Chapter 1. Introduction
Many theorists have written about the cultural significance of representations of celebrity, Graeme Turner for example defines the celebrity as:
A key site of media attention and personal aspiration, as well as one of the key places where cultural meanings are negotiated and organized.
(Turner 2004: 6)
This reading of the celebrity as a ‘site’ is important. Although of course the celebrity may be a real person, as soon as they enter the media discourse as a represented image, they come to occupy an important symbolic function, in relation to issues such as personal identity and community. One such aspect is gender, and magazine images of femininity are a vital part of celebrity culture, and capitalist culture in general. Turner’s quote here is key. He proposes the celebrity on one hand as the site of organization of cultural meaning – representations of celebrity may be used for example as part of the ideology of what is ‘normal’ or ‘deviant’ in society. On the other hand, he also proposes it as a site of negotiation, suggesting that, while these dominant images may be consumed, there is also potential for them to be challenged. This fundamental opposition between the passive consumption of images of femininity, and their active challenging, is the starting point for my research. It raises questions of what dominant images of femininity are produced by celebrity magazines, how they are produced, and the problematic of whether or not these images can be challenged, negotiated or subverted.
I will approach these questions from different angles. Firstly, by drawing on various writers, I will examine how the relation between reader and celebrity has been formulated in different ways to allow for varying degrees of agency. On one hand, it could be argued that readers are passive consumers of celebrity imagery. On the other hand, perhaps they could read images in such a way as to challenge them. In order to address these questions, I will first look at how the discourse of celebrity in general has been defined by writers such as Turner, Chris Rojek and P. David Marshall. I am interested in researching what effect celebrity images have, in terms of how readers may identify (or not identify) with normative gender roles proposed by celebrity magazines. I am also interested in how they might play out, perform or challenge the identifications that these representations offer. I will research into this in order to explore my key problematic of whether readers have any active power in challenging the normativity of images in celebrity magazines, or whether they passively and unconsciously play them out with no agency or awareness.
In order to explore this problem, I will focus my primary research on contemporary celebrity gossip magazines. I find these magazines appropriate as they are so widely read, According to the latest available figures, Heat sold 450,644 copies last year. (Press 2009), making it far higher selling than more traditional Women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan (388,023) or Marie Claire (269,674). This suggests that magazines focusing specifically on celebrity have a wider impact. This makes them important to the contemporary discourse of celebrity, and also to the production of normative images of femininity. Anna Gough Yates has historicised the development in popularity of different types of ‘women’s magazine’. She analyses a shift from the image of the “mass-market housewife” (Yates 2003: 2) in 1960’s magazines, to more flexible and diverse aspirational images popularized, backed up by lifestyle research, since the mid 1980s.Yates calls the ‘New Woman’ the image of the young professional career woman popularized in magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire in the 1990s, “magazines that achieved high circulation among groups of young professional women” (Yates 2003: 4).
The rise of magazines such as Heat however suggest another shift, away from the dominance of images of the New Woman towards those of celebrity women, just as likely to be famous for marrying a rich man as having a successful career themselves. Another important difference between the 1990s New Woman magazines and contemporary celebrity magazines is the shift away from the New Woman as role model to modes of criticism and irony. Firstly, criticism, in that female celebrities are equally held up as figures of ridicule as figures of aspiration. The front cover of Reveal, 18th – 24th July for example, revels in “Posh’s shattered dream”. Secondly, irony, as young professional women are encouraged to consume celebrity lifestyle in an ironic, so supposedly disengaged fashion. TV advertising for Heat for example, represents the clamour to be the first to read it in a mocking ironic fashion. Developing my original research question, I intend to explore how this ironic or critical detachment could relate to the potential for actually challenging dominant norms of femininity.
It is also interesting that reactions against the rise of such celebrity magazines are emerging. A new magazine is planned to be launched for example on the premise that “it will never publish unflattering paparazzi shots of celebrities looking their worst…and never cynically exploit woman’s body anxieties” (Luft 2009: 2). Such proposals suggest that while on one hand, sales figures suggest the increasing popularity of celebrity magazines, there is also an awareness of their limitations. It is perhaps this contradiction that best expresses the current paradoxical mood of celebrity magazine culture. Magazines constantly valorize and critique celebrity culture often within the same page, creating confused messages and images, making it, I believe, a potentially interesting time to explore and analyse them now, in what may be a time of transition. If, as Yates argues, that shifts in magazine discourse can be directly linked to historical understandings of femininity, then what does this confused state say about contemporary femininity, its norms and challenges? And what kind of agency do readers have in relation to these processes?
1.3. Research Questions, Aims and Objectives
1.3.1. Research Questions
My initial research questions relate to representation: I will examine what the relation is between representations of celebrity, discourses of personal identity and capitalist power relations; and how, specifically, normative images of femininity are produced and maintained in celebrity magazines. This leads to questions of reading: I will consider whether readers have any agency in the reading of images in celebrity magazines; apart from ‘reading’, what other modes of identification might be at play in the consumption of text and images; and could magazines be read in such a way as to challenge these dominant norms. Alongside these questions are theoretical issues: What kind of theoretical work would need to be done in order to make sense of this? What is performativity and is it relevant in this context?; and sociological issues: How do women, actually, use these images and texts in relation to their everyday performance of gender? I will also have to make connections: What is the relation of this primary research (how the magazines work and how women use them) to my secondary research (theories of celebrity culture, gender and performativity)? All of this will allow me to address my main question of whether there exists potential to challenge normative images of femininity in contemporary celebrity magazines.
1.3.2. Aims, Objectives and Interests
I aim to gain a detailed understanding of and critical engagement with contemporary theoretical work on representation of celebrity, considering how this can relate specifically to gender. I aim to gain an understanding of concepts of performativity in order to assess whether they can be useful in addressing my research questions. I aim to consider the relation between modes of agency, subversion and manipulation of codes, and femininity in celebrity magazines. I aim to provide a detailed case study of Heat magazine, and Chantelle Houghton, in order to relate my secondary reading to a throrough semiotic analysis of a contemporary example. I aim to undertake audience research in order to provide critical comparisons between my semiotic analysis and secondary research.
I have an academic interest in the subject as I have read much on celebrity and found it an interesting way to start making sense of complex relationships at play in seemingly everyday processes of magazine readership, and the increasing saturation of celebrity culture. Personally, I am also interested in the possibility of finding some kind of critical space to negotiate potential transformation from within the circuits of consumer capitalism. As Gauntlett has argued, “women’s magazines are, of course, about the social construction of womanhood today” (Gauntlett 2008: 196) so they seem an appropriate place to start considering what it means to be a women within the context of today’s society.
Chapter One is an introductory section, introducing my key problematics, the background for these problematics, my aims, objectives and structure. After this introductory section, I move into Chapter Two, which is an in depth literature review of relevant theoretical work in the field. This is further sub-divided into sections. After an outline in 2.1, 2.2. focuses on the production and negotiation of femininity in celebrity culture. I have further sub-divided this into themed sections. 2.2.1 critically engages with the work of Chris Rojek and others to propose the dominant model of the contemporary female celebrity as an attributed celebrity with great explanatory power in relation to representations of femininity. 2.2.2 focuses on the question of realism in relation to celebrity. I start to argue here for the importance of simultaneous closeness and distance in celebrity image, developing Stacey’s previous work on fantasy and escape. 2.2.3 focuses on readership, engaging with debates relating to interpretation and agency. Here I consider oppositions between, say, Frankfurt School effects models and Richard Dyer’s work on stars, but relating them specifically to issues of femininity and contemporary celebrity magazines. 2.2.4 develops this section to consider how it relates theoretically to the production or care of the self. I start this by considering how representations in celebrity magazines are mobilized to produce specific modes of subjectivity or understandings of selfhood in relation to experiences of femininity. I develop it by considering notions of ‘self-policing’ and Foucault’s work on the relation between disciplinary institutions, self-regulation or potentially self-transformation. This leads to section 2.2.5 where I draw on work by Judith Butler to examine how theories of performativity have been used in relation to gender and consider how these could relate to the issues I have raised so far.
In Chapter Three I critically assess my methodological decisions and Chapter Four consists of my primary research. Here, I will, firstly, employ strategies of detailed close reading of my chosen edition of Heat. This will include focusing on the language of articles as well as semiotics and affective impact of images. Firstly however, in 4.1. I analyse a range of magazines in order to establish where Heat can be situated semiotically within the market. In 4.2 I look briefly at the history and readership of Heat to add a further context. 4.3. is a particular focus on Chantelle Houghton as my choice of case study in celebrity femininity. 4.4. contains the rest of my semiotic analysis of Heat, engaging with issues such as realism and the production of femininity that have emerged from Chapter Two. For the second part of Chapter Four, I analyse the results of my interviews. I will use four in depth qualitative interviews with women from two different age groups to obtain data. Employing the mode of the semi-structured interview will allow me to direct conversation around key topics relating to my aims and objectives, and any other key points that emerge through the process of my research. Chapter Five is the conclusion, summarizing my arguments, proposing further research, and returning to my aims and objectives to assess how effectively I have achieved them.
Chapter 2. Literature Review
I will focus the first part of this literature review on how the area of celebrity culture and the notion of celebrity have been defined generally. This will include looking at the work of writers such as Chris Rojek, P.David Marshall and Graeme Turner. Within this work, I will look specifically at how celebrity has become a key site for productions and negotiations of individual identity in capitalism, and how much agency an audience or reader has in relation to this. Moving on from this, I will focus more specifically on gender, looking at writers who have related celebrity discourse to issues of productions, performances and negotiations of femininity. I include here the work of Jackie Stacey, Harriet Bradley and Christine Geraghty. I want to combine this by proposing that certain distinctions such as Rojek’s between attributed and achieved celebrity can be understood in relation to gender. After this, I will move on to a review of writing on performativity, including the work of Judith Butler and Michel Foucault. Here, I want to consider how this could be relevant to the broader discourse of celebrity, gender and identification.
2.2. Celebrity Culture, the Production and Negotiation of Femininity
2.2.1. The Female Celebrity as Attributed Celebrity with Explanatory Power
According to Chris Rojek, “celebrity status comes in three forms: ascribed, achieved and attributed” (Rojek 2001: 17). He defines the ascribed celebrity as someone who is born a celebrity without having to actually do anything. This contrasts with his next category – achieved celebrity:
Achieved celebrity derives from the perceived accomplishments of the individual in open competition…In the public realm they are recognized as individuals who possess rare talents and skills. (Rojek 2001: 18)
Examples here could include Wayne Rooney, Stephen Spielberg, Penelope Cruz or Tracey Emin, who are all seen to have achieved celebrity status through being outstanding in their respective fields. Rojek, however, complicates this category by suggesting that:
Achieved celebrity is not exclusively a matter of special talent or skill. In some cases it is largely the result of the concentrated representation of an individual as noteworthy or exceptional by cultural intermediaries. When this is so, it is attributed celebrity. (Rojek 2001: 18)
In other words, attributed celebrity is largely produced through media representation rather than necessarily through (although possibly related to) talents of the individual. Rojek goes on to introduce a further term – celetoid, to refer to “a media-generated, compressed, concentrated form of attributed celebrity” (Rojek 2001: 18). This would include celebrities who appear momentarily and then vanish from the public eye, “lottery winners, one-hit wonders, stalkers” (Rojek 2001: 18). A recent example could be Alfie Patten, the young father who momentarily leapt to the front of the newspapers as a rich visually striking personification relating to discourses of teenage pregnancy, youth irresponsibility, Government failures or ‘Broken Britain’, depending which representations you focus on. The Sun chooses to quote David Cameron on how the whole episode is symptomatic of problems in Britain (Hagan 2009). The Guardian on the other hand focuses on ways the young family could be helped (Lemos 2009). Alfie, however, will just as quickly vanish from the public eye as the media seek new scoops and sensations. As Graeme Turner has pointed out, “celebrity has considerable explanatory power in a time of great complexity and contradiction” (Turner et al., 2000: 166), and it is the attributed nature of Alfie’s celetoid fame that allows his image to be mobilized in relation to these broader social discourses.
The example above shows how celebrity becomes a way for the media to utilize certain images in order to achieve their own agendas, and offers a way into thinking about femininity and celebrity for me, which I go on to explore in more detail. My first approach to representations of the female celebrity body is as attributed celebrity with ‘explanatory power’. Women become images in the media open to concentrated representations in social discourses, which, in this case, have particular effects in relation to concepts and identifications of gender. The first ‘utilisation’ I will focus on is the function of female celebrity in relation to discourses of the media, capitalism and social mobility.
2.2.2. Realism, (In)authenticity and Can-do Ideology
It becomes clear then that, according to Rojek’s definitions, achieved celebrity is a far broader and more complex category than ascribed celebrity. In a contemporary media-saturated context, achieved celebrity seems almost all-encompassing, allowing, with its various sub-divisions, to include not only celebrities who achieve fame purely by being good at something, but also celebrities whose image is partly or entirely media constructed. Many theorists have focused on the increase of media-generated achieved/attributed celebrity in the west, and its relation to issues such as individualism, subjectivity and power. P. David Marshall for example argues that:
Celebrity represents an intensifying and proliferating discourse over the course of the twentieth century, one that not only populates entertainment magazines, but is also an essential component of the production of newspapers, news-magazines, web based news sites and blogs, television news and entertainment channels…[and] is very much a component of contemporary politics. (Marshall 2006: 4)
As Marshall here suggests, the discourse of ascribed celebrity is ubiquitous across contemporary western culture. Such ubiquity can also be seen in the attitudes of people living in this society, “Most pre-school children want to be a celebrity when they are older according to a survey out today” (TES 2006, cited at www.educationpages.net). This ‘ready-availability’ of celebrity, disconnected from any notion of achievement, can be read as part of a broader discourse of ‘can-do’ ideology – i.e. the suggestion that you can do and be whatever you want, regardless of barriers such as social background or lack of talent. This is a direct contrast not only with the ‘born-into’ fame of ascribed celebrity, but also with the hard-fought fame of achieved celebrity, suggesting attributed celebrity as a dominant mode in contemporary culture. Celebrity, in this sense, is simultaneously something glamorous and distant and something normalised as a desirable career choice, Angelyne’s claim “I never felt ‘normal’ until I became a celebrity” (Gamson 1994: 1) reveals a paradox at the heart of celebrity image. It is something both exotic and un-natural, and something quite achievable or ‘normal’. This promotes the ideology that being a celebrity is desirable, a valid choice of career, and open equally to anyone. This leads me to look in more depth at relations between the unnatural ‘perfect’ body and discourses of realism or normality, which I will go on to explore next.
Marshall describes the sense of ‘realism’ and ‘authenticity’ vital for contemporary celebrity ideology. He argues that the media provide a “reality-effect” which is “alluring, if not intoxicating for an audience” (Marshall 2006: 3). This highly policed form of realism combines with achieved/attributed celebrities’ ‘self-made’ fame to create the ‘it could be you’ effect vital for the celebrity industry and its relation to producing and managing consumer desire. Bradley also describes the realistic function of celebrity to give the impression to people than anyone can be a celebrity, regardless of talent, ability or social background, as Bradley phrases it, “the lure of consumerist celebrity – Live The Dream!” (Bradley 2007: 162). Rojek has argued that, “as modern society developed, celebrities have filled the absence created by the decay in the popular belief of the divine right of kings, and the death of God” (Rojek 2001: 13). Rather than the monarchical lineage suggested by definitions of ascribed celebrity, celebrity culture has become a vital part of the legitimizing ideologies of capitalism – celebrities are ‘real’, you can be a celebrity, you just have to buy into the right image, “celebrities humanize the process of commodity consumption” (Rojek 2001: 13). It also seems to be the case that achieved / attributed celebrities can do this a lot better, or in a more ‘realistic’ way, than ascribed celebrities, and I propose to research whether this dream operates specifically in relation to feminine desire.
Someone who has addressed the problematic relationship of star image and female desire is Jackie Stacey. She focuses specifically on consumption practices of female spectators of Hollywood films. While Stacey’s work is primarily on cinematic modes of spectatorship, a different history and set of theoretical requirements from analysis of magazine readership, her work on gendered consumption is useful to transfer to theories of celebrity. Stacey argues that the combination of realism and exoticism is a vital element in the star (or celebrity) image. On one hand, she focuses on the signification of fantasy and escape of female stars, “[film consumption] offers an escape from what is perceived as the drudgery of domesticity and motherhood” (Stacey 1994: 238). On the other hand, she argues that such fantasies of escape are made more realistic by the ready availability of items such as the clothes worn by the stars:
The widespread presence of such goods in British shops and thus the imagine possibility of purchase transforms the symbolic meaning of Hollywood stars from distant objects of desire from another world to more familiar and everyday signs of femininity replicable through consumption. (Stacey 1994: 240)
Stacey’s writing about female consumption of Hollywood films in the 1950s seems relevant to import into understanding of celebrity readership and representation today. The celebrity is represented as simultaneously untouchable or Godlike, and achievable or ‘real’. This double image becomes vital for reader identification, could-be-you ideology, and increased consumption of consumer goods. Indeed, Turner makes reference to Stacey in his own analysis of contemporary modes of celebrity consumption, suggesting that, “It is not hard to recognize [Stacey’s argument] in the current trend in women’s magazines to provide guides on where to buy either the exact garment worn by the pictured celebrity or its cheaper substitute” (Turner 2004: 122). I will examine in more detail how this double image is constructed in my primary research. Stacey’s work also raises methodological issues. She is careful to locate it historically in order to examine “the complexities of the multiple meanings of female spectatorship” (Stacey 1994: 239). This suggests the possibility of being open to responses and using qualitative research to address questions raised in secondary research. Stacey uses her research to define a historical shift from escape to identification on behalf of female spectators. I propose that in the contemporary consumption of celebrity, both escape and identification have to be simultaneously at play in order for the celebrity industry to function.
Redmond and Holmes also focus on the relation between the star and the fan:
Stars and celebrities are consumed and appropriated by fans in ways which have a profound effect on their identity, self-image, and sense of belonging. (Redmond and Holmes 2007: 4)
These ‘ways which have a profound effect’, or the nature of the relation between star and fan, celebrity and reader, has been the subject of much debate. As I have discussed, celebrities function not only as modes of imposing cultural meanings but also potential sites of negotiating or challenging them. Dyer introduced the concept of ‘structured polysemy’ in relation to film stars. This is his way of explaining how the star image can operate across a range of media, and can have multiple and contradictory meanings, but is still ‘structured’ in the sense of not having the freedom to mean absolutely anything. (Dyer 1979: 3). Others have challenged this. Judith Mayne for example, argues that “inconsistency, change and fluctuation” (Mayne 1993: 128) are important elements of celebrity image. She criticizes Dyer by emphasizing the fluidity and openness of the celebrity sign more than he does, focusing instead on “constant reinvention, the dissolution of contraries, the embracing of radically opposing terms” (Mayne 1993: 138). Others such as Turner or P.David Marshall have emphasized the importance of social context in representations of, definitions of and productions of celebrity. As Marshall argues, “the term [celebrity] is linked to past power structures (i.e. the church), and now has connotations that link it to modern power structures (i.e. capitalism)” (Marshall 1997: 7). Chris Rojek’s definition also emphasizes the importance of such structures, “I treat celebrity as the attribution of glamorous or notorious status to an individual within the public sphere…The media determine this idiom, although the content remains a matter of political and ideological exchange” (Rojek 2001: 10). What these approaches have in common then is the conceptualization of celebrity as the product of broader media discourses. Beyond reflecting the lives of famous people, the media are involved in active constructions of celebrity discourse and celebrity figures in relation to structures of politics and power.
These debates are important for my argument in two main senses. Firstly, celebrity discourse can be read, through this relation to power, as an embodiment of specific dominant ideologies, in this case gender. Secondly, as it is part of a process of open exchange, celebrity discourse is also an important site of negotiating the dominance of specific ideologies. The first point has been made strongly by Frankfurt School critiques of consumer culture. Marcuse for example describes the “the surrender of thought, hope and fear to the powers that be” (Marcuse 1964: 12), Adorno and Horkheimer describe “enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system” (Adorno & Horkheimer 1944: 2). Both define mass culture as part of the determining force of ideological power, against which the consumer has no agency. The second point has been made by, for example, Richard Dyer in his analysis of stars. Dyer makes two main points (see Marshall 1997: 19). He argues firstly that the celebrity acts as the epitome of and point of identification for representations of the ‘individual’ necessary for the functioning of capitalism. Secondly, against Adorno and Horkheimer, rather than being solely a product of the culture industries, the celebrity is also, at least partly, constructed by audience reading of dominant cultural representations. In contrast with some of the Frankfurt School approach then, Dyer’s work proposes the film star or celebrity as a more complex site of identification, negotiation and potential resistance:
Certain stars, far from managing contradictions, either expose them or embody an alternative or oppositional ideological position to dominant ideology (often contradictory itself). The ‘subversiveness’ of these stars can be seen in terms of ‘radical intervention’ (not necessarily conscious) on the part of themselves or others who have used the potential meaning of their image. (Dyer 2006: 153)
While, on one hand, the celebrity does act as a point of identification for the individual, he is critical of reading celebrity as something entirely subsumed by the culture industry, and so leaves open the possibility of active ‘reading’ of celebrity discourses on behalf of the audience. Fans, for example, may take a star image from a given network of signification and re-signify it in relation to an alternative set of discourses. Recent examples of this could include ironic re-appropriations of celebrities such as David Hasselhoff, or more politically motivated gay appropriations of stars such as Kylie Minogue.
This has obvious connections to gender. Against the normative image of femininity represented in magazines, say submissive, objectified, sexualized and defined in relation to men, readers could re-interpret such imagery in relation to more emancipatory discourses, appropriating celebrity, say, for feminist aims. The rise of new media platforms has allowed such ‘radical intervention’ into star images to proliferate more than Dyer suggests. Blog culture for example allows celebrities to be read in terms of feminist, or other agendas. ‘Feminists to the Rescue’ Blog for example, provides a reading of celebrity culture in terms of feminism, promoting Reece Witherspoon as “celebrity feminist of the day” (‘Femily’ 2008). Other blogs such as ‘Feministing’ (‘Miriam’ 2008) follow similar agendas, illustrating the relevance of Dyer’s points in relation to celebrity and gender today. More extreme examples could include home made mash-up videos on the internet, using images of stars to act out fantasies as a challenge to their control of their own image. Turner focuses on this aspect of the celebrity industry in his writing on ‘celebrity flesh’ (Turner 2004: 123). I would argue that the “media-savvy hyperbole” and “comic irony” (Turner 2004: 123) that he locates within more pornographic celebrity representations are also important in more mainstream representations such as Heat magazine. Dyer’s final point here is also important. Even though the audience or reader may actively read the celebrity image, the discourse of the individual vital for capitalism is still valorized. It is questionable how much opposition to dominant capitalist ideologies is actually achieved through the supposedly ‘subversive’ readings I proposed above.
Rojek also discusses the relation of celebrity to capitalism:
The logic of capitalist accumulation requires consumers to constantly exchange their wants. The restlessness and friction in industrial culture partly derives from the capitalist requirement to initiate perpetual commodity and brand innovation. (Rojek 2001: 14)
Again this relates most directly in the context of celebrity to the manipulation of female desire. A glance at any celebrity magazine illustrates the close connection between celebrity image and consumer goods. Such appropriations then can still be seen as part of the capitalist production and multiplication of desires. The Frankfurt School theorists effectively located celebrity culture in the network of capitalist ideology but provided a deterministic framework granting no agency to audiences or readers. Theories of active engagement such as Dyer’s are useful for complicating the relation of reader to text and allowing the potential of alternative engagements. Work such as Rojek’s and Marshall’s however suggests that these alternative readings are still part of networks of capitalist desire. This can be seen as part of the way celebrity culture has been used to legitimate concepts of self-improvement, regardless of social barriers, and the way it is mobilized to increase and direct consumer desire.
2.2.4. The Production and Care of the Self
Marshall goes on to suggest that the reason for such proliferation of celebrity discourse is the relation it bears to the production and maintenance of fictions of the self as individual, “the audience continues to interpret the meaning of celebrity in a grand narrative on the dimensions of individuality and identity in contemporary culture where comparisons between the self and the celebrity are constantly made, and cultural norms are supported, altered or dismantled” (Marshall 2006: 3-4). This shows the relation of celebrity to producing and policing boundaries of the self, “our [media] machinery only multiplies and enlarges the shadows of ourselves . . . We mark the boundaries of our world with a wall of mirrors” (Boorstin 1961: 84).
Both Rojek’s and Marshall’s analysis are useful in starting to analyse the discourse of celebrity in relation to broader cultural processes. Neither specifically mention gender though and this seems a vital element of the fictions of the individual self that Marshall describes. His description of the comparison between self and celebrity, and the way that cultural norms are ‘supported, altered or dismantled’ could be more productively explored, I would argue, through an increased focus on the dominant imagery in celebrity magazines – that of the female celebrity body. The politics of celebrity that Marshall suggests through the analysis of how people interpret celebrity could be given more concrete focus through a focus on gender specifically, as a form of ‘fiction of the self’ actively played out through reading magazines.
The ready availability of celebrity and the can-do culture I have outlined above has a specific relation to representations of femininity and the belief that anyone can achieve the ‘perfect’ body. The connection between attributed celebrity and femininity is not discussed by Rojek. Harriet Bradley, however, suggests that male celebrities tend to be famous firstly for achieving something, acting or directing say, while female celebrities are more often represented primarily as objects (Bradley 2007: 162). Christine Geraghty (2007) separates definitions of ‘celebrity’ from those of ‘film star’ in terms of how the meaning of the celebrity is produced through representations in the private sphere to a far greater extent than the film star. She then links this to representations of female celebrities in particular, “women function effectively as spectacle in the press and on television as well as in the cinema” (Geraghty 2007: 106), leading them to be more likely categorized as ‘celebrity’ in her definition. Such work suggests that there may be a gendered link between achieved and attributed celebrity, celebrity and star, or celebrity and non-celebrity that Rojek does not fully explore. By referring to them as spectacle she suggests that female celebrities operate as the object rather than subject of the gaze. Laura Mulvey has suggested that by producing fragmented and objectified images of women, the cinematic apparatus operates to produce a specifically ‘male gaze’ (Mulvey 2001), where women function as objects of desire for men to look at. Her argument is of course complicated when considering female spectatorship, and in the case of celebrity magazines, where most of the readers are female, female celebrities function more as objects of desire for the female gaze. I will go on to explore this more in Chapter Four.
Bradley goes on to make a number of points in relation to discourses of celebrity and gender. She points out how images of celebrity women in magazines, for the female gaze, are used to create “an obsession with size and weight [which] legitimizes the massive commercial apparatus of the slimming and exercise industry” (Bradley 2007: 161). This point makes another link between the representation of femininity and discourses of capitalism. One of the reasons that female celebrity ‘perfect’ body images are mass-circulated as objects of desire is precisely so that readers will desire them and spend millions of pounds on products which then play on this desire to sell the image of the perfect body back to them. Something I must consider in my research is the close link between images of celebrity and other elements of capitalist society such as advertising for beauty products. It is not possible to take the images in isolation without awareness of how they operate in relation to these other discourses. Bradley here also suggests that readers are influenced by magazine representations to the point of becoming ‘obsessed’. She goes on to nuance this effect relation by suggesting that the ideal of the perfect body is not just forced upon society by magazines and the beauty industry, but is also carefully maintained and self-policed by female readers themselves:
Ironically, it has been noted that it is women themselves who police the cult of slenderness; women criticizing other women’s figures and clothing…and the catty commentators in Heat and Hello who take delight in pictures of female stars wearing unbecoming clothes, having ‘bad hair days’, or showing glimpses of cellulite. (Bradley 2007: 161)
I will return to this argument in my primary research, both through analysis of the magazines and how they present images of celebrity, and through my interviews and questionnaires. If dominant representations are indeed so self-policed then the question of how they could be challenged becomes difficult. Bradley’s analysis is useful for pointing out the ideological functions of celebrity in relation specifically to gender.
The notion of self-policing has been proposed by Michel Foucault:
I would say now that I am interested, in fact, in the way in which the subject constitutes himself, in an active fashion, by the practices of the self. These practices are nevertheless not something that the individual invents by himself. They are patterns that he finds in his culture, and are proposed, suggested and imposed on him by his culture.
(Foucault 1987, cited in Strozier 2002: 141)
This quote from Foucault is interesting as it shifts the question of agency. Speaking generally, people may well actively constitute their own subjectivity. However, this active construction is still restrained by cultural factors. Specifically, women may feel they are speaking freely and expressing individuality in criticizing, say body image, while they are actually speaking as part of the same network of subjectification they set out to challenge. Foucault’s model of the Panopticon prison (Foucault 1975), where the prisoners cells can all be observed from a central tower provided him with a model of internalised discipline. While the prisoners may not be being watched, it is possible that they are, so, according to this model, they regulate their behaviour accordingly in relation to the dominant norms of the institution.
In Foucault’s later work however, he moved away from the determinism of institutional discourses towards more liberating theory. He proposes, “another kind of critical philosophy…that seeks the conditions and the indefinite possibilities of transforming the subject, of transforming ourselves” (Foucault 1997: 179). This focus on the ‘indefinite’ suggests that transformation of the self may be possible outside of the parameters of the institution, and we don’t as yet know what it may look like. Foucault describes this work as “a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression” (Foucault 1984: 45). Its ‘practical’ nature suggests that production or ‘care’ of the self is a pragmatic experiment, rather than something which can only be isolated and though theoretically. It is through lived and performed relations that there exists the possibility of playing out active transgressions of normative roles. His work proposes the possibility that:
One detaches oneself from what are the received truths and seeks other rules of the game…the modification of received values…to do something else, to become other than what one is. (Foucault 1996: 306-7)
This becoming other from what one is in Foucault is picked up by Simon O’Sullivan in his writing on the production of subjectivity:
Here, the new, in terms of a new subjectivity, or new way of being in the world, cannot simply be read about, or directly accessed, but is produced through a certain orientation/intention and through certain specific technologies. (O’Sullivan 2008: 95)
Such ‘technologies’ can be interpreted broadly, to include aspects such as everyday behaviour, rituals and modes of acting in the world. What such work suggests is that, although normative images of femininity are produced and maintained through celebrity magazines, referring to interconnected discourses of capitalism and power, an entirely deterministic understanding of the regulatory norms of gender may not explain the creative potential of resisting such categorization in the everyday productions of and care of the self.
I started this section with Dyer and Marshall’s work on celebrity as the production of fictions of the individual, then introduced readership theories of challenging and dismantling of the image. I inflected this specifically in relation to women with Bradley’s analysis of the circulation of feminine desire in celebrity images, and her audience research suggesting women’s ‘self-policing’. I then moved into Foucault’s theorizing of disciplinary institutions and the liberatory potential of practices of the subject. Bearing all of this in mind, I can now move to a consideration of performativity.
2.2.5. Gender and Performativity
I am interested not only in modes of ‘reading’ celebrity in relation to dominant discourses such as particular gender roles, but also other processes in which identification, negotiation and subversion may take place. For this, I want to focus on theories of ‘performativity’ in order to consider how they could relate to debates over celebrity discourse. The philosopher of language J.L. Austin introduced the notion of performativity in linguistics to describe a word or phrase that does something through the act of being spoken. ‘I do’ in a marriage ceremony for example, can not be reduced purely to structuralist semantics but is important in terms of the effect it has. Through the act of pronouncing the words, the marriage ritual takes place. As Austin describes:
To utter the [performative] sentence is not to describe my doing ..or to state that I am doing it: It is to do it. (Austin 1975: 6)
The importance of the perfomative utterance then, is that through the act of utterance, something happens. The relevance of this outside of a linguistic context is in how it has been taken up to describe how identity is played out and produced in a performative way. As Parker and Sedgwick argue:
Performativity has enabled a powerful appreciation of the way that identities are constructed iteratively through complex citational processes. (Parker and Sedgwick 1995: 2)
In other words, identities, including gender identities, are played out through repetitions and the act of quoting. Femininity for example, according to theories of performativity, is not a pre-given category which we can either accept, question or challenge, but instead it only exists through the act of, say, getting up, putting on a dress and going out to buy make-up. Celebrity then, as a point of reference for networks of identity, becomes a vital element in the way these performative identities are constructed.
Derrida criticized the way that Austin was selective in his definitions of the performative. According to Austin, the performative had a “normal use” and anything “parasitical” or deviant from this would be “excluded from consideration” (Austin 1975: 22). Derrida, on the other hand, argues, “is not what Austin excludes as anomalous…that is citation, the determined modification of a general citationality – or rather a general iterability – without which there would not be a ‘succesful’ performative” (Derrida 1982: 325). In other words, the performative can operate far more generally, in relation to everyday speech, to theatrical performance, and to the repetition of images, say in celebrity magazines, as vital to performance of identity. Judith Butler has written a lot on performativity in relation to gender. She describes on one hand how the subject is formed and constituted in language (Butler 1997: 3-4). On the other hand however, she describes the “threat [which] emerges precisely through the act that the body performs in speaking the act” (Butler 1997: 9). For Butler, gender identity is iterated, or repeated ritually, through language. However, this very iteration also contains the potential to be a threat, or a radical re-iteration, as it is played out. In other words, the everyday playing out of gender identity can simultaneously disrupt that identity by being played out in a different way. This is Butler’s radical claim and while it is coherent theoretically, it is hard to think how it could be tested in relation to lived experience. I will incorporate the notion of threat into my analysis and conclusion to consider whether respondents can actually challenge gender norms through their everyday performance, or whether this remains a theoretical ideal
Sarah Salih outlines in detail some of Butler’s work on performativity and gender. She describes how Butler’s theory is “anti-essentialist” (Salih 2004: 90) meaning that it is critical of the idea that gender is a given and universal form, and instead proposes it as open to change. For Butler, “gender is an open-ended process, a sequence of acts or events, which does not originate and which is never finally or fully ‘realised’” (Salih 2004: 90). This seems a direct contradiction with the idea, based on ideological models, that women passively consume images of celebrities in magazines, which force them to aspire to specific images through the illusion that it could be them and through the consumption of marketed goods. If Butler’s theory of open-ended deferred identity can be put to use in celebrity magazine readership then I will have to show that the process of negotiating gender in magazines can be, somehow, open-ended, rather than one-way. On the other hand however, Butler’s theories, such as, “interrogating the terms in which our identities are described, constituted and circumscribed” (Salih 2004: 90), can be useful in understanding how images in magazines are able to have such powerful effect in shaping identity. Importantly from her theories comes the idea that it is through the act of, say, reading celebrity magazines, that gender is actively constructed.
There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; identity is discursively constituted…there is no actor who performs the sequence of gender acts that constitute its identity…the doing itself is everything (Salih 2004: 91).
How important this element of performance is to celebrity discourse, and whether it can indeed add anything at all is what I set out to test. To do this requires analyzing Butler further:
In the first instance, the performativity of gender revolves around the way in which the anticipation of a gendered essence produces that which it posits as outside of itself. Secondly, performativity is not a singular act, but a repetition and a ritual, which achieves its effects through its naturalization in the context of a body, understood, in part as a culturally sustained temporal duration. (Butler 1990, cited in Littolessiti and Sunderland 2002: 25)
In other words then, the act of playing out gender precedes gender identity. Gender is produced through this act and proposed, in an illusory fashion, as something that pre-existed. Secondly, this act is ritually repeated and becomes ‘natural’ in the way a body comes to be disciplined. Reading celebrity magazines then can be read as such a ritualistic act, a scene where femininity is played out I a relation between readers and images. The performative process outlined by Litolessiti and Sunderland, “a ritualized process which allows the participants to construct and project desirable versions of their identities in a succession of performances targeted at specific audiences” (Littolessiti and Sunderland 2002: 26) could relate both to the construction of the magazine itself, and to the act of reading it. In relation to this then, my main questions here become to identify how gender is contructed performatively through magazines, and to consider whether the act of readership can become a performative ‘threat’ to normative gender identity, or whether it acts as another empty repetition plugged into the circuits of capitalist desire. As Yates has argued (Yates 2003: 7), this must include not only analysis of the texts but also a focus on how readers ‘use’ and ‘transform’ magazine representations in their everyday lives.
Chapter 3. Methodology
For the next stage of my research, I will concentrate on the collection and analysis of primary data. This will consist of two parts. For the first part I have decided, within the available space, it is more productive to focus in depth on on one magazine than to offer a broad and shallow survey. As Heat is currently the biggest selling celebrity magazine, I will focus on this, and on a current edition in particular in order to focus my attention more. I will consider the kinds of languages and imagery employed in relation to target audience and representations of gender and celebrity, along with a brief outline of its history, readership and circulation figures.
When analyzing the magazine semiotically, I will look at what dominant codes are employed to signify some of the elements I have discussed in Chapter Two. I will focus, for example, on representations of ‘realism vs untouchability’, ‘what is constructed as normal, natural or healthy / what is demonised as its opposite’, ‘care of the self’, ‘it could be you ideology’, ‘relation of female celebrity to discourses of capitalism and power’, ‘performance of celebrity-ness’, and ‘irony and criticism’, as these are key themes which have emerged in Chapter Two and are fundamental to my aims and objectives, laid out in Chapter One. In order to further focus my research, I will look at specific stars, in particular Chantelle Houghton, who I classify as a ‘celebrity-cipher’, or someone who distills the essence of contemporary celebrity by being famous for nothing, so acting as a mirror to reflect back society’s expectations of celebrity culture itself. After recent ‘real life’ exposes, Chantelle’s image has oscillated between ultimate faker in Celebrity Big Brother to natural girl, “I’m sick of being fake” (Cover of Heat, 18th – 24th July 2009).
This will then lead on to my next section, allowing me to test hypotheses and compare my own findings with those gained from other readers. For this section, I have chosen to employ extensive in-depth qualitative individual interviews with four readers – two from the 18-24 year old age group, and two from the 25-35 year old age group. These in-depth interviews will allow me to gain a lot of detail of relations between celebrity and discourses of femininity in relation to actual readers, as well as allowing a comparison between age groups.
3.2. Semiotic Analysis
The notion of cultural product as ‘text’ to be ‘read’ or interpreted by semioticians of culture had its most impact in Roland Barthes’ book Mythologies (1973). In this book, Barthes analysed aspects of popular culture, which had before been taken for granted rather than proposed as objects of academic study. Barthes analysed advertising for example, wrestling and dancing (Barthes 1973). His analysis was influenced by the work of Saussure in structural linguistics (Saussure 1986). Saussure proposed language as a structure, consisting of signs. Each sign is made up of the signifier and the signified, the sound or sequence of letters ‘cow’ operates as signifier for example, while our mental image of a cow functions as signified. Barthes took this analysis further to examine the circulation of meanings in society. He introduced the distinction between connotational and denotational levels of meaning. An image of a cow for example, may denote a cow but it may also connote culturally specific meanings (or myths). It may come to represent, say, idealized nature, pre-industrial lifestyle, sacred rites or unattractiveness, depending on the interpreting culture. Importantly Barthes pointed out how the myth functions ideologically, in the sense of making a specific meaning seem natural and given, when it is actually constructed in the interests of a specific group. Semiotic analysis can challenge this by revealing the underlying contingent systems of codes and signification, and producing new readings. As John Storey argues, “the aim of Barthes’ book is to make explicit what too often remains implicit and unnoticed in the texts” (Storey 2006: 274).
In relation to my on work then, this provides a theoretical background for my interpretation of images and words in the magazines. Women are represented in a specific way, using readable codes of, say, dress, posture and framing. Language is employed in specific ways to support certain productions of desire While this may seem ‘natural’, I can analyse these codes and conventions in order to provide readings of magazine representation and analyse how they fit into or disrupt the discourses of celebrity culture I have been outlining in the literature review.
3.3. Audience Research
I will recruit interviewees from people I know, ensuring they are comfortable and relaxed with the interview situation, and to ensure reliability and availability. I will employ the semi-structured interview. This is a mode that will allow interviewees freedom to speak outside of fixed parameters, but I will also have to organize the conversation around key themes (Silverman 2004 140; Jensen 2002: 156). These will include readership habits, patterns of consumption, identification with celebrities, attitude toward celebrity, issues of gender etc.. and allow me to relate the interviews to my research so far.
3.4. Research Ethics
I will be aware of research ethics throughout, for example making sure people are happy with their view being recorded, or changing the names of interviewees. My interviews will allow me to be able to make a comparison between women readers of different age groups. This is a relatively small sample size but is enough to test my project hypotheses.
Chapter 4. Analysis
4.1. Semiotic Analysis of Celebrity Magazines
4.1.1. Initial Market Segmentation
For my initial research, I looked at the whole range of celebrity magazines available on the high-street shelf. This led me to categorise them into three main groups. Firstly, those which have emerged from what Yates describes as the New Woman Magazines in the 1980s and 1990s (Yates 2003). This group includes Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and newer titles such as Glamour. This group focus on issues they think will appeal to women in general, including but not exclusively celebrity. Company August 2009 for example includes a fiction section, book and film reviews alongside celebrity gossip stories. Semiotically, looking at the covers of these magazines, they adopt a more minimal and less cluttered style than magazines like Heat. They feature usually one female model against a white background, adopting the conventions of fashion magazines. Fonts are small and not very varied, developing from logos across the top. Codes of layout, font, text, and image signify classic trusted style, sophistication and fashion.
The second group consists of newer magazines targeting a different demographic (working class women in particular) and occupying a different cultural position (exclusively popular culture). I have classified these magazines by their exclusive focus on celebrity, the group includes titles such as Heat, Reveal and Closer. In contrast with the first group they adopt the large font and sensationalist headline style of tabloid newspapers, Reveal 18th – 24th August for example pastes ‘The Party’s Over!” on its front page, partly covering it’s own logo. Rather than an image of a model, they use multiple celebrity photographs creating an effect of excess and a focus on image over text. Colours are brighter, including bright pinks and yellows making text stand out. Short headlines suggest exclusives, with a focus on novelty and entertainment.
Thirdly, there are magazines aimed at older female readers such as Woman’s Own and Bella, which combine representations of celebrity with other elements such as puzzles and TV. These magazines have adopted the codes of the second group with large headlines, multiple celebrity images and little text. They have more focus however on ‘real-life’ images and age-specific issues, Bella 21st July featuring for example images of older people and “how to look young at 55”.
4.1.2 Heat Background
The edition I have chosen to focus on (18th to 24th July 2009) exhibits the conventions I have outlined above. It also includes, among other signifiers, colloquial language and mode of address, “Wahey! New Boobs!”, much use of exclamation, “Work it out!”, popular cultural references, “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!” , sensational language, “amazing new pics!”, the promise of authentic and critical access to celebrity, “Jordan won’t be happy!”, promise of sexual content, “Pete gets raunchy!”, exclusivity, “Exclusive!” and the use of candid paparazzi style images to lure the reader in. In terms of representations of femininity, one woman, Kym, is shown on the front, and it is suggested she is more confident due to surgical implants. Her confidence is represented by her being contained submissively by a male figure, Jamie. Another woman, Chantelle, is shown in her bra with the quote, “I’m sick of being fake”. Another, Jordan, is shown supposedy unhappy at her partner’s raunchy pics. Overall then, the cover creates a jokey, matey colloquial mode of address with sensational tabloid style celebrity stories. Women are represented mainly in relation to their bodies, whether perfect or imperfect, or, in this case, in terms of jealousy. The main focus on body is developed with the promise of “body image survey results inside”.
Heat was launched in 1999 and had its highest readership figures in 2006 when some issues sold over 700,000 copies (Brooke 2008: 1). In June 2008 this was down to around 500,000 (Brooke 2008: 3) and the most recent available figures put circulation down to around 450,000 (Press 2009). Brooke proposes some reasons for the decline in sales figures, one being the increased importance and rivalry of the internet to print magazines in general, another being the increased profile of some of Heat’s rivals, “some fear the magazine is just no longer zeitgeist – Grazia has the greater buzz with the chatterati, and OK! The monopoly on the big celebrity buy-ups” (Brooke 2008: 4). The readership of Grazia is still a lot less than Heat however, around 200,000 in the most recent figures (Press 2009). Interestingly, Brooke does acknowledge in his article that part of the reason for Heat’s success was the choice of its previous editor Mark Frith to target a specifically female audience rather than a gender-neutral one. I will bear this in mind when doing my analysis.
4.1.3. Chantelle as Celebrity-Cipher
As cover star of my chosen edition of Heat , I have chosen to focus my analysis on Chantelle Houghton. She can in some ways be seen as the epitome of a certain type of celebrity. She was introduced to the public eye as a ‘fake’ celebrity in the midst of a house of ‘real’ celebrities in Celebrity Big Brother in 2006. The stunt in itself revealed many interesting aspects of contemporary celebrity discourse. Firstly, the way that other celebrities believed she must be famous for some reason or another because of the context she was placed in and the way she behaved highlights the performative aspect of celebrity – i.e. Celebrity here is not who you are but a specific mode of behaviour. Secondly, the fact that no-one pointed out that they were not aware of what she was famous for shows how the media ubiquity of celebrity has reached a point when celebrities are not even, in fact, necessarily well known, something which had previously been fundamental in their definition. Thirdly, it shows that despite of this, the binary opposition between celebrity and non-celebrity is still a fundamental assumption on behalf of the public. Fourthly, in an interesting inversion from the negative moral attitudes to ‘fakeness’ evident in celebrity magazines and culture, (for example the cover of Heat 18-24 July, “I’m sick of being fake”), the public in this case rewarded Chantelle’s ‘fakeness’ or inauthenticity by voting her as the winner of the programme.
I would suggest, in relation to my research in the literature review, that she was so popular precisely because she offered a space of identification for a non-celebrity to actually become, through her dress, manner and behaviour, a celebrity. She became the embodiment of the fundamental enabling ideology of the ‘it could be you’ discourse, which I discussed in Chapter Two in relation to P.David Marshalls’s analysis of the relation of the celebrity to capitalist culture. Fifthly, and relevantly for my research here, it is interesting to consider Chantelle in her privileged role as ‘pure celebrity’ or ‘celebrity-cipher’. By this I mean that as she was not famous for doing anything in particular, Chantelle’s fame rested entirely on what a culture thought or believed a celebrity looked like or is. She functions then as a mirror, reflecting back society’s image of celebrity to itself. I am using Chantelle then as a model for the celebrity woman. If, as I have argued, the celebrity female body is the dominant point of identification for contemporary constructions of femininity, then the image of femininity Chantelle performs is the dominant image of femininity today. Finally, after the highpoint of her Celebrity Big Brother triumph, Chantelle is back in the celebrity magazines now, revealing the flipside of the celebrity dream.
The ideology of the article in Heat is clear. Chantelle is described as “sporting a brand new (and thankfully) more natural look” (Fernando 2009: 6), suggesting that the writer values ‘natural’ over ‘artificial’. This however is a very complicated opposition and uses of terms like ‘real’ or ‘natural’ oscillate and shift in the magazines. Kym Marsh’s use of surgery to improve her figure is described as “fab” (Heat 2009: 12) for example, contrasting with the way the ‘natural’ is valorized in the Chantelle article . After winning Celebrity Big Brother as a ‘fake’ celebrity, Chantelle now claims “the fake boobs and tan are all going. I just want to be me again” (Fernando 2009: 6). The image of Chantelle as everyday person performing celebrity so well that she was voted winner of the programme has now been turned on its head, suggesting that somewhere in excess of her performance lay an authentic “me” which was cast aside in her quest for fame. As I argued in Chapter Two, this focus on the fiction of the self as individual is another important aspect of celebrity culture. As P.David Marshall has argued:
Celebrities articulate individuality and identity. Individuality marks one of the key components in the structure of consumer culture as well as the aspirational qualities of democratic culture. (Marshall 2006: 4)
The article emphasizes this notion of ‘individuality’ that Marshall highlights by focusing on Chantelle not only as constructed celebrity image, but also as the embodiment of an ‘authentic self’, “I just feel like myself again…I’m me” (Fernando 2009: 9). As I argued in Chapter Two, developing arguments of Turner and Stacey, the celebrity image is paradoxical, it demands simultaneous escape and identification, operating both at a mode of ready availability and at one of glamorized distance. Chantelle’s image on Celebrity Big Brother successfully encapsulated this paradox, while also operating as a popular critique of celebrity culture as a whole. It also captures the paradox of the ‘reality effect’ that I discussed. Although her image is constructed and media managed, it can also valorize the concept of the individual, as if one should be ‘true to oneself’. However, after functioning as the epitome of ‘it could be you ideology’, Chantelle’s image is now inverted to act as a warning of the dangers and inauthenticity of fame.
These warnings are spelt out in more detail in the article, Chantelle had “disastrous relationships…and an obsession with her weight” (Fernando 2009: 6). I would expect that the magazine’s hypocricy would not be lost on readers. On pages 68-9,a range of men give vox pops on how they only fancy women who are skinny, “I like a woman to look like she looks after her body” (Heat 2009: 69) accompanied by photographs of skinny models or actresses such as Keira Knightley. Pages 60-7 are taken up with a “Body Envy Survey” showing images of bodies women should be envious of, and suggesting intensive training to become more like them. At the same time, the writer of the Chantelle article claims to be shocked at the lengths Chantelle went to in order to try and make herself thin:
At one point, Chantelle shockingly confesses that she used to make herself sick after meals. In her own words, she describes the battle she faces on a daily basis. (Fernando 2009: 6).
Celebrity ideology has come full circle. After coming to represent the dream, available to all, Chantelle is now living proof of the impossibility of that same dream. The representation of Chantelle here also supports my argument on the gendered relation between ascribed and achieved celebrity, which is not dealt with by Rojek. It is more difficult to imagine a male celebrity being immediately accepted as being just famous for no reason of achievement at all.
The images accompanying the article are also interesting. Chantelle is pictured standing in white underwear, in red lipstick, with blonde hair, mimicking the sexualized dress and style of conventional representations of female celebrity for the male gaze (Fernando 2009: 7). However, the image is more self-aware, as her body is itself framed by a mirror, drawing attention to itself as an image and serving to make the reader aware of the conventions of representation rather than accepting them as ‘natural’ or given. Her eyes gaze back out, as if challenging the reader to look at her, rather than adopting a submissive role. Her pose is awkward, arms by her sides, and the whole image is thrown into a different context by a double image of Chantelle looking at her own image. The left-image now becomes objectified, not in terms of the gaze of the reader, but for the gaze of Chantelle herself, highlighting the issue of self-image and awareness, by breaking the convention of the invisibility of the frame. The ‘mirror Chantelle’ however looks out, not returning the gaze of the ‘actual Chantelle’ introducing a three way relationship into the angle of looks. In one sense, this suggests the signification of a mismatch between Chantelle’s image of herself and the presented ‘real’ mirror image, as proposed in the article, “Chantelle sees something in the mirror that no one else can” (Fernando 2009: 6). In another sense however, it also produces an uncanny affect, with the ‘mirror Chantelle’ gaining a strange autonomy as she detaches from representation as image, and attains a spectral presence. The effect of this, as well as drawing the reader into the private relation of mirror gazing, and detaching it from a simply voyeursistic relation to the spectator, is to suggest the paradoxes at the heart of celebrity image I have been discussing. Chantelle is split into two, on one hand, her body photographed side-on to emphasise her large breasts, the ‘fake’ celebrity she performed to gain her success, and on the other hand, the ‘real me’, looking out to gain sympathy outside of being a sexualized object. This ‘real me’ however becomes only an uncanny presence, haunting the other Chantelle as something that can never be directly accessed, the empty ‘me’ at the core of celebrity femininity.
4.1.4. Other Issues in Heat
Heat provides many examples of or engagements with issues I have discussed in Chapter Two. The ‘Hoop of Horror’ (Heat 2009: 36) shows the more critical approach to celebrity I discussed. Rather than being glamorized, here celebrities are criticized, showing how they can function as the boundaries of self-policing, dictating the limits of what is allowed in constructions of femininity. Grace Jones for example is criticized for revealing her thong, suggesting this is not acceptable for a female celebrity. Others such as Pixie Geldof and Cheryl Cole are criticized for making ‘ugly’ faces, revealing here the construction of deviant expression which is necessary for the production and maintenance of the ‘normal’ within discourses of femininity. The section also creates a powerful ‘reality effect’ by suggesting a hierarchy of authenticity, as if the images here are less managed and so more authentic than images in the rest of the magazine, “They so don’t want you to see these pics!” (Heat 2009: 36).
The mobilization of celebrity image in relation to broader social discourses is also evident. The feature ‘Steal her Style’ (Heat 2009: 92-3) shows, as I discussed in Chapter Two, how readers can imitate a celebrity by buying similar clothing and accessories. Here the celebrity image is used in a direct relation to consumerism, mobilizing the ‘it could be you’ ideology and shifting it to more of an ‘it could be nearly you’ approximation, easily achievable through directed consumption. Celebrity image is also variously used to legitimate modes of behaviour, for example, sunbathing (Heat 2009: 72), high-street shopping (Heat 2009: 83) and watching romantic comedy (Heat 2009: 106), while demonizing others such as dating someone within a short time of dating someone else (Heat 2009: 27) or openly manipulating media attention (Heat 2009: 5).
The objectification of the female celebrity body is illustrated bluntly in the article ‘Your Perfect Body!’ (Heat 2009: 66). Here, various female celebrity’s bodies are fragmented and then, through a cut n paste technique, re-assembled into a ‘perfect body’. This consists for example of, among others, “Beyonce’s curves” and “Megan Fox’s face”. While illustrating the objectification of female celebrity body, the article both valorizes the notion of achieving the perfect body, while also revealing this as absurd – of course, it is not actually possible to combine all of these elements. On one hand, it proposes that achieving the perfect body is possible by revealing fitness tips on “how to get your body in shape, celeb-style” (Heat 2009: 67). On the other hand however, the composite celebrity body produced looks monstrous and is of course not literally achievable as a model. The article shows how celebrity magazines play out a fiction of the female self specifically in relation to the production of the perfect body. Femininity is objectified precisely as body, rather than any other attribute. This body is both achievable and not achievable. In order to comprehend these paradoxes around constructions of femininity then, a certain mode of reading is required. This article for example requires a self-awareness about the impossibility of achieving a ‘perfect body’ – it’s not real, it’s a composite – while also assuming that readers will simultaneously buy into attempts to achieve something they know is impossible – the exercise tips. This doubleness is vital to celebrity magazine readership.
I proposed in Chapter Two that the irony Turner locates in the consumption of celebrity pornography (Turner 2004: 123) is also dominant in more mainstream representations such as Heat. Encouraged by advertising, readers are forced to consume imagery with a constant knowing doubleness, both self-aware of the falsity, impossibility and absurdity of the ideals imposed on constructions of femininity through images of the body, but also disavowing this knowledge in order to fully invest in the images, which they know are false. This then leads to two possible directions for readings. On one hand, negatively, it could be interpreted that readers have no agency as the only agency they are allowed is an ironic critical distance, re-appropriated and subsumed into the circuits of desire it purports to stand outside of. On the other hand, potentially more positively, it could be argued that such self-awareness can lead to positive challenging of the dominant modes of celebrity femininity I have been outlining here. This opposition recalls the debates I discussed in Chapter Two, whether star meanings can be subverted, supported or dismantled, and in order to explore it further I will have to turn to the results of my interviews.
4.2. Analysis of Interviews
I recruited four people to be interviewed and I am here using pseudonyms to preserve their anonymity. ‘Joanna’ is a 19 year old student from London, ‘Claire’ is a 21 year old professional from London, ‘Sarah’ is a 28 year old professional from London, and ‘Jan’ is a 31 year old professional from London. I have divided them into two age groups – Joanna and Claire occupy the 18-24 year old group, and Sarah and Jan occupy the 25-34 year old age group. This will allow me to see if any differences emerge between the age groups. I have kept their background information to a minimum to avoid the attempt to make any generalizations relating to other factors such as socio-economic context, which are without the scope of this study. This will allow me to focus in more depth on issues of gender and celebrity. I have recruited via social networks of communication and my background research suggests that they all have at least some interest in celebrity magazines. I have made my interviews into an informal conversation, which will put my interviewees at ease and allow them to speak openly. This will also allow me to direct conversation toward themes and topics in my research. The semi-structured interview is the best format to use to achieve this. There are of course dangers with this approach. On one hand, if I give my interviewees too much freedom they could drift off topic and leave me with irrelevant research material. On the other hand, if I structure the interviews too much there is the danger of me putting words into their mouths in order to get the answers I want. I must use skills of communication to ensure this balance is kept. I decided to do the interviews individually because, although this will take more time, it means the interviewees will be less influenced by each other’s opinions and I will be more likely to get a range of answers. As this is a small sample size I must also be wary of using these answers to make universalizing generalizations. I am of course reporting only the attitudes and opinions of a few women. My main interest though, is to open up my own research, assertions and problematics from Chapters 1, 2 and 4.1 to some other people, to see whether my arguments are developed, challenged or confirmed.
4.2.2. Opening Questions: Heat and the Production of Femininity
Using the semi-structured interview form gave me the opportunity to direct my conversations around topics that had emerged from the rest of my research. I focused initially on a comparative analysis of a variety of magazine covers in order to start my interviewees thinking critically about issues of representation and semiotics. Looking at a variety of magazines from what I identified as the three groups in Chapter 4.1 (Heat, Reveal, Closer, Glamour, Company, Bella, Woman’s Own), there was mainly agreement between the respondents over which ones they were drawn to. All four said that they would read Heat, Reveal, Closer, Glamour and Company but were less attracted to Bella and Woman’s Own. This perhaps reflects the lack of correspondence to the target age group of these magazines. A more interesting factor emerged however in their reaction to differences between, on one hand, Heat, Reveal and Closer, and, on the other hand Glamour and Company. Respondents, especially Sarah and Jan (from the older age group) made a sharp distinction between their attitudes to these magazines, which suggested different modes of reading. Although my analysis had revealed very little difference in content and style of articles in Glamour and Company from those in Heat, my interviewees regarded these magazines differently, associating them with “fashion” (Joanna), or culture “more classy” (Claire) and describing them as “women’s magazines” rather than “celeb mags” (Claire). Sarah, for example described the Heat group as “trashy”, and described reading them as “a waste of time” yet revealed that she still does regularly read them. She wanted to make clear however that she doesn’t buy them herself but reads them at her workplace, although she does read them for pleasure rather than work-related issues. What emerged from this conversation was a sense of ‘guilty pleasure’ in reading Heat, Reveal or Closer, which also came across strongly in Jan’s answers, who was keen to stress that she only reads them “occasionally”. On one hand, this supports my argument that readers can engage with these magazines ironically, as it suggests the feeling of superiority and critical distance this entails. On the other hand, the guilty reader is different from the ironic reader and I tried to tease this out further in questioning.
I decided to focus the interviews on Heat as this is what I had been analyzing, and I tried to establish whether the guilty mode of reading would lead the readers to be more critical of ideals of femininity portrayed. Firstly however, I had to establish what they understood these ideas to be. Again, all of my interviewees were unanimous in equating representations of femininity with representations of the body, as I have suggested in Chapter4.1. When asked about media produced ideals of femininity, all responded initially with physical descriptions repeating key words like “skinny” (Claire, Joanna, Jan), “toned” (Claire) and “pretty” (Joanna, Sarah). They gave examples including Keira Knightley and Megan Fox. My questions initiated brief discussions over issues of race, although discussions here tended to veer off topic to questions of the representations of race and ethnicity in the media generally. Another interesting point emerged in the way they described the images. Joanna for example described Keira Knightley as “amazing” suggesting that rather than her image operating as an image of media-produced over-skinniness with worrying moral consequences, as I would have assumed, skinniness was here associated with almost moral goodness. This contrasted with Joanna’s denunciation of Jordan, and again this was shared by my other interviewees, who were quick to make a binary opposition between answers to my original question on ideals of femininity (which they interpreted as a positive quality) and images of those who they saw as negative. When pushed further, Joanna and Claire both described Jordan as “fake”, Claire adding “attention seeking”. I decided to use this as a way to test my hypothesis on ascribed / achieved celebrity and gender by asking whether they viewed Knightley more positively as she was famous for her acting. Their reactions surprised me however, as both Joanna and Claire had not considered this in my original question about ideals of femininity, assuming I meant purely physically. Contradictions also emerged in this section, Sarah and Jan both described the magazine representation of what they called “more curvy women” as “good”, Jan expanding to describe it as more “realistic”.
To conclude the first part of the interview analysis then, all of my interviewees read Heat magazine. The younger age group claim to read it more often and were less reserved in their attitudes towards it. The older group in particular suggested a guilty mode of reading where they would read someone else’s copy without buying it, yet still get pleasure from reading. They all associated media images of femininity with the body, and a particular representation of the body, yet there was no initial criticism of this image, and it seemed to be generally accepted as ‘natural’ rather than an obviously very specific kind of body. On the other hand, a distinction was made between these images and negative images of other celebrities seen as ‘fake’ or ‘manipulative’. After covering this initial ground, I started to structure the interviews more towards the relation of the women’s own lives to the media celebrity images.
4.2.3. Relation to Readers
It was noticeable first of all that the ‘it could be you’ ideology I have discussed was alien to my interviewees at a literal level. None of them had desires to actually become a celebrity, and questions relating to this were met with amusement. This is perhaps as they were mainly in their 20s and 30s and established in work. Such ideologies may well be more effective for younger readers but it was without the scope of my study to establish this. However, while being critical of ideas of selling the idea of becoming a celebrity, discussion about their lifestyle and everyday routines revealed a lot of overlap with behaviours coded as desirably feminine in the magazine. All enjoyed shopping for example, Joanna and Claire describing it as one of their main leisure activities. Other common activities included socializing and going to they gym. Without stating it directly, most of my interviewees gave the impression that they would like to be more like the images promoted in the magazines. This emerged more clearly not in their analysis of the magazine images, although this did productively reveal encoded values, but in the ways their everyday routines co-incided with those promoted in the magazines and shared assumptions and value judgements. Jan for example could be seen using the magazine as a way of understading tensions and power relations in relationships closer to her, using an article about Cheryl Cole and Danni Minogue to start talking about issues in her own life. The oppositions between distance and identification, and between reality and escape seemed to play out neatly in the way the women spoke of the celebrities. It was never the case of becoming them but more, as Marshall has described the celebrities as “hyper-versions” (Marshall 2006: 4) of values, identities or physical characteristics they admired or desired. The general impression from this section of the interview was of not taking celebrities seriously yet retaining a number of the magazines promoted values throughout their everyday attitudes and consumer habits.
4.2.4. Other Issues
One of the things that emerged from all of my interviews, which I had not focused on much in my own research, was the importance of new media in celebrity discourse. Both Joanna and Claire claimed to buy magazines less often now than they use the internet more often. Joanna analysed this shift specifically in relation to developments in mobile technology, suggesting that as she now has easy internet access on her mobile phone, she is less likely to look to print media for the latest celebrity news. This raised other issues which I adapted my questioning around. One seemingly counter-intuitive result was that internet-based celebrity news was taken more ‘seriously’ than magazines. Joanna for example had already dismissed Heat as “trashy”, yet described the website PopBitch as more entertaining and more authentic.
4.2.5. Interview Conclusions
Overall, my interviews provided an interesting counterbalance to my previous research, allowing me to develop some points and suggesting the emergence of others. Here I will summarise what I think are the main points that arose.
Firstly, the comparisons between age groups were surprising. I had expected to find more variation between the groups but in actual fact there was very little difference between their attitudes and lifestyles in most of the areas we discussed. This suggests various conclusions. On one hand, it could be a limitation of my research, suggesting my sample size is too small, the age groups too broadly defined or too close to one another. On the other hand I could read this as evidence of the ubiquity of celebrity discourse and its implied dominant modes of reading across age groups. This could be another reason for the success of magazines such as Heat suggesting that they can successfully attract readers across age boundaries.
Secondly, in all my interviewees there was an interesting mismatch between their throwaway attitude to celebrity culture and their performance of its attitudes in their daily lives. This confirms the results of previous audience research such as that taken by Joke Hermes in 1995 (see Gauntlett 2008: 191). This study suggested that women don’t necessarily consider the act of magazine reading as a meaningful activity. David Gauntlett also highlights a study made by Elisabeth Frazer in the 1980s which involved discussions with teenage girls about Jackie, a popular magazine aimed at teenage girls at this time. Gauntlett summarises the study’s results, “rather than absorbing the stories as if they were valuable lifestyle advice, these readers laughed at the tales, and criticized them as unrealistic” (Gauntlett 2008: 191). He goes on to point out however that this does not mean the readers were not influenced by the texts, “just because the readers were able to criticize the text, and were aware it was a constructed fiction, does not prove that they would never be influenced by its content” (Gauntlett 2008: 191). This could also be the case in my study. As I have shown, the women may have attitudes toward Heat either of direct criticism or of irrelevance, yet they are still influenced by it. Gauntlett also describes the ambivalence of readers of women’s magazines in terms of what he calls the “pick n mix reader” (Gauntlet 2008: 206). By this he means that readers would be selective, taking in some information and dismissing others. This suggests a more complex relation than a simple opposition between active and passive readers. While a level of agency may operate at the level of selection, readers may still then be influenced by selected articles, suggesting a more complex interplay of determining factors and individual use. I would suggest this model as relevant to my interviewees but also expand the ‘pick n mix’ analogy to include the use of media in general, suggesting an ability to move freely and easily between magazines, between and across different media.
Chapter 5. Conclusion
I initially set out to address how the opposition between passively consuming images and actively challenging them could relate to contemporary representations and readings of femininity in celebrity magazines, and in Heat in particular. I proposed that, as Yates and Gauntlett have argued (Yates 2003; Gauntlett 2008), the shift in conventions of women’s magazines historically can both reflect and produce different types of woman within different epochs. Developing this, I suggested that the contemporary situation is one of paradox and confusion, as we experience a decline of interest in celebrity gossip magazines and the rise in demand for new forms. One of the elements I identified in the development of magazines such as Heat was the rise of the ironic or critically detached reader, and I proposed to address how this may relate to potential challenging of the dominant norms of femininity proposed by such magazines. Firstly however, I had to establish what these dominant norms are and how they are produced.
I approached this from various angles, which are represented in my various chapters – through research in secondary literature (Chapter Two), through semiotic analysis (Chapter Four, Part One) and through reader research (Chapter Four, Part Two). Firstly in my secondary research, I aimed to establish a field of knowledge around celebrity discourse within which I could situate my own work. I examined first of all Rojek’s definitions of celebrity, particularly his distinctions between attributed and achieved modes of celebrity. By analyzing this in relation to contemporary examples I was able to establish a way in to thinking about representations of femininity in celebrity magazines as being connected to broader social and political discourses. The ‘explanatory power’ of celebrity has a powerful effect on the way women act and live their lives (2.2.1). In 2.2.2 I developed this research into a lot more detail and key points that emerged were the relation of celebrity to mobilizations of individuality and can-do ideology vital to the functioning of capitalism. Celebrities function as a ‘reality effect’ seen as simultaneously glamorous and distant yet also within touching distance of identification. This helps to explain the conflicting attitudes to notions of ‘reality’ and ‘fakeness’ throughout readers’ responses and the magazines themselves (Chapter Four). Celebrities must be produced (as fake) yet also demonized as fake (or produced) in one movement, leading to paradoxes in codes of representation and the call to a specific kind of disavowed readership which emerges in my later research. 2.2.3 focused on theories of readership, firstly those which had emerged from spectatorship theories in film theory. The ‘double image’ of the celebrity was here related specifically to gender, female consumption and desire, through my readings of the work of Jackie Stacey. I then went on to consider how celebrities may function as embodiments of dominant ideologies, yet also potential sites of subversion or negotiation. I compared Dyer’s and Mayne’s work on active audience strategies, with the negative readings of mass media of the Frankfurt School. I gave examples here of Blogs, which had appropriated female celebrity significations for their own aims, raising the question of whether indeed this could be a subversive act, or whether it functioned as another arm of the celebrity merchandising industry. In other words, whether celebrity culture can manage and contain its own critique, allowing the proliferation of various ‘subversions’ or ‘radical readings’ as the continued development of brand innovation and transferals of desire for self-improvement through consumerism.
Part 2.2.4 connected this previous work to theories of the production of subjectivity or selfhood. I acknowledged here the strong correlation between representations of femininity and representations of the ‘perfect body’, something else which emerged in my later research. I engaged with feminist theory here to analyse how the female celebrity is represented as spectacle or as a fragmented and sexualized object for the male gaze. This was complicated by the practical understanding that celebrity magazines assume and produce a specifically feminine gaze. This led me to propose, drawing on Bradley, that images of the perfect female body, rather than operating as easily consumable objects assuming a male gaze, become active in constructions and maintenance of femininity through a process of careful self-policing. I developed this theoretically by looking at the work of Foucault, who has shifted ideas through his work from a main focus on institutional regulation on the body and cultural norms, to the potential of active overcoming of these norms through ‘care of the self’. This then led me on in the final section of this chapter (2.2.5) to engage with theories of performativity, drawing mainly on the work of Judith Butler. This work shows how gender is actively produced through the very act of everyday ritual, leaving open the possibility of what Butler describes as the ‘radical re-iteration’, a form of repetition irreducible to the institutions of its context, and a possible escape from the circuits of capitalist gender production I ended with in 2.2.3.
Bearing this work in mind, I started Chapter Four with a brief overview of the contemporary range of celebrity magazines, and a focus on the history and readership of Heat in particular. My reading then looked at codes and conventions employed by the magazine in order to produce a specific model of femininity. Cover star of Heat Chantelle Houghton became my case study for an examination of celebrity and femininity through the ‘celebrity-cipher’ detached from achievement, reflecting back society’s expectations of femininity. This led to interesting findings, on the whole supporting my research from Chapter Two. Chantelle operated as embodiment of the ‘can do’ ideology I had discussed, yet also became the scapegoat for representation of its flipside. She came to represent the epitome of fakeness, yet also the concept of having a true and authentic self or ‘real me’. These paradoxes were interesting as they went some way towards trying to understand the doubleness inherent in representations of femininity and in modes of reading. Chantelle’ lack of talent for example allows easy identification with others who may not have any particular talent but have the desire to become a celebrity. However, she is also symbolically punished for her excess, embodying the failures of ‘normality’ in order to act as a cautionary tale for those wanting to actually overstep their place in society. The message, while paradoxical, is relatively clear – you can identify with me to a certain point but you must also criticize me in order to produce and police a regulated feminine identity as individual, consumer and no-threat to the established order.
Female readers are encouraged to long for the perfect body, represented as grotesque composite or uncanny mirror image, yet also constantly reminded of its impossibility, or spectral presence, leading to the endless proliferation of desire, the perpetuation of lack, and a community of self-regulation. This, as I discussed, is confirmed by other articles in the magazine. Irony and criticism is assumed through the language, tone and mode of address of the magazine, but it is unclear whether this irony can operate as a critical tool for readers. In Chapter Four, Part Two, I analysed the responses from my interviews. This raised more interesting points. More complex modes of relation than a simple active or passive opposition emerged for example. I discussed this in terms of the ‘pick n mix reader’ who draws elements from media around them in order to fabricate identities from their own relation to celebrity discourse. Another key point that emerged from my interviews was the importance of new media and the internet on women’s lived relations.
So, to return to my initial research questions. As I have discussed above, I effectively addressed the relation between representations of celebrity, discourses of personal identity and capitalist power relations in Chapters Two and Four. I also related this specifically to constructions of femininity, female experience and female identity, (again in Chapters Two and Four). Chapter Two provided the theoretical backdrop, and Chapter Four, Part One provided the illustration and critical analysis of how, specifically, normative images of femininity are produced and maintained in celebrity magazines. Chapter Four, Part One also allowed me a detailed analysis of Heat, which I think was more rewarding than attempting an overview of magazines in general. Regarding readership, Chapter Two allowed me to critically engage with debates and arguments around agency, active and passive interpretations and subjectification. These were then developed in Chapter Four, Part Two, considering whether dominant modes of distance, irony, criticism and relativity can offer the foundation for forms of critique of the dominant modes of representation discussed above. Chapter Two considered performativity to give me a theoretical backdrop for the performance of gender in everyday ritual but I feel this was not as well developed in Chapter Four, Part Two. It proved easier to focus on representations and readings of the magazines, than on lifestyle and the performance of femininity in general. This reflects the fact that my initial scope was too broad and a detailed examination of performativity in relation to practical audience research would be another direction to take further research. It is interesting how work around performativity and gender focuses mainly on gay identities (Parker and Sedgwick 1995: 6-9) and on more obviously staged and exaggerated performance such as drag acts or body art (for example Parker and Sedgwick 1996: 173-197). This suggests that there is potential for further research within the domain of everyday rituals relating to the performance of hetereosexual identities within the range on display in celebrity magazines, although it has been without the scope of this project to cover it here.
What has emerged however is a series of paradoxes, which are evident on a representational level, and play into modes of reading. Foucault’s work has proved key here. My analysis has shown how power flows through social processes and interactions, and it is interesting that Foucault spoke about the form of the magazine specifically, “ a magazine ought to make possible…the instruments for polymorphic, varied and individually modulated relationships” (Foucault 2000: 139). Here he positions the magazine not as monolithic imposer of dominant norms but as offering the possibility of a playful engagement with discourses of gender or the self. As Gauntlett argues in his analysis of Foucault:
Magazines seem to be mentioned here because they can playfully make suggestions about lifestyles without becoming overly prescriptive. Foucault did not want anything as rigid as a ‘programme of proposals’ because it could become a set of laws, which would be quite contrary to the openness and creativity needed [for change]
(Gauntlett 2008: 132)
This ‘playful’ aspect of the magazine has emerged in my research, and may be a more productive mode of categorization than that of irony or criticism. For Foucault, the magazine offers a way of playing with the gender roles it proposes, produces and takes apart within its pages. He places this play, not on the side of the exercise of power, but on the side of resistance, which for Foucault is inevitably produced, “where there is power there is resistance” (Foucault 1998: 95) This resistance, as Gauntlett explains is productive, “it causes things to happen (which are not necessarily the consequences intended by the original agent)” (Gauntlett 2008: 133). This suggests the potential of thinking of different modes of agency actually within, or actively produced by, celebrity discourse. Gauntlett goes on, “In modern life, Foucault suggests, we have to establish an ethics and mode of living…the possibilities are virtually endless, but not always visible to us” (Gauntlett 2008: 133). What this form of agency necessitates is a mode of experimentation. We cannot know in advance what modes of subjectivity may be possible, so this play, or experiment, becomes vital in fashioning modes of resistance, not according to pre-planned parameters, but in relation to the as yet unknown, and unlike the determininistic framework proposed by, say, the Frankfurt School making change possible.
This focus on experiment in subjectivity is developed in the work of Felix Guattari. He analyses a shift away from the determining relation of the dominant power to the subject, and focuses more on creative acts of production which enable productions of subjectivity or ‘mutant centres of subjectification’ away from the norm. (Guattari1996). For Guattari, “at best, there is creation, invention” (Guattari 1996: 199) and this informs his focus on the “ethico-aesthetic paradigm” (Guattari 1996: 200) or active production of modes of living. These are not unified but multivalent “diverse possibilities for recomposing existential corporeality” (Guattari 1996: 201) and relative, “every social group conveys it own system of modelising subjectivity” (Guattari 1996: 201). One aspect highlighted by Guattari as a potential technology of producing subjectivity is the “reappropriation and resingularisation of the use of the media” (Guattari 1996: 199). While Foucault may propose the playful performance of magazine reading as one such re-appropriation, my reader research suggests otherwise. Although readers may be critical or disengaged in readings, they have little desire or capacity for actively challenging the images on offer. Such modes of agency as proposed by Guattari may well be extended to everyday but my research has not proved this. It may well be a case of doing something rather than asking others. Guattari privileged art practices for example, as the production of affects discordant with capitalism’s actualization of potential. There also however other modes of experimentation and reappropriation.
I was interested in particular, in relation to this, in the focus on uses of new technologies, which I mentioned briefly in Chapter Two, but which emerged more clearly in Chapter Four, Part Two. One way to consider a potential shift to reader’s re-appropriation of celebrity image would be to focus on the potential for user-generated content offered by internet platforms such as Blogs. As I mentioned in Chapter Two, there are examples online of appropriations of celebrity image, outside of the prescribed critical space offered by articles such as The Hoop of Horror (analysed in Chapter Four, Part One). ‘Femily’s’ posts on ‘Feminists to the Rescue’ for example, uses available media of female celebrities, but re-organises this media into a structured collection with a specifically feminist agenda. This also however, requires critical engagement, what does she mean for example by feminism? And could this actually be any different from the critical spaces available in, say, Heat magazine, codified differently. Highlighting a stage-managed speech by a Hollywood star seems to offer little other than the publicity of Heat magazine with a veneer of moralizing. One thing such work does highlight however is the potential of using mainstream media as a starting point for the reorganization of images, and so a reorganization of codes of gender. It is Gauntlett who proposes magazines as “resources which individuals use to think through their sense of self and modes of expression” (Gauntlett 2008: 256, italics in original). This can of course be considered in relation to the performances of reading strategies, as gender roles are playfully negotiated in relation to the represented norms. I would argue however that this is not enough, my research suggests that such playfulness is easily contained as irony, subsumed under the same ideological formations, or organizations of desire, that it sets out to ‘play’ with. There are no easy answers but what is required are, using the resources of available media, in order to develop strategies of more radical and experimental performance, and establish an ethics of performative resistance irreducible to the dominant current of celebrity culture. How these could play out requires further research and analysis.