Marked Increases Of Celebrity Gossip Cultural Studies Essay
In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of celebrity gossip magazines which is simultaneous with the growth of so called “celebrity culture” in Western capitalist society. As stated in the methodology the content analysis of the gossip magazines will use a structuralist approach of semiotics. This will draw on key critical theories such as feminism, Marxism and popular culture theories in order to present a close reading and analysis of how female celebrities are presented and represented in the magazines. The magazines looked at for this study are all dated from the same week in April 2011. The titles looked at are Heat, OK!, Closer, Star and Now. The texts looked at in the content analysis will include both visual images and written text, all of which are read as “signs” signifying ideological perspectives that position the celebrities in the content and the readers of the magazines as female gendered subjects. The cultural theorist Jonathan Bignell suggests that magazines are simply "a collection of signs" (Bignell, 1997: 78). The signs in the magazines include signs which are both paradigmatic and syntagmatic, this means components which make up the magazine content such as title, fonts and colours used, layout of content, paper texture, language and wording, and the actual content contained in the articles and features. Taken as a whole when analysing the content of the magazine there are a number of complex signs which the reader or observer must decode, deconstruct and analyse in order to produce meaning and understanding. Drawing on Barthes’ idea of myths and Saussure’s work on semiotics, Bignell states that:
"…women's magazines communicate their mythic meaning by means of signs, thus their representations of the imaginary are dependent on the symbolic, the signs which do the communicating" (Bignell 1997: 78).
In this context all signs are composed of the signifier (the image or text) and the signified (what is understood) by the reader or observer; meaning is only derived when the sign means something to someone (Williamson, 1978: 40). The reader of the sign is crucial in drawing meaning from a text, because they bring their own perceptions, experiences and cultural values to the text that is decoded or understood. Bignell goes on to say that the format of the magazine is itself a ‘sign’ as it "connects together the mythic meanings of femininity and pleasure" (Bignell, 1997: 66). This means that when looking at the content of a magazine, female readers are presented with a number of values and expectations that society holds for them to fulfil as gendered females. This is important to how females operate as gender subjects in a wider patriarchal society, in relation to their individual female identity formation, sexual identity and also body image.
The gossip magazines generally follow an identifiable format in the appearance of the cover and in the contents and articles within. The covers are usually colourful, glossy and use a substantial amount of images and texts to entice the reader to the magazine. Most of the covers (as seen in the Appendices) carry snippets of features and articles that are inside the magazine. With the exception of OK! magazine all the covers seem to be visually ‘overcrowded’ and are ‘bursting’ with taglines and ‘exclusives’ concerning stars and celebrities. OK! (Appendix 3) is slightly different in terms of size, format, and layout and content, in that it emerged in 1993 in the wake of the first celebrity gossip magazine the hugely successful Hello magazine launched in the UK in 1988. OK! now combines the glossy format of Hello with the more popularist features and elements of newer magazines such as Heat and Closer. Celebrity gossip magazines include extensive articles and features on celebrity weight loss, diet tips and fashion tips and celebrity body images.
One of the most prevalent features in all the magazines is the number of pages, articles and features relating to diet and weight loss, in OK! this is called “OK! Health” (Appendix 3.2). The other magazines are more obvious in the messages they are relaying to the readers. For example Now has a number of articles on diets and celebrity body image such as “Body Blitz” (Appendix 2.2) page one of which carries a regular feature from a celebrity titled “What I Ate Today” (Appendix 2.2) in this issue the celebrity is Kimberley Walsh. Another article “Lifestyles of the Fit and Famous” (Appendix 2.3) features Angelina Jolie and is subtitled “How the stars get the body you want”. Closer has a regular “Body Matters” feature (Appendix 6.2) has an article on celebrity “Fridge Raiders” with apprentice star Liz Locke and “Shape Up with Nadia Sawalha” (Appendix 6.3). All the features carry images of glamorous smiling female celebrities, and the signs given to the readers in both the visuals and the texts are that these females are role models with beautiful bodies, and aspirational lifestyles.
Similarly in Heat there is a double spread feature on Kate Middleton (Appendix 4.3 and 4.4) titled “How to Get K-Middy’s Body” with a tagline that reads:
“Her slim thighs and bouncy hair have transfixed the nation, but how much is down to good genes and what parts of Kate Middleton can we nab for ourselves” (Heat, Appendix 4.3)
The feature carries two large pictures of Middleton, one in an evening gown and one in a bikini. What is more significant is Middleton’s body is then broken done into photographed sections and labelled as specific separate parts such as “The Thighs”, “The Skin” “The Hair”, and then “The Diet”. Middleton’s body signifies the ultimate social aspiration for young girls who want to ‘grow up and marry a prince’; the message/myth that her body is used to signify is that, if you can achieve a body like hers, you too can marry a prince.
Closer has an interview with Kerry Katona titled “I’m not Binge Eating – That’s a Pile of Shite!” (Appendix 5.3 and 5.4) with a double page spread and large picture of “slimmed down” and smiling Katona. An interview in Now with highly successful business woman Karren Brady (Appendix 2.5 – 2.6) carries a picture of Brady and is titled “I’m not a Size 12! So what I’m not a model!” The article focuses on how Brady lost a stone in weight and despite her financial success and business acumen is still judged in relation to her body and weight. This signifies the subject position of Brady and female readers as women in society who are always judged in terms of their body and not on any other achievement.
A double page feature in Heat carries a number of pictures of celebrities in bikinis on the beach (Appendix 4.5 and 4.6) and tells readers how to pose effectively and display their own bodies when posing on glamorous and exotic locations. Again the celebrities are used to signify aspirational lifestyles and sexually desirable bodies. Closer carries a double page fashion feature where readers are asked to judge female celebrities’ fashion in “Rated or Slated!” (Appendix 5.4 and 5.5), thus readers can both identify with, and criticise their favourite stars.
Star uses paparazzi shots of Abby Clancy with the tagline “Abby gets her figure back – One Week After Giving Birth!” (Appendix 5.2), here Clancy is presented as having retained her ‘perfect’ body just one week after the birth of her child; something that readers can look on with wonder and hope to achieve themselves. Heat also uses paparazzi shots of female celebrities, however it focuses on celebrities who break the codes of idealised beauty and look bedraggled or less than perfect : in the articles “Blake-Not-So-Lively” (Appendix 4.7) and “OMG! At Least You’re Not Peaches” (Appendix 4.8). Here the celebrities are ‘punished’ for not living up to the expectations of physical perfection that society demands.
In an exclusive article in Heat on the singer Fergie, readers are told that she has resorted to cosmetic surgery and enhancement (Appendix 4.9) to achieve the perfect look. There are ‘before and after’ pictures of Fergie with the title “Fergie’s Amazing New £20K face!”, this signifies that cosmetic surgery is again aspirational and part of the lifestyle for the rich, famous and now an ‘amazingly’ beautiful star. Closer carries a similar article on Cheryl Cole titled “Cheryl’s Curvy Transformation” (Appendix 6.4) which highlights her ‘fuller’ body and speculates on her use of Botox. The magazine also carries two full page advertisements featuring Cole in L’Oreal ads (Appendix 6.5 and 6.6) where Cole is used to signify a sexually desirable, perfected image of idealised female beauty.
The magazine which carries the most content on celebrity bodies and diet lifestyles is clearly Closer in its Diet supplement (Appendix 7). The cover (Appendix 7.1) carries a number of pictures of female celebrities in bikinis, swimsuits and semi naked. The main feature article is on Claire Richards and reads, “Claire Richards’ Amazing New Body! I’ve dropped 5st and feel sexier that ever! Follow my step by step plan inside” (Appendix 7.1). The feature and interview inside continues the visual and textual message with another bikini shot and the title “I’ve lost 5stone and I love my sexy curves” (Appendix 7.3) this is followed by two pages of the diet plan “Claire’s Step by Step Diet Plan” (Appendix 7.5 and 7.6). The message here is clear for the reader; a thinner body equals a more sexual and sexually desirable woman, which in turns equals happiness.
This theme is continued in both the visuals and texts of two further interviews which feature bikini clad celebrities and stories of how they lost weight and achieved the perfect body shape. The first interview is with singer Michelle Heaton titled “Michelle Heaton My Life in lbs” (Appendix 7.9 and 7.10); here Heaton’s mental state of well-being is directly linked to her perfected body after weight loss. The second interview is with reality star Michelle Bass titled “I’ve lost over a stone and love my size 10 curves” (Appendix 7.15 and 7.16). These two articles signify to the reader that weight loss and perfect body image are equated with desirability, sexual attractiveness and happiness. There is also a third feature on Coleen Rooney labelled “Get Bikini Fit with Coleen’s low sugar diet (Appendix 7.11 and 7.12), followed by two pages of her diet plan (Appendix 7.13 and 7.14). The “bikini-body” theme continues with a feature on various celebrities, in paparazzi shots on the beach and titled “Get an A-List Bikini Body” (Appendix 7.19 and 7.20).
The link between the female celebrities’ bodies and the articles telling readers what to eat is apparent in two further articles, firstly “How safe are Celeb drastic diets?” (Appendix 7.7 and 7.8) and secondly “6 Smart treat choices – Celeb Food Swaps” (Appendix 7.23). The readers are basically told what they must eat in order to achieve some of the glamour and ‘magic’ that seems to be evidenced by the images of the smiling beautiful women that are held up as role models for them. This is reinforced by the use of Jennifer Lopez in the Venus Advertisements (Appendix 7.24 and 7.25) where she is called a “Goddess” and photographed in glamorous locations, looking deliriously happy and successful.
The images and texts of all the magazines present the celebrities as living a rarefied and desirable existence that readers can and should aspire to. The readers are encouraged to try and emulate the celebrities and try to achieve what is missing from their own ordinary lives. They are told that they must do this by changing their diets and ultimately their bodies in order to emulate the successful glamorous women that are presented in the content of the magazines.
Furthermore the relationship between the readers and the celebrities is also open to some dialogue, as the celebrities are also open to scrutiny and at times criticism if they fail to live up to an idealistic version of themselves as role models. However the underlying messages or signs which are presented to the readers are that these celebrities are special in terms of their physical appearance, physical beauty and body image. The perfection of the female body that the celebrities hold up as an idealistic example of the female form is one that must be adhered to and followed by the readers if they are to achieve financial, social and sexual success as women themselves.
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