Celebrity stories under the gaze : understanding women's consumption and the representation of romance




Morey, Adele Louise

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This thesis is situated in the field of feminist cultural studies and combines empirical audience research with textual analysis to examine aspects of the contemporary phenomenon of celebrity. Part One of the thesis draws on the strong tradition of feminist audience research to analyse women's consumption of media-based stories about celebrities. It is based on twenty-one semi-structured interviews that I conducted with women living in Australia. By focusing on consumption practices and the meaning of 'the act of reading', Part One seeks to provide a better understanding of how and why women consume celebrity stories. In a challenge to the frequent academic and 'commonsense' representation of the consumption of celebrity in terms of pathology, Part One argues that celebrity stories are positioned in interviewees' lives as entertainment and that they provide a valued opportunity for escapism. Drawing on work by Dyer (2002) and Stacey (1994), Part One analyses the escapist pleasures on offer to women through consuming celebrity stories. This illustrates that consuming celebrity stories offers women a temporary and unthreatening escape from pressures associated with femininity and contemporary subjectivity. Such escape is possible due to what I term the 'one way gaze' and the position of the spectator that celebrity stories offer. Accessing this one way gaze and taking up this role of the spectator allows female readers to escape feelings of scrutiny and cultural pressure to create, develop and perform the self. Part One also demonstrates the versatility of celebrity stories in relation to audience identification, comparison and emotional connection and illustrates that versatility is important in relation to connecting with others in the context of consumption. This versatility provides opportunities for readers to avoid unwelcome comparisons with high profile celebrities and to take an emotional break. Arguably, this emotional break is highly valued by female readers since it offers a temporary escape from aspects of the relational work associated with femininity. Research that increases understanding of how and why celebrity stories are consumed is important. However, it is also critical to recognise that celebrity stories can act as potent sites for the circulation and potential maintenance of hegemonic discourses. Part Two, the smaller part of the thesis, therefore offers a counterbalance to Part One's emphasis on entertainment and escapist pleasures. It provides textual analysis of a celebrity story ofparticular interest from a feminist perspective. Part Two examines the representation of a high profile example of the failure of a supposed 'fairytale romance' - the break-up of the international celebrities Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. This story is approached as a media event that highlighted cultural anxieties about romantic love. In particular, Part Two analyses five television talk show interviews with either Tom or Nicole after their break-up on prominent talk shows. Significantly, despite the public failure of their supposed 'fairytale romance', Tom and Nicole remain firmly positioned within the discourse of romance in these interviews. In fact, considerable efforts are made to recuperate romantic love, and associated ideals, from destabilisation in the wake of their break-up.






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