The impact of celebrities on magazine sales
Within the last century, we seem to have discovered the process by which fame is manufactured. Discovering that we…can so quickly and so effectively give man fame; we have willingly been misled into believing that fame – well-knowingness – is still a hallmark of greatness.
The celebrity is a person who is known for hiswell-knownness. He is neither good nor bad, great nor petty. He is the human pseudo-event…the hero was distinguished by his achievement, the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself; the celebrity is created by the media. The hero was a big man; the celebrity is a big name. (Boors tin, 1961: 47,57,61)
The contemporary celebrity usually emerges from the sports or entertainment industries, becoming highly visible in the media. Fame today no longer depends on achievements, merit or talent. The heroes of the old have been replaced by prominent pseudo-events known solely for their fame. The above quote from Boors tin (1961) sums up the fleeting nature of celebrity. Today celebrities are fabricated on purpose in order to sell other commodities. Public fascination with celebrities has a long history, however, the increased opportunities to examine their private lives via intrusive media, means that people can get closer to celebrities and spend considerable sums of money doing so(Pringle, 2004).
One of the most central industries utilising celebrities in the process of selling is the magazine industry. Magazines thrive on worshipping, judging, criticizing, adoring and manufacturing celebrities. Gossip magazines sell on speculation and scandal, whereas men’s magazines, women’s magazines and magazines aimed at teenagers all belong to a culture impelled with fascination with the image, offering ‘exclusive’ glimpses into the private lives of the rich and the famous. Cultural meanings are negotiated as the celebrity becomes a key site of media attention and personal aspiration, as well as one of the central places where cultural meanings are organised and debated (Turner, 2004).
The popular view that celebrity is a natural, immanent quality to which the media industries give expression legitimates the interests of the industries concerned as well as consoling those who consume their products as objects of belief, desire or aspiration. And yet, it is important to recognise that such definition of celebrity is countervailed by equally popular media discourses that emphasise phoniness and image construction (Turner,2004). Modern celebrity then, is a product of media representation: understanding it demands close attention to the representational repertoires and patterns employed in this discursive regime (Turner,2004).
Celebrity has become merchandise, property, a product, and commodity while the fans have become ‘markets.’ Celebrities have become an investment, used for selling and created by selling. Celebrities ‘homes and private lives are revealed through the media. Sometimes this relationship is heavily managed by publicists and agents, whereas less respectful publications reveal drug use, marriage break-ups and personal disasters or merely publish unflattering photographs(Geraghty, 2000).
Magazines generally emphasise not the work or talent but the leisure and the lifestyle of celebrities. As a result, the notion of celebrity is dominated by an idea of falsity, by calculated performance, and by the routine failure of audiences and the celebrated themselves to distinguish between well-known personae and the more real or true selves that exist outside fame (Newbury, 2000). Audience’s desires associated with celebrity might be divided into two main categories. On the one hand, there is the desire for the star, as an appealing object of the gaze or to possess. On the other, there is the desire to be the star, or something closer to the star image, or at least to play around with such fantasies (King, 2002: 175). Celebrities offer attractive images that can compensate for our own inadequacy: an aura and coherence to make up for our incoherence (King, 2002:175).
Competition between magazines is more intense than ever and as a result celebrity branding thrives in all areas of life. The real commodity is ‘the hero-worship’ and marketers are fighting hard for their piece of the celebrity pie (Lim, 2005). Celebrities are becoming indicative of the ‘lifestyle attitude’ of each magazine that portrays them, whilst magazines are in the process of becoming completely driven by celebrity. It is unquestionable that in recent years, ‘celebrity has proved to be a sure-fire way of improving magazine sales’ (Gough-Yates,2003:137).
In fact, over the last decade we have moved into a new era in which the voracious appetite of the consuming public for all things celebrity has ‘generated entire segments of the magazine market’(Pringle, 2004:7). ‘Celebrity images have never been so profoundly visible or perversely effective as today’ (Lim, 2005:28). Celebrities are giving us ideas on how to dress, what to say, what to do, where teat, how to have sex and with whom, where to live, what to drive and where to go on holiday (Pringle, 2004:46). The reason for the success of celebrity culture is our need for our heroes and role models, our gods and goddesses. But how does our obsession with celebrity impact on our choice of magazines? Why have celebrities become so important for magazine sales? In sum, what is it about the celebrities that we finds ultimately intriguing?
This dissertation uses a discursive approach in order to examine in close detail the meanings that can be derived from representations of celebrity. Drawing on semiotics, narrative theory and discourse analysis this dissertation treats elements of culture as texts that can be read (Slater, 1997). These cultural narratives are then used to indicate how they come to inform actions (buying magazines) and beliefs(why do we buy these magazines). As a sign, celebrity sheds its own subjectivity and individuality and becomes an organising structure for conventionalised meaning. ‘Like the sign, celebrity represents something other than itself. The material reality of the celebrity sign– that is, the actual person who is at the core of the representation –disappears into a cultural formation of meaning’ (Marshall, 1997:57).
The cultural significance of celebrities today cannot be denied. Magazines represent celebrities as personalities, icons, idols and role models. Media commentators’ responses to magazine representations of celebrity are often remarkably reminiscent of the mass culture thesis, first proposed by the Frankfurt School (Gough-Yates, 2003). Editorial content discussing celebrities is seen as a cynical exercise for building circulation, indicating the tabloidization of culture. The pleasures gained from magazine reading are denied as the media are seen as simply duping audiences. This dissertation will take a more critical approach, analysing the denotative and connotative meanings of celebrity through examining the discourses found in specific magazines. The magazines chosen for the three case studies are: Heat (women),Loaded (men) and Sugar (teenage girls). The research questions include: what kinds of people are influenced by celebrities and in what ways? How is this influence illustrated through magazines? Why do people continue to consume stories about celebrities?
Dyer (1986:19) when writing about film stars noted: ‘Stars matter because they act out aspects of life that matter to us …Though there Isa sense in which stars touch on things that are deep and constant features of human existence, such features never exist outside a culturally and historically specific context.’ Hence there are specific aspects of celebrity culture that reflect what is seen as central and important in society. Celebrities act out specific ideas about the body, love, relationships and sexuality, and as a result, these ideas come to be represented as the ideal lifestyle.
Reality can be understood only through discourse. As Dyer (1986: 19) puts it, the term discourse should indicate that we are not dealing with philosophically coherent thought systems but rather clusters of ideas, notions, feelings, images, attitudes and assumptions that taken together make up distinctive ways of thinking and feeling about things, or making particular sense of the world. The aim of this paper is to examine discourse as a system that constructs knowledge about the culture of celebrity. As in Foucault’s interpretation of the author, the celebrity is a way in which meaning can be housed and categorised into something that provides a source and origin for the meaning.
Celebrity has power to organise the legitimate and illegitimate domains of the personal and individual within the social (Marshall, 1997). Rijeka(2001:36) remarks: ‘Discourse may be thought of as consisting of a distinctive rhetorical language, associated symbolic capital and rules of practice, and a template of social realism, which establishes some forms of behaviour as relevant and authentic and casts others as insignificant and trivial.’ The media produce representations of the social world. The representations of celebrities in magazines therefore work as a frame for understanding the world around us.
Celebrity is a social construction in which the mass media play leading role in governing a population. ‘Government is accomplished by providing suitable role models; morality tales that either reconcile ordinary people to their subordination or provide escapism from the hardships of life’ (Rijeka, 2001:37). Discourses do not rely primarily on physical power to achieve their effect; rather, they deploy symbolic devices and rhetoric to achieve their hold over social practice. Celebrity thus operates to articulate and legitimate various forms of subjectivity that enhance the value of individuality and personality. For example, ‘the pre-eminence enjoyed by sports celebrities underlines the connection between self-discipline, training and material successes examples to us all’ (Rijeka, 2001:37). Celebrities present preferred modes of subjectivity with which audience members are encouraged to identify.
This dissertation concentrates on the omnipresent celebrity image and the codes of representation through which this image is reproduced, developed and consumed. Nowadays, the media context of celebrity is not clear and specific, complicating the terms used to conceptualise and categorise fame. The increasing prevalence of the ‘manufacture of fame discourse’ over the star as ‘talented and exceptional’ indicates a new discursive regime. Celebrity offers a discursive focus for the discussion of realms that are considered outside the bounds of public debate. Marshall (1997:73) argues that the celebrity system is a way in which the sphere of the irrational, emotional, personal and affective is contained and negotiated in contemporary culture.
This research method allows us to explore how celebrity is perceived, written about and defined, and to evaluate in which ways people become attracted to celebrity-commodities. By addressing celebrity as a field of representation, this dissertation moves away from accounts that prioritise hard marketing plans and the importance of target markets. The emphasis is on the meanings that cause readers to continue to consume celebrities in their everyday lives. As Rijeka (2001:45)describes it, this approach confirms the importance of understanding celebrity as a developing, relational field of power. The purpose is not to determine the correct meaning of celebrity, but rather determine what meanings and affects can legitimately be read in them.
According to Wells (2003: 93) a celebrity is ‘1) a person whose personal, social and occupational identity is a cross-platform, mediated phenomenon, generated through publicity, promotion and presence, a person who, whatever they do or have achieved, is constructed through varying degrees of public relations strategies, into being perceived as a figure within the entertainment industry. 2)A person whose role, function and image is intrinsically related to market requirements and consumer culture. 3) A person who is well known within the public sphere by reason of talent, expertise, status and achievement, or affiliation to already established popular personalities, contexts and trends.’
In the twenty-first century celebrity has become a product and a process underpinning what could be described as late capitalism’s ‘culturalisation of economics’ (Andrews and Jackson, 2001:1). According to Marshall (Andrews and Jackson, 2001:1) the contemporary celebrity is an embodiment of the twinned discourses of late modernity: neo-liberal democracy and consumer capitalism. Andrews and Jackson (2001:1) claim that the media encourages to develop a sense of familiarity, intrigue and sometimes obsession with celebrity figures. However, even though celebrities are complete strangers to us, the intimacy constructed between celebrity and audience often has very real effects on the manner in which people negotiate the experience of their daily lives. It is this intimacy that lies at the root of the growing fascination with celebrities. Inconsequence, celebrities have become a powerful force within late capitalist Western societies.
Dyer’s work on film stardom (1986, 1998) has been highly influential as a result of his close attention to the role of the film star as cultural text, and his concern with analysing these texts in relation to the discursive and ideological conditions that have enabled the specific stars’ ascendancy (Turner, 2004). For Dyer stars work like signs: as semiotic systems embedded with cultural meanings to be actively read and interpreted by the audiences. He argues that we read stars as texts and these texts are both ideologically saturated and discursively constructed (Turner, 2004).
Dyer (1998) insists that stardom is an image of the way stars live. As he (1998:38-39) describes it, conspicuous consumption is an important aspect of stardom. In the earlier period heroes and role models were ‘idols of production’–people who were interesting because they had achieved something in the world. However, today’s heroes are ‘idols of consumption’ whose private lives are lives of consumption and leisure, and who no longer need talent or merit. Stars become models of consumption for everyone in consumer society (Dyer, 1998:39). Dyer foregrounds the importance of celebrities as symbols of success. As Dyer (1998:42) puts it, ‘the myth of success suggests that success is worth having – in the form of conspicuous consumption.’
Celebrity status always implies a split between a private self and public self. Rijeka (2001:11) thinks that the split between the veridical self and the self as seen by others is the human condition, at least since ancient times, in Western society. The public representation of self is always a staged activity, something constructed for the others whilst the private self is kept hidden. It’s the hidden private self that interests people. Attempts to discover the person behind the public face remain the central aspect of the continuing fascination with celebrities.
The wish to find the real, private person results in gossip and speculation, the main selling points of celebrity magazines. For Rijeka (2001: 13), mass-media representation is the key principle in the formation of celebrity culture. Celebrities are made to seem magical or superhuman through their appearances in the media. However, this according to Rijeka(2001:13) is because their presence in the public is comprehensively staged. Like Dyer (1998) Rijeka (2001) emphasises the role of commodification of everyday life in the emergence of celebrities as public preoccupation. The market has inevitably turned the public face of the celebrity into a commodity (Rijeka, 2001:14).
Wernicke (1991:106) describes a star as ‘anyone whose name and fame have been built up to the point where reference to them, via mention, representation in the media or live appearance, can serve as promotional booster in itself.’ Therefore, the use and construction of celebrities is a promotional practice that actively engages and confers tangible benefits upon those whose celebrity it builds up. The cultivation and manufacture of celebrity is not only seen as the object of a production process in itself but the commodity it produces – animated name – represents a banked and transferable store of promotional capital.
As such, its results are detachable from the practices and products in whose immediate context they have arisen. Celebrities, regardless of the media form from which they have arisen, are used in all forms of media and in all types of promotion. It is this feature, as much as its constructed artificiality, which distinguishes modern stardom from the honour and fame for which the competitive strived inure-capitalist times (Wernicke, 1991: 109).
As Barresi and Nunn (2005:145) put it, the popular impact of celebrities seems to reside in their disconnection from traditional structures of influence together with their intimate connection with the media and the consumer lifestyle which the media privileges and foregrounds. ‘The celebrity’s ultimate power is to sell the commodity that is themselves’ (Barresi and Nunn, 2005:145). As a result the outward appearance of a celebrity becomes central. Barresi and Nunn(2005: 145-146) suggest that although a celebrity is a figure of consumption they must also retain the individualism that sets them apart and renders them remarkable and commercially marketable.
The process of constructing celebrity and stripping it away can be captured in John Langer’s notion of the ‘especially remarkable’ (Barresi and Nunn, 2005:147). In his analysis of tabloid culture, he highlights the prominence in current media culture of ‘other news’: a form of cultural discourse intimately connected with gossip, storytelling and the scrutiny of celebrities. Celebrities are therefore increasingly the primary definers of news. Their actions and statements gain privileged authority in magazine representation where editors fiercely fight for the latest exclusive glimpse into their lives.
As King (2003:48) puts it, contemporary stardom no longer attempts to fabricate an unambiguous connection with a collective definition of normality. On the one hand, it is difficult to rest naturally inside a persona, given the immense ramifications of promotion and publicity by the logics of branding (Klein, 2000, Wernicke, 1991). On the other, the very notion of normality has been radically undermined by identity politics, where you can be whatever you want to be, to create a persona and a body through hard work and determination. As King (2003:51) describes it, ‘as written about or interviewed, stars become characters in the drama of their own biographies.’ There is both a push toward and away from celebrity divorced from her work, known for herself alone and both toward and away from interchange ability (Gammon, 1994:81).
It is virtually impossible to discuss the nature of media stardom today without taking into account both scandal and the private lives of public figures. Modern stardom relies on the circulation of popular, recognisable image systems (Hagerman, 1997:145). Magazines construct narratives around the private and the scandalous. These are the stories that sell. Moreover, the image systems of celebrities always say something about cultural values and attitudes (1997: 146). Morality tales are acted out through the fall from grace of the famous. Kate Moss’s drug problems, Michael Jackson’s paedophilia law suit and Russell Crowe’s latest bar brawl are infinitely more interesting than their working lives.
The public/private conception of authenticity introduces the notion of morality, which in Hagerman’s (1997:147) views key in scandal narratives. Establishing the ‘real truth’ of the celebrity’s private life becomes central in magazine representation. The endless speculation and what-if scenarios aim to find out what happens behind closed doors. Gammon (1994:18) notes that the public realm is experienced as untrustworthy, to be distinguished from the private realm, where the real self can be displayed. Gammon (1994: 38)claims that by embracing the notion that celebrity images are artificial products and inviting readers to visit the real self behind those images, popular magazines attempt to defuse the notion that celebrity is really derived from nothing but images.
In recent years the discourse of fame has expanded to include those simply known for their ‘well-known-ness’, rather than for greatness or talent (Holmes, 2004, Gammon, 1994). The media context of stardom is becoming less and less specific. The Hollywood greats and charismatic pop stars are a thing of the past in a world where everybody is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. Marshall (1997:xii) suggests that the term celebrity has an inherently ambiguous meaning in contemporary society. When fame rests predominantly on the private life of a person rather their work or talent, fame becomes a commodity. The success myths described by Dyer (1998:42) has become a combination of contradictory elements. Different aspects of celebrity, such as talent and heroism, ordinariness, professionalism and lucky breaks coexist in perpetual tension illustrated by different approaches to fame taken indifferent magazines.
As Holmes (2004:119) puts it, although an emphasis on ‘hard work’ or an ‘innate talent’ still retains its discursive currency, the visibility of the ‘manufacture of fame’ narrative, asGamson (1994:44) suggests, ‘has become a serious contender in explaining celebrity.’ Magazines therefore claim to offer access to what the person is really like behind the image. As Holmes (2004:126)suggests, the whole media construction of stars encourages us to thinking terms of ‘really.’ This in turn encourages people to look for the authentic, real selves of celebrities, supporting the individualism upon which capitalism depends.
What is controversial however, is the impossibility or remaining ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ living in the limelight. Authenticity is established or constructed in media texts byte use of markers that indicate lack of control, lack of premeditation and lack of privacy (Dyer, 1991:137). Macdonald (2003:79) agrees by claiming that gossip magazines feed off ‘a continuing fantasy that, by probing behind the scenes, into an interior, private space, we can uncover the authentic person masquerading as a celebrity in the public sphere.’
Obsession with celebrities dominates the media. The gossip and celebrity magazines encourage public fascination with their lives. According to Macdonald (2003:89) ‘many of the discourses employed in discussing celebrities reinforce their commodity value, featuring their glamorous lifestyles, speculating about their relationships with other celebrities or allowing us to supposedly look behind the scenes into their private worlds of family and leisure activities.’
She continues by claiming that the careful orchestration of most of these private insights by agents and publicists or by the celebrities themselves constructs a commoditized ‘third space’ between the public and the private that offers an illusion of revelation to the consuming public while ensuring protection of a concealed private life for the celebrity. Macdonald (2003:89) insists that this process entices readers with promises of disclosure that are rarely realised. Interesting headlines promise revelation but these promises are not usually fulfilled, leaving readers dissatisfied.
The celebrity industry is a scene of constant battles for control. According to Gammon (1994:85) the most central one are struggles for control of the commodification process. This is the environment in which the celebrity text is created. The more dependent a magazine is on celebrity images for sales, the more powerless they are to make editorial evaluations and control content. The lack of substance often found in these magazines comes from the dependence on celebrity images and the subsequent weak bargaining position against those who regulate access to them (Gammon, 1994:89-90).
Moreover, to be competitive, magazines need access not only to the celebrity image but also to exclusive pieces of the celebrity personality. As a result, the primary question is no longer what is most important to know about a specific celebrity or what will reveal them most truthfully but what about them will be most interesting. ‘The great story’ is more important than truth content. The marketing model of celebrity has moved from random ‘discovery’ and refinement to deliberate ‘breeding.’ Gammon (1994:67)suggests that ‘what in cultural myths appear to be uncontrollable are, in fact quite achievable: talent, for example, is not God-given and fixed but the product of such controllable forces as role modelling, expectation management, mentoring, timing, luck-seeking, strategic positioning, and geography.’
Celebrities have truly become pseudo-events, whose appearance in public is tightly controlled. According to Gammon (1994:68) the storyline is the one thing that serves more than any other to involve audiences with celebrities. The conscious design, manipulation, and promotion of storylines in celebrities’ lives – up to the point of creating realities more dramatic than real life – constitutes the celebrity industry’s major breakthrough. Not content merely to wait for real life to supply drama, celebrity marketers have begun to manufacture it.
Pringle (2004) reveals how celebrity sells and how celebrities can be used in marketing communications. Pringle (2004) believes that the role that celebrities play in people’s lives goes beyond a voyeuristic form of entertainment and fulfils an extremely important research and development function for audience members as individuals and for society at large. People use celebrities as role models and guides(Pringle, 2004:xxii). He claims that as celebrities change their appearance, their partners, their houses and have their children, they are in a sense acting out a parallel life to which people can relate, aspire and imitate. According to Pringle (2004:32), the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of stars and fashions provides ordinary mortals with many things. Celebrities provide us with great entertainment as we see beautiful people looking wonderful or occasionally ridiculous, Pringleclaims (2004:32).
We are encouraged to identify particular looks and styles that might work for us and try out the fashions of the celebrity lifestyle. There is also a welcome element of escapism and fantasy as we put on a style made famous by a particular star and in so doing,Pringle (2004:33) claims, we join their fan club and identify with their lifestyle. For Pringle, celebrities impact on every aspect of our lives from fashion and body shape to advertising and the property market. Today, consumers are willing to part with large sums of money in order to acquire some aspect of a celebrity lifestyle. The most drastic aspect of this celebrity worship is altering your physical appearance through plastic surgery.
Pringle (2004:275) notes that over and over again, in the reporting of celebrities and their lifestyles, we read that stars make a very strong distinction between their public and private lives. Indeed much of the tension in the relationship between celebrities and the media arises from the desire of the celebrities to preserve significant parts of their lives into which photographers and journalists may not intrude. However, the more private celebrities attempt to be, the more consumers become fascinated by them. The line between public and private is blurred and it is likely that the debate surrounding the privacy of public figures will intensify in the future. Pringle (2004:273) claims that as we have become wealthier and more prosperous in material terms, preoccupations have moved from the basic subsistence needs of life.
We have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the higher order considerations of self-esteem and self-realization. Celebrities can have a significant impact in these higher order areas, provoking people to consider what makes them happy, and what is important in life. However, this is more often than not done in terms of commodities. Capitalism uses celebrities as tools for increased consumption and in so doing, taps into people’s insecurities. Magazines encourage readers to follow celebrities’ example and ‘buy a better life’ through commodities that will allegedly make them feel better about themselves and their mundane lives. Celebrities not only influence our thoughts – they also influence our consumption.
Marketing to women: The hidden pleasures of celebrity magazines
Case Study: Heat
Women are seen as the primary target group for celebrity magazines. These magazines capitalise on the representation of celebrities through so-called ‘women’s interests’ such fashion, beauty, health and fitness and the love lives and relationships of celebrities. Celebrity magazines regularly achieve circulation figures of around 500,000weekly copies, making them extremely competitive in the magazine market(Gough-Yates, 2003: 137). Magazines such as EMAP’s Heat, tie celebrities familiar from other media into their narratives of stardom, targeting mainly female ABC1 markets .
Female leisure is inextricably bound up with consumption and as a result, celebrity magazines foreground consumerism in the form of endless beauty products, fashion trends and celebrity diets (Ballasted et al, 1991). Celebrity is no longer seen as a property of certain individuals – it is constructed discursively, by the way in which the individual is represented. Celebrity has tangible features, which can be used to advertise and market commodities. The beauty, the body and the lifestyle of celebrities are used as a means to commodity them for the consumption by magazine readers. These magazines promote desire and consumerism through celebrity images. These images are extremely successful in selling copies of the magazines as well as the products advertised inside (McCracken, 1993).
According to Marshall (1997:148) ‘the slide from public to private realm, which is expressed in the public debate concerning celebrities ‘weight loss and weight gain, leads to two conclusions about the forms of celebrity construction. The first is related to the way in which gender determines the interpretation of legitimacy in the realm of public personality. Body transformations function as a way in which discourses about the body and body image can be openly discussed. Adwoman’s body is seen to be problematic and therefore necessitating transformations.
The second is related to the manner in which the debate about celebrity bodies constructs familiarity … The public person is intensely invested with issues and concerns of the private sphere and associated with the subjectivity of that sphere.’ Foucault(1977:201) describes the way in which the central technique of disciplinary power – constant surveillance, which is initially directed towards the disciplining of the body, quickly takes hold of the mind to induce a psychological state of conscious and permanent visibility. Women, by being constantly under surveillance, internalise this surveillance. The emphasis on the body produces identities that believe that consumption can take them closer to the ideal self, embodied by celebrities. ‘In societies dominated by exchange value, the idiom and image of bodily presentation increases in economic and social importance’ (Rijeka, 2001:106).
Therefore, being attractive and able to manufacture desire become sought after attributes in the market and the body comes to be seen as a commodity. Readers are asked to see themselves through male gaze. Celebrities become embodiments of the ideal body. The physical body itself becomes a signifier, the connotations of which are inextricably linked with commodification(