? “She just breathes out magic.”
When the staggering story behind Tár is stripped back, the sense of fan cultishness comes down to a bunch of people celebrating a shared interest. Still, very few would disagree that Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as Lydia Tár is anything short of spellbinding. It’s why she was nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Oscars, as well as for similar nods at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. It was so mesmerizing, in fact, that even some of her greatest fans weren’t able to separate fact from fiction.
“When I first heard about Tár, I went to google to check who Lydia Tár was, and I was shocked to learn she did not exist,” says the user behind @willspoe.
Such questions have launched a unique, very online way to engage with Tár. In the ultimate power move of dedication, one fan has taken their appreciation of the film—and the frequent confusion of its viewers—to the next level, creating a Twitter account posing as the canceled conductor. “The ‘Lydia Tár is real’ joke started within Film Twitter,” says parody Lydia. “I think Twitter was such a ripe platform to parody that specific strain of celebrity—someone who might not be a household name, but who is certainly famous and holds status and recognition within a handful of circles. Especially if that figure is controversial.”
Lydia is a so-called victim of cancel culture by the end of Tár, which makes her a perfect character to breathe social media life into, Twitter Lydia explains.
“What better platform is there to parody someone self-obsessed, hyper-defensive, and with a lot of opinions? I think that familiarity is what has given the account interest. Maybe Lydia Tár wouldn’t be super online, but if she was, she wouldn’t be the first person to use Twitter to try to take control of the narrative around her.
“All of that credit goes to the film for creating this original character who is so recognizable that you really could see her having her own online community and presence.”
Unsurprisingly, the fandom has taken to Lydia being “real” like a duck to water. “The early followers of the Tár account were hardcore (and I say that lovingly) Cate Blanchett stans,” Twitter Lydia says. “They saw Tár because of Blanchett, and they found another reason to admire her as an actress and figure.” Through connecting with the actor’s fans, the user behind the account has come away with only positive and rewarding experiences.
With so many notable and award-worthy roles under her belt, parody-Lydia does feel like she’s uncovered something unusual enough to inspire an entirely new wave of Blanchett stans. “Lydia just feels so real,” Twitter Lydia says. “Cate’s played cold characters before, she’s played queer characters before, she’s played wise and self-assured, and she’s played messy and falling apart at the seams. Tár coalesces her entire body of work and then unravels it.”
While Carol Aird in the eponymous Carol, Jeanette in Blue Jasmine, and Sheba in Notes on a Scandal are just some of the roles that have made Cate a sensationalized icon, Lydia Tár might have caused her own digital frenzy for exactly the reasons why we’re supposed to hate her. The story behind Tár makes us ask difficult questions and unravel complex issues, and that’s something we’re pretty much looking for in our media consumption—we want to be challenged.
That includes being challenged by ourselves, and who we decide to start stanning for. “If [Lydia Tár] were real, I genuinely don't know how we'd feel about her,” says parody Lydia. “She's at least easy to project onto some sort of satire of how we create and view icons. As a fictional character, I think she's grown into an icon through this winking nod to fandom. Should we look up to her? That would be a different conversation.”
At the same time, true stans know that Carol Aird walked so Lydia Tár could run. After Carol premiered in 2015, Blanchett’s fanbase took on more of the cultish tack we’re familiar with now. The popularity of her character in the film—a despondent lesbian who falls for a younger woman—explains why Blanchett’s queer fans make up a meaty percentage of the base., To this day, interviewers routinely point out her sapphic influence; Blanchett has even been given the title of “the expert of making girls flip out.”
Carol is a beloved movie in many sapphic circles and I don't think you can overlook the impact it had on establishing a fanbase for Blanchett,” the user behind the parody Lydia account explains. “For Cate Blanchett fans, Carol was the entree, and Tár is the dessert. Maybe Ocean’s 8 was a palate cleanser.”
Carol elevated the fandom, and Tár built up on that,” adds Elfadl. “2015/16 is when I noticed her fandom reach its highest level. Of course, winning the Oscar a couple of years earlier [for Blue Jasmine] helped, but Carol was an online phenomenon.”
The obsessive Carol fandom, which cropped up in places like Tumblr and Twitter, laid the groundwork for the mini-Tárlets; they sometimes went as far as to get tattoos of the film’s most iconic scenes (“Flung out of space.”) But depending on opinion, Tár has either gone on to create the fanbase we know today or reinforced what we already knew was there.
As I re-watch Blanchett TikToks for the 17,897th time in one day, I come to the full-circle conclusion that the #Tárnation exists as it does because we have not experienced an actor quite the way we do Blanchett. She has the talent of Meryl Streep without the perceived distance from reality. She’s got the goofiness of a stand-up comic, who simultaneously listens and empathizes with what she’s being told. She has the success of a corporate, balding, male CEO, who makes sure that the game afoot revolves around him.
If nothing else, Cate Blanchett is an example of how to have your cake and eat it—how to go out into the world and continue to achieve in the face of an ageist and gender-biased industry. In a similar way, so is Lydia Tár. If acknowledging that makes me a Tárt, then I’ll happily take the label. Like superfan Tash Jagger says: “She has this effect on fans that’s hard to really pinpoint. She’s just Cate the Great.”
Fans of Cate Blanchett in 'Tár' Are Hollywood's Hottest New Cult – The Daily Beast
SOUNDS LIKE A CULT