Effect of Celebrity Marketing on Magazine Sales
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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 The heroes of the old have been replaced by prominent pseudo-events known solely for their fame.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(King, 2002). The consumerist values that the celebrities embody are also fundamental to the commercial interests of the culture industry. Messages about what constitutes an acceptable look for different types of women are an important aspect of Heat magazine’s sales pitch. The emphasis on looks, and superficial styles, is firmly rooted in two key assumptions: first, that all women share a major preoccupation with the way they look; second, that all women can improve their appearance byte application of time and effort and through the purchase of certain products (Ballasted et al, 1991:151).
Nowhere is this clearer than the celebrity magazines’ obsession with women’s weight. Heat magazine encourages women to aspire towards creating the ideal look as displayed by an array of celebrities. Only certain types of body and lifestyle become acceptable. Celebrity texts and images appear to represent reality objectively, yet at the same time they necessarily interpret reality, naturalising and disguising the magazine’s agenda to sell as many copies as possible.
The features representing best and worst celebrity bodies, the fitness and beauty tips to achieve the look of favourite celebrities and the overall emphasis on fashion and beauty persuade women to transform themselves to become the ideal other. The promise of becoming like the iconic celebrity through a never-ending circle of diet and exercise tips, fashion features, and make-up recommendations keeps women hooked. The magazine always promises more than it can give. Celebrities can fill people with powerful inclinations and desires for a better life, for a healthier lifestyle, for a fitter body, for beautiful clothes. It could be said that cultural standards of perfection invite readers to compare themselves with an impossible ideal - the celebrity.
In recent years the advertising and publishing industries’ discourse of consumption has constructed itself and revolved around a crucial category, that of ‘lifestyle’ (Ballasted et al, 1991). Celebrity magazines have come to sell on lifestyles. Heat is directed at young professionals with certain leisure pursuits that include taking care of the self through fitness, fashion and make-up. Heat’s regular fashion and beauty features ‘That’s so a good look’, ‘This week’s best dressed’, ‘Steal her style’, ‘Find it’, ‘Beauty Trend’ and ‘We want your wardrobe’ represent the current fashions in the celebrity world. Celebrities are seen as beautiful and trendy and readers are encouraged to emulate their trendy appearances. ‘Clothes, shoes, scents and make-up are all about encasing a person in garments that serve to make statement – that you are who you choose to present to the world’(Lim, 2005: 84).
Ultimately fashion is about lifestyle and individuality. Readers take pleasure in judging and criticising the latest look, taking on board the useful fashion and beauty tips, and generally looking at these glamorous celebrities doing their ‘job’ of representing themselves through the capitalist means of purchasing and displaying material goods. ‘In the image conscious world of fashion, there exists the ultimate embodiment of celebrity branding – because clothes adorn and drape the human body, what is being sold is the very sense of a person’s actual being’ (Lim, 2005:85). It is this possibility to be like celebrities that sells celebrity magazines. By following their example through clothing and make-up, real women can become like celebrities. It not simply a question of adoration or admiration, it is more about expressing individuality and lifestyle. The body, the beauty or the clothes of a celebrity sell consumerism.
Celebrity magazines are an extremely profitable business, which represents pleasurable, value-laden discourses to a huge number of readers. Celebrity magazines elevate shopping to the status of being the ultimate leisure experience, the ultimate form of self-expression. As Ballasted et al (1991:149) describe it; ‘ this is an area where magazines have no reserve about offering help and advice in the shape of special promotions, product tests, endorsements and recommendations.’ Consumption has different inflexions, through editorial and advertising copy, depending on the assumed target audience or market segment of the magazine (Ballasted et al, 1991:149).
Celebrity magazines sell because hidden beneath the glamour of celebrities are subtexts that play on anxieties and encourage feelings of inadequacy, while at the same time these magazines promise pleasure and acceptance. Celebrity magazines often rely on readers’ personal sense of inferiority, especially about their physical appearance and work as a tool for teaching women lifelong habits of consumption. Many articles in Heat direct readers’ attention to the body parts that they may feel insecure about by explaining that even glamorous celebrities are unhappy with their bodies. The magazine thus attempts to work as atoll for changing readers’ lives for the better by addressing their insecurities and offering solutions to body hang-ups.
The double purpose of this approach is both to sell further copies of the magazine and the products advertised inside. Women buy these magazines to learn what kinds of bodies are acceptable and normal, and to find out how to achieve the healthy, curvaceous but muscular body so desired by men. Exercise and diet are such central parts of modern women’s lives that many women buy magazines just to read about the latest celebrity diet. The care of the self thus becomes a naturalised part of women’s daily lives and Heat magazine is there to help by constantly surveying, examining, commenting on and criticizing celebrity bodies.
On the other hand, the magazine merely conveys the ideals of slenderness linked to sexual attraction, fitness, success and self-control, all highly priced in Western culture, which tends to link body shape to identity and self-esteem (Weekes and Gunter, 2005:66). Heat represents celebrities as working hard for their beauty. The body is seen as something that can be altered to fit the dominant norms of attractiveness. However, Heat also offers another type of pleasure, taking an ironic tone in representing celebrities. Celebrities are often ridiculed and laughed at. This approach is oppositional to the more traditional, ‘stars as glamorous and talented’ celebrity discourse found in magazines such as Hello!.
Heat sees celebrities as ordinary, real people rather than as something extraordinary and god-like. Celebrities wear horrible clothes and have bad hair days; they gain weight or lose too much weight. Heat’s critical discourse ridicules the current obsession withal things celebrity, offering real women a more balanced look into the world of celebrity. The ironic tone encourages camp readings of celebrities, mocking the emphasis on consumption and appearance. This adds another level of attraction for celebrity magazines.
Bringing celebrities ‘down to earth’ works as a tool for selling magazines. Heat’s large gay readership proves that the camp rhetoric not only works for women but for gay men as well. Because Heat does not play by any clear-cut rules, it has become one of the most favoured celebrity magazines in the market, especially among young people.
Marketing to Men: Selling Sex and the 'lad' lifestyle
Case Study: Loaded
Men haven’t escaped the obsession with celebrities. Love is a central theme in magazines aimed at women. Men’s magazines, however, sell onset. The relationships represented both in men’s and women’s magazines tend to be heterosexual ones, and the magazines carry the implication that these are the only kind of relationships of any interest to anyone(Dyer, 1998:45). The regulation of love and sex through the codes of patriarchal, heterosexual society controls the conduct of individuals.
Celebrities act out the specificities of love and sex, representing lifestyles based on heterosexual passion, which are transferred into the pages of countless magazines. Jackson et al (quoted in Gough-Yates,2003:140) have noted that ‘laddish’ forms of masculinity have become extremely popular in the magazine world. The lad culture is mainly associated with drinking, sport and sex and emerged in popular culture in the 1990’s. ‘Laddish’ scripts in men’s magazine publishing have become the main marketing strategy for many magazines, selling the overall lifestyle of the lad. Indeed, all of the major magazine publishers identified the lad as a profitable commercial lifestyle image, producing highly successful titles such as IPC’s Loaded.
The lad offered the more independent and sexually confident representations of femininity in women’s magazines an equally irreverent male counterpart, broadly defined by his drinking to excess, adopting a predatory attitude towards women and a fear of commitment (Jackson et al quoted in Gough-Yates, 2003:140). Celebrities feature highly in these magazines, mainly in the form of the female pin-up or glamour girl. The objectified celebrity pin-ups are part of the general lad lifestyle, and the scripts featuring celebrities as sex objects have proved extremely popular with target groups of young men. Perhaps thesis because young men still exercise forms of masculinity predicated upon the exercise of power over women. In the same manner, young women continue to live their feminine identities in relation to male audience(Gough-Yates, 2003). This is why magazines that reinforce the age-old myths and heterosexual identities are so popular amongst young men and women.
Ideas of human attractiveness, grounded in the body and the face are common component of celebrity discourse (Austin and Barker, 2003:27).The celebrity signs of female celebrities are always focused on the corporeal. The body is the object of intense scrutiny and debate about attractiveness and sexiness (Marshall, 1997). Sexual language has become explicit in lad’s magazines. Loaded magazine utilises the discourses grounded in the attractiveness of the female celebrities by offering celebrity interviews with multi-page photo spreads of semi-nude celebrities. These narratives are revelatory, often even slightly scandalous.
When the first film star scandals appeared in the early 1920’s, stories revealed a side of stars hidden from public view. The scandalous discourses incrementally deepened a star’s identity. ‘Together these discourses constructed a series of layers in which asset of secrets was introduced beneath the secrets’ (McDonald, 2003 (b):36). In Foucauldian terms, scandalous narratives serve to make sexuality the ultimate truth of a celebrity’s identity (McDonald, 2003(b): 36). Sex therefore becomes the primal scene of all celebrity discourses, the only scenario that offers the promise of a full and satisfying disclosure of the celebrity’s identity.
For this reason, men’s magazines primarily sell on sex. The sexy photographs function to reveal a hidden truth, empowering the man looking at them because the discourse promises that the celebrity woman is available. McDonald(2003 (b): 36) suggests that rather than the eroticism of the image, what is potentially more significant about these images is the curiosity they evoke. Celebrity images promise a voyeuristic fantasy more intense that photographs of anonymous nude women, because there Isa certain aura or charisma that is generally associated with celebrities.
Celebrity culture is one of the most important mechanisms for mobilising abstract desire. It embodies desire in an animate object, which allows for deeper levels of attachment than with inanimate commodities (Rijeka, 2001:189). Men’s magazines promise the transgressive, the forbidden and the scandalous, but at the same time deny the desire they provoke.
The women in the photographs are fantasy figures, airbrushed pin-ups. ‘A pin-up or a glamour girl need be neither a great lover nor a social lion. Photogenic perfection and sexuality is enough’ (Dyer, 1998:50). The glamour girl promotes surface appearance and depersonalisation, woman as sexual spectacle and sex object (Dyer, 1998:50). Glamour images are also an important part of the way a female celebrity’s image is built up. Hess (quoted in Dyer,1998:51) describes the pin-up girl of the 1940’s: ‘She had to be healthy cheerleader type – button nosed, wide-eyed, long-legged with ample hips and breasts.’ Not much has changed in terms of the representation of the glamour girl in men’s magazines. The kind of buttons that today’s glamour girls push go beyond mere desire.
Much of the 1940’s pin-up’s sexual charge was carried by symbolism of various kinds due to Puritanism and censorship. However, today it seems to be a question of access all areas. Loaded magazine’s representation of Abi Titmuss, a minor celebrity known for her sexual exploits, constructs her as a kind of hard-drinking ‘layette’, whilst her sexuality is emphasised through the accompanying photographs. The feature, titled ‘Abi Titus stars in Beer and No Clothing in Las Vegas’ (Loaded, February 2006), illustrates the reasons why celebrities sell men’s magazines. In the article Abe is a sex symbol but her lifestyle seems to be that of the lad.
The unequal power relationships between men and women deriving from Western art tradition where male painters painted nude female models seems to reverse somewhat in this article. Although Abe Titus is an object for the male surveyor, the way she is represented in the article as the ‘female lad’ emphasises the general lad lifestyle sold by the magazine. On the other hand, expressions such as ‘Titters looks fantastic in a barely-there, filled to bursting point bikini’, 'Titus is dressed in tweed micro shorts, gold strappy high heels and a non-existent top that makes her boobs look like small planets’ and ‘woo, screams Abe, swirling her hair, jiggling her totties and twirling her handbag to wondrous effect’ all exemplify the lad magazine’s general approach to selling the lad lifestyle by using sex.
This is what a woman should look like and how she should behave, the magazine implies. Loaded describes Abe: ‘she is five per cent Liz Taylor (demanding), five per cent Liam Gallagher (debauched) and 90 present totally delectable, she’s the dream girl who’ll give you endless nightmares.’ The perfect, goddess type images construct a fantasy figure that becomes a part of the lifestyle of the lad through the real celebrity’s drinking and showing off.
The celebrity image is a form of power that invites men to judge what they see according to patriarchal standards of attraction. The celebrity in the story may take control and ‘act like a man’ but she is ultimately confined to the sexually attractive categories of femininity. Readers take up positions indicated by the discourse, in this case as the masculine controller of the celebrity in question. Lyster (2004) suggests that magazines like Loaded act as masculine comfort zones for male readers.
‘These magazines imply that the Beckham lifestyle is in reach of all men, even if they are actually stuck at the edges of society and going nowhere. The quest of perfect looking women is a way of turning the male crisis on its head by pretending that it is really men who are choosing their partners, when in fact its women who are doing the choosing,’ Leyster (2004) continues. This is undoubtedly a part of the appeal of celebrities in men’s magazines. The ideal lifestyle with the beautiful sex symbol is in the reach of every reader. Loaded is one of the bestselling men’s magazines in the market with an unselfconscious emphasis on the lad lifestyle. It seems that the formula of fantasy celebrities and laddish celebrity lifestyle works best for young single men in the ABC1 social group.
Teenage Markets: Heroes, Role Models and the idealogy of romance
Case Study: Sugar
Teenage girls are an important group of magazine consumers, with titles centring on boys and pop culture. Whilst young boys are more into computer games and comic books, teenage girls have become as obsessed with celebrities as grown women. Amassing information about their favourite pop, television and film stars is an important leisure time pursuit for teenage girls (Ballasted, 1991:138). The celebrities portrayed in teen magazines are usually either female role models, or handsome hunks. Hachette Filipacchi’s Sugar magazine relies increasingly on celebrities in its coverage of teenage issues. Marshall(1997) understands celebrity as a descriptor incorporating various forms of public individuality such as the hero, the star, the leader, and the role model.
For teenagers, celebrities are above all people they can look up to and admire - modern-day heroes and heroines. Celebrities exist in various roles within society, and often oscillate between celebrity categories. Although talent is no longer necessary in society where reality-TV churns out countless celebrities, in teen magazines celebrities are still seen as heroic and extraordinary, whilst at the same time being ordinary enough for the readers to connect with their lives.
There has been a lot of concern about the power of the celebrity culture and the manner in which contextually founded subjectivities are articulated through particular celebrities. Impressionable teenagers get caught up in a culture where social categories are constructed through celebrities. Young girls learn the correct form of femininity from their celebrity role models.
Sugar magazine’s feature on the star of the TV series The OC Rachel Bilson titled ‘Summer loving’ (Sugar, February 2006) concentrates on her role as a young woman that other girls can look up to. ‘She has the coolest job, an amazing wardrobe and Adam Brody. We want to be RachelBilson so much it hurts,’ the magazine declares. The interview concentrates on Rachel’s love life, career, style, and lifestyle. The implications of the article are that every girl wants a boyfriend and stylish wardrobe. In the world represented by Sugar, apart from shopping, make-up and hair are of huge importance to every teenage girl.
The normative model of femininity offered in the magazine is almost exclusively white and heterosexual. ‘Your top 10 inspirational celebs’ (Sugar, February 2006) continues to represent celebrities as meaningful, talented and authentic. The magazine promises a privileged access to the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. Once again ascertain lifestyle is put forward as an ideal way to live. This includes trendy clothes, a fit boyfriend and an attractive body. The teenage lifestyle is inextricably linked with consumption. If these magazines represent beauty and fashion, style and individuality, they also effectively encourage girls to look similar to each other by advocating the style of certain, often young, celebrities such as Rachel Billson(Ballasted et al, 1991).
The notion that identity can be constructed through consumption is particularly prevalent. Celebrities are perceived in terms of closeness to or distance from culturally specific notions of feminine beauty (Ballasted et al, 1991:150). Teenage magazines use celebrities because young girls like to imitate their idols. At the same time they learn the dominant codes of femininity. Like celebrity magazines for grown-up women, the appeal of these magazines lies in encouraging girls to aspire to and strive towards meeting the ideal as illustrated by their celebrity idols. The pay-off of achieving the ideal beauty will be to compete successfully for the attention of men.
The representation of celebrity men in Sugar serves as a further tactic for selling the celebrity lifestyle. Celebrity male pin-ups or hunks serve as fantasy boyfriends. A section titled ‘The Sugar Lad Mag’ features several male celebrities in features and pin-up posters. The ideal lifestyle combined with its prize – the celebrity boyfriend illustrated by the celebrity hunk - testifies to the power of narrative in teenage publications.
The romance narrative where the girl competes for a boy’s attention through self-beautification and finally gets boyfriend is the central structuring element in teen magazines. These days the ideology of romance is increasingly experienced through the lives of the celebrities. Celebrities are ‘just like us’, facing the same problems as the teenage girl, these narratives claim. The appeal of celebrities is based on their ideal or inspirational ways to behave. In the world of celebrities girls must take care of themselves and struggle to find love. Heterosexual love is the ultimate goal in life.
For teenagers, celebrities seem magical and special, their lives and their boyfriends seem appealing, yet they still struggle with the same problems as ordinary people. The central goal in life becomes construction of a façade that is designed to be celebrated by others. Celebrity culture is the primary resource in supplying identities for consumers to admire, criticize and aspire to. The promise of becoming like the admired celebrity cause young girls to buy magazines featuring celebrities.
However, unlike in other age groups, the informational value of the teen magazine becomes important. Teenagers want to know everything about their idols, collect posters and photographs of them, know where they buy their clothes and get their hair cut, know what it feels like to live the show business lifestyle and know what it feels like to kiss Adam Brody. For teenage girls, celebrities become the ultimate object of desire, as they want to know about them, aspire to look like them and to dress like them and dream about possessing their success and wealth. As Weekes and Gunter (2005:91) put it, the celebrities represented in these magazines thus ‘offer tasters of adult life to familiarize the reader with what is of value: clothes, make-up, attracting the opposite sex, shopping and slenderness.’
Magazines live and die in a wholly commercial environment (Bird,1978: 140). To be successful in a competitive environment contemporary magazines need to find a selling point that appeals to its target market. Today, increasingly that selling point includes the use of celebrities. Magazines have become eager to fill their pages with people who evoke glamour, no matter how offbeat (Lim, 2005: 92).Celebrities sell all kinds of magazines. This dissertation has examined the three main groups that are influenced by celebrities in their choice of magazines: women, men and teenage girls.
Of course there are other groups of people who could have been included, but as celebrity is a fluid and relational field, no clear answers can be given as to who is influenced by celebrities, why and to what extent. This dissertation has aimed at analysing the magazines themselves in order to determine how and why people become so drawn into the culture of celebrity. Magazines form a mediating part of an already gendered discourse (Weekes and Gunter, 2005:73).
The gendered discourse is the cultural representation of sexual identity and activity and it generates the symbols that signify what is valuable and desirable in the feminine and masculine, and is reproduced in the content of the magazines studied. As Weekes and Gunter (2005:73) put it, ‘that symbolic order is also the means of signifying self-worth, identity and subjectivity.’ Magazines are reproducing dominant discourses in society through celebrities. Celebrities act as role models for our own lives. People learn from them about themselves and the society. Contemporary magazines are reassuringly old-fashioned in their emphasis on the old patriarchal order and sex roles.
Women take pleasure from learning how to make themselves beautiful and thin, following the lead of the celebrities portrayed in magazines. Men take pleasure in gazing at celebrity women, learning how women should look, behave and how they should be treated. Teenage girls enjoy collecting information about their role models in order to emulate their glamour and appeal in their own lives with the goal of learning to please men. The male pin-up work as fantasy boyfriends. Gender is therefore a determining factor in how magazines are marketed. What is evident however, that the connections between ‘looks’ and sexual love are foregrounded in all three magazines.
Sexual attractiveness, and its achievement, is given high priority, especially in terms of women. Celebrities emulate the latest fashions, trends and lifestyles, influencing the readers’ choice of clothes, hairstyles, diets and fitness regimes. Women’s weight is always under scrutiny. Real women become obsessed with celebrity bodies and diets, disciplining themselves into becoming the ideal woman represented by their favourite celebrity. Men are influenced rather differently. They are not targeted in terms of celebrities helping them to achieve anything for themselves. They are not subjected to endless scrutiny about their bodies and appearance.
However, the female celebrities portrayed in men’s magazines teach men masculinity. This is essentially a narcissistic form of masculinity where women are sexobjects and fantasy figures. The fact that these celebrities are available for the reader creates a comfort zone of traditional masculinity where men are reassured of their place in society. Sex issued to sell magazines but the expression of sexuality has come to reside almost exclusively in the female body, and increasingly, in the celebrity body (Ballasted et al, 1991).
Gender is the main determining factor in using celebrities to sell magazines. Most celebrity magazines as well as men and women’s magazines are targeted at young people in the ABC1 social group. Teenagers have their own titles, but the use of celebrities in these magazines does not significantly differ from their use in adult publications. What seem to be missing are magazines for the older age group. Are older people not influenced by celebrities? It may be more a question of ageism, as the magazine publishers, influenced by advertisers, have always been reluctant to exploit the ‘grey market’(Braithwaite, 1995).
Celebrity magazines cater almost exclusively tithe younger age groups, Hello! possibly having the oldest readership. The new men’s and lad magazines are also targeted at younger men. It seems that age is not a determining factor since most magazines only target young people. Gough-Yates (2003:150) claims that it is the advertisers that have been notoriously reticent about targeting the older lifestyle group, and that they are extremely unenthusiastic about reaching older consumers, thus greatly influencing the publishing industry’s preference for reaching only younger readers.
It is difficult to assess how in tune magazine publishers really are with the lives of the target groups of young, middle-class women and men and teenagers (Gough-Yates, 2003:144). What is clear, however, that the supposed lifestyle of the target market provides a central selling point. Celebrities greatly influence many aspects of modern lifestyles from the clothes we wear to the TV programmes we watch. Celebrity lifestyles as the ideal way to live are offered both in magazines aimed at men and at women.
In the 1990’s the commercial imperatives of both the advertising and the publishing industries generated a desire to understand cultures of femininity and masculinity in society. The emphasis on individuality, lifestyle and consumption was born out of new forms of ‘lifestyle’ market research. As a result, the ideal target markets proved to be fragmented and the use of celebrities emerged as a way of bringing together certain lifestyle groups. Women’s lifestyles feature celebrity bodies, fashions and beauty regimes. Men’s lifestyles are constructed around the notion of masculinity as exemplified by the lad lifestyle of beer drinking, football watching and sexual adventures.
Teenagers on the other hand are learning their first steps in the preferred lifestyle through celebrities. The attempts to unify the complexities of modern lives revolve around the commercially viable configurations of celebrities. It is clear that their influence is essential in the marketing of contemporary magazines. After all, celebrities exist to fulfil a demand created by market forces. As Lim(2005:25) describes it, celebrities, like most brands, exist because people want them.
Contemporary culture is often seen as ugly or dangerous, a symptom of an American decline into decadence, ignorance and triviality or a cause of such declines. ‘Surface has overwhelmed substance, image has overtaken reality, truth is submerged in a sea of irrelevance, imitation and copying have displaced originality and imagination’(Gammon, 1994: 6-7). The values of lifestyle and consumption have pushed aside those of work and production in a culture where celebrities work as an ideological tool for preserving the capitalist system. In the field of cultural theory, celebrities are often thought of in terms of an ideological straitjacket.
Cultural standards of perfection are modelled on celebrities, inviting comparisons that ordinary people cannot live up to (Andersen, 1995). Andersen (1995:104)argues that mediated desire is central to the culture of celebrity. Another words, it is the desire to be like the glamorous, confident and conceited personalities who inhabit the world of magazines that compels most readers to buy a certain magazine. The pleasure readers take in scrutinising the lives of their famous role models is socially constructed. What counts as pleasurable depends on the culturally and socially determined range of meanings and values available to people in discourse (Ballasted et al, 1991:161).
The construction and maintenance of current social order relies on the pleasures that secure consent and participation in that order. Celebrities then act as vehicles for the pleasures constructed by the social order. Celebrities articulate what it is to be a human being in contemporary society, that is, they express the particular notion we hold of the individual (Dyer, 1998). Celebrities influence people because they teach us what it is like tube men and women. Celebrities offer the pleasure of difference and multiplicity, providing avenues for the development of meaning through identification of the individual celebrity’s subjectivity.
Marshall(1997:242) thinks that ‘the meaning, significance and power of the celebrity is constructed from a double rationality: the various cultural industries help manufacture and elevate individuals to stardom, while the audience rereads, rearticulates and sometimes rejects celebrities in its own efforts to rationalise their quotidian with this public sphere of presented personalities.’ Celebrities influence people because they are significant public enti
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