@jackwhitehall: As I was telling my friend on my I phone 5 whilst drinking Moët Chandon that story about celebs subtlety promoting brands on twitter is vile

From endorsements to advertisements, from comic books to movies – celebrities seem to surround us. The idiosyncrasy of celebrity’s contemporary cultural visibility and the role they play across the various aspects of the cultural field has definitely broadened in recent years. Turner (2004) explains, however, that the definition of a celebrity is still considered to be a complicated phenomenon. Do celebrities constitute of a discursive category, a commercial commodity or are they simply an object of consumption? Turner (2004) states that there are multiple ways a celebrity can be described. For my argument I will be defining celebrities from the context of academic literature, specifically from within media and cultural studies which focuses on celebrity as the result of a variety of economic and cultural processes. These incorporate the commodification of the individual celebrity through advertising and promotion; the iconographic practices used by the media; and the association of celebrities in the processes through which cultural identities are shaped (Turner 2004).

Boorstin (1992) argues that the modern celebrity is seen as a representation of a compelling shift in contemporary popular culture. So does the modern phenomenon of celebrity also reflect a deviation in popular culture, metaphysically? There is an ongoing change in the way cultural meanings are created as the celebrity becomes a vital site of personal ambition and media attention, as well as one of the vital areas where cultural meanings are formulated (Marshall 1997).  Hence celebrities arguably have an impact on their audience. They may be the outcome of the “attribution” of qualities for a certain individual (Rojek 2001:10); or their fame may be the outcome of the way in which individuals are treated by the media (Giles 2000).

Celebrity culture also has an impact on gendered politics. Evans and Riley (2013:1) argue that gendered norms are often shaped based on the “socioeconomic and consumer-oriented” conditions of the given time. Due to the impact celebrities have on their audience, celebrity culture has the ability to develop, reinforce or reiterate gender norms. However, it is not simply a matter of finding a role model. Turner (2004: 100) calls it “identification and dis-identification” i.e. audience either relate to celebrities if they have something in common, or they simply don’t. For example, the global impact Princess Diana’s death had in the year 1997. In such situations a sense of intimacy is sensed from the individuals’ perspective.

Marshall (1997) further explains that this is a sense of public intimacy where the celebrity is a public form of discourse where the disparity between public, private and intimate is submerged in one another. For example, online video pornography is easily available and accessible. There are thousands of websites which readily link professional pornography to amateur videos publicly available thereby deeming our sexuality and forms of sexual expressions as public (Marshall 1997). These malleable boundaries between public, private and intimate demonstrate the easiness an individual may feel while watching a celebrity semi-nude in an advertisement, or nude in a sex tape. For example watching Kim Kardashian in a Carl’s Jr. advertisement vs. watching Kim Kardashian’s sex tape. Illouz (2007) – on the other hand – argues that the era of celebrity culture represents a form of cold intimacy, where celebrities are seen as a product of an ironic industry of consumerism and mass media.

The portrayal of women celebrities in pop culture is often directed towards heterosexual men, known as the male gaze (Mulvey 1975). Female celebrities are commoditised in order to fit the view of the male gaze. This is clearly visible in advertisements where female celebrities are sexualised with the respective products. The male gaze further indicates a sense of power where the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze, i.e. the patriarchal power (Schroeder and Borgerson 1998). Men are also subjected to eroticisation within advertisements, and stereotyped to be immensely masculine. When celebrities conform to beauty standards set by society are they doing it as an empowered act ‘because they can’ or are they simply settling into the expectations of the audience?


  •  Boorstin, D.J. (1992) The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Vintage Books
  • Evans, A. and Riley, S. (2013) ‘Immaculate Consumption: Negotiating the Sex Symbol in Postfeminist Celebrity Culture’. Journal of Gender Studies 22 (3), 268-281
  • Giles, D. (2000) Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity. New York: St. Martin’s Press
  • Illouz, E. (2007) Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press
  • Marshall, P.D. (1997) Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Mulvey, L. (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Screen 16 (3), 6-18
  • Rojek, C. (2011) Celebrity. London: Reaktion Books
  • Schroeder, J. and Borgerson, J. (1998) ‘Marketing Images of Gender: A Visual Analysis’. Consumption Markets and Culture 2 (2), 161-201
  • Turner, G. (2004) Understanding Celebrity. London: Sage Publications

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