Tag Archives: celebrities



Q: It’s sixty years this month since the release of the film Giant (40th anniversary poster above). This was a big film in the 1950s, but never ranks among the likes of The Godfather, Casablanca, or Gone With The Wind as a twentieth century classic. But I know you’re going to tell us that it has cultural significance that escapes most of us.
A: It’s only what you’d expect from me, isn’t it? You can see a half-century of popular culture in Giant. Three mortal figures advance towards immortality in this film.
Q: Well, that’s quite a claim. Continue.
A: First, the story. Edna Ferber’s book Giant concerns an oil-and-ranching family modeled on the Kleberg family, who ran (and still run today) the vast King Ranch in South Texas. Giant is the story a simple cowhand who becomes a conniving, bigoted oil tycoon and cattle baron and his strong-willed wife, transplanted from the greenery of her native Maryland, who curbs his Southern vulgarities with her Eastern civility. Serialized in Ladies’ Home Journal beginning in the spring of 1952, Giant was released that fall to immense sales, quickly leaping onto the New York Times best-seller list. But the film based on the novel secretes another story. Warner Brothers, having secured the rights – amid much competition from other studios – to Ferber’s work, cast Rock Hudson in the central role of Bick Benedict, the Texas rancher, Hudson, then 29, was what was known in the mid-1950s as “beefcake,” meaning an outstandingly handsome and muscular man who radiated heterosexual attractiveness. Montgomery Clift, also possessed of exceptional good looks, was earmarked for the role of Jett Rink, the poor dirt farmer who strikes it rich, thought to be based on Glenn McCarthy, who was a flamboyant oil millionaire, known as “King of the Wildcatters” (a wildcatter is a prospector who sinks exploratory oil wells). But the producers were suspicious of his drinking and opted for the then relatively untested method actor James Dean, who made East of Eden (1955) and seemed an acceptable risk. Dean was also handsome, but, in his case, haunted-looking, which was fashionably impressive – he looked, to use a term that originated at the time and has persisted since, cool.
Q: And the role of Leslie?
A: Grace Kelly was a natural for the role of Bick’s wife. The humble, blonde Philadelphia beauty who became Hollywood star had not yet fled to become a European princess and looked perfect. She was about as hot as it was possible to be at the time. She’d been in High Noon, Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief. The film’s director George Stevens had briefly considered Elizabeth Taylor, but, at 23, she seemed too young (Kelly was nearly two-and-a-half years older). The story goes that Hudson, possibly wary that hugely popular Kelly might steal his thunder, argued Taylor’s case and eventually got his way. Remember: Taylor was not yet the scandalizing hellcat she became, though, she had gone through her first unruly marriage and was now married to English actor Michael Wilding. But she had not yet taken on a role that was truly adult and the role demanded that she age an improbable twenty-five years over the course of Ferber’s saga.
Q: Now, you describe Hudson as beefcake. But he later became the first Hollywood star to die from Aids. He was gay, if memory serves. So?
A: This was the 1950s. America hadn’t even started contemplating repealing its sodomy laws, as they called them. Hudson was shut tight in the closet. In fact he was married to his agent’s assistant. In those days, they were called “lavender marriages,” meaning they were designed to remove suspicions about an actor’s sexual preferences.
Q: So, there were suspicions about Hudson?
A: In the film industry, for sure. But don’t forget, in the 1950s, Hollywood operated a smooth-functioning publicity operation and allowed only the information it wanted released to escape to the outside world. Had it become known that Hudson was gay – and he didn’t come out until only weeks before his death in 1985 – it would have killed off his professional career instantly.
Q: Did Taylor know?
A: Almost certainly. And, if she didn’t when they started filming, she would have known soon enough, if only because he didn’t make a move on her. She was one of the most desirable women in the world at the time and her marriage was apparently on the rocks. If there had been social media back then, we would have all got rolling reports on them.
Q: And Dean?
A: Well his heterosexual credentials were also called into question, though not as conspicuously as Hudson’s of course. Then again, there the gossip, rumour and hearsay surrounding Dean has never ceased. When someone dies, especially prematurely, it seems to provide the world with licence to think, say and share whatever they choose. Dean was killed in a road accident before filming had even finished. He’d completed his scenes and was driving his Porsche Spyder in Cholame, California. This was 1955. Dean (who was born in 1931), like Marlon Brando (born 1924) was one of those mid-20th century glamor-rebels challenging a society in the throes of a social, cultural and psychological adjustment to peacetime. Their political aspirations were captured in Brando’s answer to, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” in The Wild One (1953). “What’ve you got?” Elvis was another pin-up rebel without a cause, conviction or purpose. Dean, perhaps more than the others, encoded the mood of his generation. It was a generation that had not yet assimilated changes in the cultural politics of sex: Dean was unequivocally male and that meant his glazed handsomeness was intended to excite young women. It did. But that was just the visible tip of Dean’s ultra cool iceberg. The Dean myth grew bigger, appreciably bigger, than the man. Check this picture of him in crucifiorm mode, with Taylor looking at him almost worshipfully.




Q: Let me pause briefly to reflect: the film featured Hudson, who was, for all the world knew, a straight lady’s man, but who later took on iconic importance when he became the first Aids victim from the Hollywood A-list. There was also Taylor, who, at that time, was still four years away from her scandalous affair with Eddie Fisher, who was best man at her third wedding, and married to one of the world’s most popular girl-next-door types, Debbie Reynolds — and father of her children. And Dean, who died young and handsome and whose image was to adorn millions of posters, tee-shirts, coffee mugs and who was to become the subject of books and movies. He was one of those characters who, as they say, captured the zeitgeist.
A: Correct.
Q: I get it: they were all, in their own ways, icons of the late twentieth century.
A: Yes, though the affair with Fisher was only the start of the Taylor’s notoriety. In the early 1960s, she meet Richard Burton in Italy on the set of Cleopatra (see below). Still married to Fisher, she became involved with the Welsh actor, himself married and with children. The timing of the clandestine affair was perfect in a sense. The Italian photojournalists who later became known to us all as paparazzi were just beginning their exploits and caught Taylor and Burton in flagrante. The image quickly circulated around the world, heralding the arrival of a new type of journalism.


Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011


Q: And ultimately, the rise of what we now recognize as celebrity culture.
A: I’d say so. Now do you understand what I mean when I say Hudson, Taylor and Dean were three mortals advancing towards immortality? In a way, all three have left their impressions on our culture.
Q: What made you think of this?
A: I claim no credit. An American journalist Amanda Champagne, who writes for Closer, asked me to comment on the film as we approach its anniversary and, as I was thinking about the production, it occurred to me that the three main actors were far from cultural behemoths in 1956 when the film was released. But, over subsequent decades, each became colossally significant in completely different ways.

MYTH-MAKING: Elizabeth Taylor, Liz Smith and the birth of celebrity culture

Ellis Cashmore discusses reactions to his new book with his commissioning editor at Bloomsbury, Katie Gallof.

Media of Elizabeth Taylor

Katie Gallof: Well your new book on Elizabeth Taylor is provoking some reaction, isn’t it? It seems you’ve captivated some reviewers, and infuriated others. Liz Smith, in particular, has moved from the first response to the second. What goes on here?

Ellis Cashmore: First let me introduce Liz Smith, @LizSmth, who, in all probability doesn’t need much of an introduction. She’s the most experienced and arguably most respected society journalist in the world and, even in her nineties, files an influential column called New York Social Diary in which she chronicles the lives of celebrities. To call her a gossip columnist – which I do in the book – is really like describing the Sistine Chapel as a church. She is the doyen of celebrity journalists.

KG: She was a friend of Elizabeth Taylor, right?

EC: Absolutely. A confidante too, I would surmise. Certainly, Liz Smith covered Elizabeth Taylor’s career in depth and for a period of time that qualifies her to comment authoritatively on virtually any aspect of her life.

KG: And your book is, of course, about Taylor’s life, but also the cultural changes she both lived through and, in her way, instigated.

EC: Yes, my argument is that Taylor ushered in what we now call celebrity culture: audiences were as fascinated by her private life as they were by her dramatic performances and she was adept at manipulating the media in a way that suited her own ends perfectly. In a genuine sense, she helped cultivate our appetite for scandal, particularly with her tempestuous romance with Richard Burton. We take this for granted now, of course. But La Liz, as Liz Smith calls her, was the first Hollywood star to capture fans in this way. Incidentally, Liz Smith wrote about Taylor and Burton: ““They trusted me and eventually I became the only journalist who could get to them.”

KG: So what did Liz Smith think about your book?

EC: In her column New York Social Diary, she offered her view that I “intelligently and dramatically” address the changing status of fame, specifically how Taylor benefited from scandals that would have ruined lesser stars, whether Taylor deliberately started those scandals, if she delighted in or squirmed from the global fame she acquired and how she turned her fame to her own purposes. In a lovely phrase, Liz Smith notes my analysis of “How she [Taylor] made mythology out of her travails and happiness.” You can imagine how thrilled I was when she concluded: “I found myself agreeing with most of his conclusions, perhaps because I myself had come to believe, and had written those same conclusions, over the many, many years I knew and had unprecedented access to the star of stars.”

KG: Praise indeed from someone who has been writing about the stars for at least four decades. I understand she launched her renowned New York Daily News column in 1976.

EC: Yes. In fact, she implicitly invited me to contact her for further information when she wrote that her input could have “made his good book better.” I don’t doubt this.

KG: So what’s changed?

EC: Three days later in another New York Social Diary column, Liz Smith wrote that the more she thought about my book’s references to her, the more “pissed-off” she became. Naturally, it wasn’t my intention to upset her and I don’t think there was any inaccuracy in my account. But I recorded how she was present at many pivotal events in Taylor’s career and was closer to her than any other journalist. This led some writers to assume she lost some objectivity and became too chummy. This wasn’t my criticism: in fact, it came from Ann Gerhart, who, in 1993, wrote critically after Liz Smith had emceed a press conference at which Taylor introduced her range of fragrances: “Now, the veteran gossip columnist is a celebrity in her own right, by virtue of her years of access and hefty salary, and many times she has hosted various functions to raise money for charity. But a journalist serving as a flack, helping an interview subject hustle a commercial venture, that’s something entirely different and smacked, to us, of ethics violations.”

KG: That was certainly a stinging censure.

EC: It was, though, in a sense, journalists can, indeed have to become familiar, if not friendly with their subjects. Remember Gerhart’s remarks were 23 years ago. Today, we consumers expect journalists to provide insider accounts of the most personal details of celebrities’ private lives. This is not sycophancy, but Liz Smith was ahead of her time in this respect.  I know she grumbles that many critics have given her “bitchy write-ups,” but I’m hoping she doesn’t include me. In writing the book, I’ve tried to be analytical and detached.

KG: I notice that, at the end of the book, you include her in the roll of influential individuals who, in their own way, shaped Taylor and, in turn, the world in which she lived.

EC: Indeed I do. The whole book is as much about times of Elizabeth Taylor, as well as her life. She was inseparable from her cultural context and, of course, Liz Smith was part of that context. I quote her poignant phrase after Taylor died: “She was only 79, but had lived a thousand years, had fired up and exhausted endless fantasies for herself and the millions who watched her.”


Katie Gallof is Bloomsbury’s Senior Commissioning Editor for Film and Media Studies. She’s based in New York. katie.gallof@bloomsbury.com  @BloomsburyMedia

Ellis Cashmore is author of Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption and Beyond Black: Race and Celebrity in Obama’s America. He is a visiting professor of sociology at Aston University  e.cashmore1@aston.ac.uk.  @elliscashmore



Q: Prince (pictured above) is the latest in an incredible series of celebrity deaths this year. The unexpected death of David Bowie was an ominous start to 2016. Since then we’ve lost Harry Potter star Alan Rickmam, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Harper Lee, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and renowned singer Natalie Cole, among others.

A: And don’t forget Lemmy, of Motörhead, who died last December. These are all people who have, in some way, helped shape all of our lives. The impact of some, particularly Bowie, has been substantial. It’s hard to imagine anyone between the ages of, say, 50 and 70 who hasn’t been affected by him. The response to his death was one of those great “outpourings,” as we now call them, following the aftermath of the death of Princess of Diana in 1998.

Q: Hang on. Surely we’ve always grieved when famous figures have died.

A: Not so publicly. Nowadays, there’s an exhibitionist quality about our grieving. We feel almost a sense of obligation, as if we’re participating in a ritual. There’s nothing wrong or artificial about it: it’s just part of a more generic cultural shift towards expressing everything, including our innermost feelings. It reminds us that even the personal is actually social.

Q: I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that, but I assume you’re hinting that the emotions we presume are instinctive states of mind and distinguishable from our outward expressions are not as private as we think.

A: That’s pretty much it, yes. Everything we are is made possible by our participation in society.

Q: OK, let me push you towards answering a more specific question about the meaning of celebrity deaths.

A: Here’s the thing: celebrities today are not like the Hollywood stars of the 1940s or 1950s or, earlier, the great political, military or even religious leaders, all of whom stood above us on pedestals. We put them there, of course; but we were comfortable looking up to them – as if they were godlike creatures; untouchable and inaccessible. Today, celebs are just like us: we communicate with them via twitter and Instagram, we learn their “secrets,” we invest part of our own lives in theirs. In sum, we treat them as ordinary human beings, except they are in the media. We might respect some of them; others we might just like; still others we might hate. As long as they somehow elicit a reaction from us, we follow them. To use a term of today, they engage us. That’s all a celebrity needs to do.

Q: And when they die, they remind us that they’re just flesh and blood like the rest of us, right?

A: You’re ahead of me. That’s exactly right: death is the ultimate reminder of mortality. We don’t wish our celebrities to be dead, of course; but we are macabrely reassured by their passing.

Q: I guess illness functions similarly.

A: Yes. As you know, my recent book Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption approaches the star as a harbinger — a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another era, in Taylor’s case celebrity culture. Throughout her life, she was bedeviled by serious illness. Everyone knew this because every bout of sickness was generously covered by the media. She became ill publicly. As the consummate celebrity, Taylor knew exactly how to use this to her advantage: she manipulated the media perfectly in a way designed to squeeze the maximum amount of sympathy from her public. She actually advised her friend Michael Jackson that he could exploit his own illnesses. My point is that, when we hear of the ill health of celebrities, it is, again, one of those reminders that they’re just as susceptible to sickness as anyone else. And we find that comforting. It sounds perverse, but that’s just one of a number of perversities in celebrity culture.


Q: In your book Beyond Black, you argued that Beyoncé was the epitome of today’s celebrity-as-commodity: someone who has almost surrendered her humanity to turn herself into an all-purpose industry that can sell practically any product. There’s no doubt about that. But, after her apparently newfound blackness (as revealed at the halftime Super Bowl show, see above), I have a new question: can she sell the end racism?

A: There’s a short answer and a long one. Let me start with the short: No. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is a phenomenon, someone who has lived her life as a business; every move she makes is scrupulously thought-through,  every decision is subject to rigorous analysis, every interview   she gives (and there are precious few) is subject to her approval. This is a woman to whom spontaneity and randomness are like crosses to a vampire. She likes control over every aspect of her industry — and she is an industry, of course. She can sell anything, whether Samsung phones, L’Oréal lipstick, American Express cards … the list goes on. Oh yes, and her own music, of course. Since 2006, when Destiny’s Child split up, she has sold 118 million records worldwide.

Q: But, as I recall, your argument was that Bey’s avoidance of getting involved in any social issue that is even faintly controversial is the key to her commercial success. You also said that all black celebrities have conditional status in the sense that they are kind of allowed to be successful on the condition that they don’t get talk too loudly about social issues. In particular about racism. This seems to have changed now. Beyoncé appears to have some sort of epiphany —  a moment of sudden revelation — and is prepared to define herself as black. This is something she’s never done before.

A: You’re right: Beyoncé has never openly described herself as black and has even explicitly denied that she is on the same cultural landscape as the rest of us. In a 2009 interview with Vogue asked her “if she had ever experienced any of the racism in the music business.” She answered: “My father had to fight those battles. I didn’t. And now I’m large enough—I’m universal—that no one’s paying attention to what race I am. I’ve kind of proven myself. I’m past that.” Now she seems to have decided that the time is right to open up on this issue. In her new video Formation, she addresses the race issue, straddling a New Orleans police car, which eventually gets submerged (with her on its roof) And at the end of the video, a line of riot-gear-clad police officers surrender, hands raised, to a dancing black child in a hoodie, and the camera then pans over a graffito: Stop Shooting Us. She released the track just before her show the Super Bowl’s half-time; her performance was loaded with black power symbols and what some interpreted as a protest against the police’s treatment of blacks in America (see below).

Q: Since the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012, there has been a series of encounters involving unarmed African Americans on the losing end of a gun or a confrontation with police. Jordan Davis, 17, was shot and killed in 2012. Renisha McBride, 19, shot and killed in 2013. Eric Garner, 43, was killed in chokehold New York City in 2014, by police officer Daniel Pantaleo. John Crawford, 22, was shot and killed by police in 2014. Michael Brown shot and killed in Ferguson in 2014, by then-police officer Darren Wilson. Tamir Rice, 12, was killed in Cleveland in, 2014, by police officer Timothy A. Loehmann. The killers of Davis and McBride were found guilty and are in prison. The police officers involved in the killings of Crawford, Garner and Brown were not indicted. The officer who killed Tamir is on restricted duty.

A: And everyone in America and beyond knows about these killings and understands the ill-feeling they have created.  I think this is why Beyoncé has incorporated black emblems into her music: it became artificial for her to keep insisting racial issues didn’t interest her, or she transcended these kinds of matters. My guess is that her advisors suggested it was time for her to make some kind of statement, however stylized it may be. Rather than give interviews on the subject of police and black people, she’s woven them in her music and onstage performances. As a result, the world has been taken by surprise, Bey has attracted global publicity and she finds herself in a huge controversy — just as tickets go on sale for her world tour (it kicks off in Sunderland in June, by the way) and releases her new Formation album.

Q: Surely you can’t be suggesting that this is just a marketing strategy.

A: Perhaps not just a marketing strategy, but certainly a development that’s beneficial for her marketing strategy. I’ve no idea what Beyoncé genuinely thinks and feels. Who does? Her interviews are typically not enlightening and she is not discussing either the Super Bowl show or the video. As in the past, she lets others generate publicity for her.  The former Mayor of New York Rudy Giulani screamed it was “outrageous” she used the Super Bowl “to attack police officers, who are the people who protect her and protect us and keep us alive”.  America’s Saturday Night Live show has parodied her with its “Where were you ?

Q: As you’ve argued before, celebrities today thrive on controversy and the kind of scandals that would have ruined the careers of film stars and rock singers in the twentieth century. Presumably, this is no different.

A: I suspect this is a calculation more than a gamble. Beyoncé is so globally adored that it’s difficult to think of any kind of scandal that would hurt her. She can say or do pretty much as she pleases and get away with it. The kind of conditional status that applies to most other black celebrities simply doesn’t work with her. She’s never said she is black, anyway. I’ve no doubt that she won’t clarify her intentions any time soon. Anyway, she’s too busy selling us stuff. But stuff isn’t the same as an end to racism — and this is my long answer to the main question. Celebrities can draw attention to big issues and can, in some cases, force the media to take notice. But there are limits to their influence. Beyoncé is a prodigious seller of merchandise, but thoughts are harder to sell than lipstick and breakfast cereal.

Beyoncé - Formation


Q: Yo, Adrian! I see Sly has taken a job as a delivery man for Warburtons bread. I love the commercial (above), but I’m scratching my head: what on earth did the toughguy want to do this for?

A: I’ve give you a clue: five letters beginning with “m” and ending with “y.” Not that Sly is short of a few bucks. But the days have gone when A-listers thought twice about cheapening themselves by becoming pitchmen or pitchwomen for products they had probably never heard of until their agents called.

Q: I hear the total commercial, including production, cost in the region of £15 million, which includes Stallone’s fee, their ad agency’s commission and so on and so forth. Warburton’s are going to have to sell an almighty number of loaves to justify this. It hardly makes commercial sense, does it?

A: Not on the surface: customers are no suddenly going to rush out and buy Warburtons bread as a result of viewing the commercial. But advertising doesn’t worth in such a straightforward fashion. In his book Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion, Michael Schudson makes a good point: “Advertising is much less powerful than advertisers and critics of advertising claim,” but qualifies this with “advertising helps sell goods even if it never persuades a consumer of anything.” He argues that a self-fulfilling prophecy operates, with key personnel tending to believe advertising works. In other words, if retailers and sales staffs think advertising works, they tend to push one product rather than another. For an ad to work, it must be seen to work.

Q: Let me get this straight. If an advertiser can design some way of not just distinguishing a product, by distinguishing it in a way that enables both vendors to stock it and consumers to confer extra value on it, then they have something like the goose that laid the golden eggs.

A: Yes. And this is, of course, where celebrities come in. Advertisers are always on the lookout for a “face of … “ some product or another, that is, someone who personifies a product or a range or products or perhaps even an entire brand. That someone might be the right match or fit for one type of product rather than another. Elizabeth Hurley was the spokesperson for and hence the face of Estée Lauder for ten years up to 2005. Presumably Lauder — which owns, among other lines, Bobbi Brown and Clinique — felt she radiated the kind of values it wanted associated with the brand. That is, until she hit 40, when Lauder replaced her with Gwyneth Paltrow, seven years her junior. Cheryl Fernandez-Versini endorses L’Oreal products. Budweiser or thousands of other products would have found little use for Hurley, Paltrow or Cheryl. Unless Bud decided to re-position its beer in the marketplace and tried to target women. This is an unlikely scenario: Budweiser knows its demographics, which is why the company often uses male artists, like Jay-Z, who are easily identifiable and embody the kind of values typically associated with an uncomplicated beer. Check out this commercial:

Q: Of course, we don’t need it pointing out, but, whatever the pitch, the appeal or the spiel, the consumer appears to get only one thing — merchandise. A celebrity’s approval might convince some consumers that they are buying something authentic, substantial or even profound. The product might be promoted as desirable and “real.” And the consumer might walk away from the store feeling like they have acquired something of genuine value. They might even believe they have taken another step toward being the person they want to be. That doesn’t alter the fact that they are buying a commodity, plain if not simple.

A: Value doesn’t exist in any pure form: products are invested with value. Think of the countless items discarded by celebrities and endowed with great value when circulated on eBay or some other exchange system. An old toothbrush, a used tissue or a worn sock become exceptional items. Most shoppers are aware that endorsed products are, essentially, the same as the generic ones: the majority of products are functionally indistinguishable. Advertising agencies are as aware of this as consumers; which is why they get paid to make those indistinguishable products distinguishable. Selecting a celebrity to advertise a product is a science, like astrology or alchemy; in other words, a nebulous, imprecise and uncertain one. The metrics are equivocal. Media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online) is a key factor. Hence film and television actors, tv personalities, models, sportsmen and woman, authors, musicians, comics and, of course, reality television figures are obvious candidates. Their visibility is measurable in terms of appearances and namechecks. Beyond that, the science becomes, at best, art, and, at worst guesswork.

Q: But there are some celebs, like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé or George Clooney who offer instant recognition practically everywhere in the world. The cut across all demographics. This surely makes them worth it to advertisers, doesn’t it?

A: Yes, they and the likes of JLo and Angelina Jolie are among an elite of celebrities whose name or image adds value to a brand and, in turn, make products move off shelves. In this sense, they are in the same league as Michael Jordan once was. Jordan is still busy endorsing Nike products, of course, but in the 1990s he was without peers. Then along came David Beckham and showed that Jordan wasn’t a one-off: sports celebrities are sought-after endorsers nowadays. Such is the confidence of advertisers in the added value brought to a product by the imprimatur of a celebrity that Chanel No. 5, in 2004, bought the services of Nicole Kidman for just one television commercial.

Q: Advertising has moved away from the practical approach in which product information was at the forefront. But seriously: does anyone else in the world believe Kim Kardashian or any of the other celebrities are sincere when they advocate, recommend or vouch for a smartphone? Is anyone so absolutely, completely and utterly gullible that they are prepared to accept the word of a well-paid mercenary when they part with their hard-earned cash?

A: I’d probably like to say the answer to all these is an emphatic no! On inspection, though, we probably conclude that it’s no-ish. If a person who is endorsing a product is believable, what he or she says is likely to be convincing; but the fit between the two is crucial. Both the statement and its source must be believable. When advertisers scan for likely endorsers, credibility is uppermost in their minds. If consumers regard the celebrity as credible, they’re more likely to take notice of the message. Which brings up back to Sly. No one thinks he is a devoted fan of Warburtons bread (I doubt if they can get it in Californian supermarkets, anyway). But he is known by everyone, well-liked (as the boxoffice of his movies confirms) and is not known for advertising any product that pays him. I still think it’s risky advertising, but the commercial has received national publicity, which means the ad has been seen over and over again and the name Warburton’s has been on everybody’s lips. Hey, it’s even got the like of you and me talking about it. So maybe Sly is worth it, after all.



Q: We’re approaching the 34th anniversary of the killing of John Lennon. It seems hardly any time at all, but I guess a complete generation has passed. What’s always made that case so bizarre to me was that Mark David Chapman, the killer, was actually a fan of Lennon’s and had even got his autograph. He also said he received instructions through the central character in J. D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye. “I kind of felt I kind of was him,” Chapman speculated. Years later, he changed his motive slightly, saying: “I felt that by killing John Lennon I would become somebody and instead of that I became a murderer, and murderers are not somebodies.” But he’s never expressed anger towards Lennon and appears to have been a fan, albeit a very unusual one.

A: Well, not that unusual actually. You have to think about fans as points on a spectrum: at the one end, there are those who admire at distance; while, at the other, there are those who love and identify so completely with the artist that they have strong, sometimes overwhelming, passions that either they can’t control or don’t want to control. For example, Nathan Gale was an intense fan of the heavy metal band Pantera. After the band split up in 2003, Gale carried on following the former band members. He went to a gig at Columbus, Ohio. The band playing was Damageplan, one of the splinter bands. Former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott was on stage performing, when Gale opened fire and killed him. No one quite knows why he did it because he was killed himself in the ensuing melee. He could have blamed Abbott for Pantera’s breakup, but we’ll never know. The timing of the killing December 8 2008 was surely not accident, being the 24th anniversary of Lennon’s death. There’s actual footage of the incident here:

Q: Can we still call them fans when they have such motivations?

A: I agree that we are stretching the term, but we have to acknowledge a few uncomfortable truths. First, a biological one: love and hate are intimately linked in the human brain, according to a study that has discovered the biological basis for the two most intense emotions. Loathing and adoring can result in similar acts of extreme behavior, such as killing. Fans are prone to emotion, which can feed love or hatred. Second, a sociological fact: the media has changed the way we engage with famous people. At one time, we used to read about them, but now we feel almost intimate with them. That’s because the media, especially social media, has closed the distance between us. The third point is that the passions that celebrities excite in us are, for the most part, controllable: most fans manage their habits and practices; but some manage them in a way that is destructive.

Q: I see what you mean. But, when a fan loves a celebrity so much and manages their passion in a constructive way, what makes them switch to a destructive mode? I’m thinking of that Björk fan who wanted to kill her — and himself.

A: That was Ricardo Lopez who, in 1996, sent the singer a package that, if opened, would have exploded with sulfuric acid and who videotaped himself committing suicide in a perverse supplication. The grim and tragic episode dispensed a reminder that fans can be disturbed by potentially anything. While Lopez’s motives can’t be interrogated, it was thought he became upset on learning Björk was seeing the British artist Goldie. You can see Lopez’s video diary here, but, be warned, it makes for uncomfortable viewing:

Q: I’m reminded of the scene in the 1976 movie The Omen, when the nanny throws herself out of the window with a noose around her neck after telling young Damien she loves him: “Look at me Damien … it’s all for you.” She hangs herself as self-sacrifice.

A: Yes, that seems to be the motive, except that this guy wanted to take the object of his love with him. In the event, he killed himself, but the parcel bomb never got to Björk.

Q: Maybe Lopez had somehow arrived at the thought that Björk was interested in him; does this ever happen?

A: All the time. Let me spell this out. Erotomania describes a condition in which someone believes that another, usually a person of higher social status (sometimes older), is in love with him or her. Such beliefs when held by some fans are resistant to extinction. Fans often actively create conditions under which they appear “true”: they rationalize them, making them seem perfectly reasonable. In this sense, obsessive fans control their own destinies, though only with the unwilling cooperation of celebrities. Facing one such fan, Robert Hoskins, across a California courtroom in 1996, Madonna said of his trial: “I feel it made his fantasies come true. I’m sitting in front of him and that’s what he wants.” Hoskins had made three approaches onto Madonna’s property and was shot twice by a security guard. Sometimes fans remain engrossed for years. Mark Bailey broke into the home of Brooke Shields in 1985, seven years after her film début as a 12-year-old nymphet in Pretty Baby. He was put on five years probation, surfacing again in 1992 when he made threats to Shields. Seven months imprisonment did little to stifle him. A legal order in 1998 prohibited him from ever contacting Shields, though he continued to write to her, prompting his arrest in 2000. He was carrying a three-page letter for Shields, a greeting card and a .25-caliber automatic. Occasionally, fans threaten partners. Catherine Zeta-Jones, wife of Michael Douglas, was threatened by a fan who became convinced she stood between herself and Douglas. The fan claimed she met Douglas at a party in Miami in 1999 and had a two-year relationship with him. In one of her letters to Douglas, she referred to Zeta-Jones: “We are going to slice her up like meat on a bone and feed her to the dogs.” She was jailed for three years in 2005.

Q: Incredible. The Michael Douglas case reminds of the guy in Germany who was fixated on Steffi Graf.

A: You mean Gunther Parche, an unemployed lathe operator from Germany, who was obsessed with the tennis player Steffi Graf. At his home, he built an altar in her honor. When Monica Seles replaced Graf as the world’s leading female player, Parche was stung into devising a way of restoring his idol to her rightful place. When Graf met her rival in the German Open of 1993, Parche ran onto the court and stabbed Seles, putting her out of action. During her inactivity, Graf resumed her place as the world’s number one. Parche ended up in prison, but he accomplished his mission. Graf took the number one spot. The footage of the stabbing has been taken down, but you can view the aftermath here:

Q: I bet that other tennis player Anna Kournikova had her fair share of fans too, eh?

A: Oh, too many to mention, but one in particular made big news. William Lepeska, in 2005, tracked Kournikova to within three doors of her Miami Beach residence and settled down naked at a poolside to wait for her. When police apprehended him, he implored the tennis pro-turned-model “Anna, save me!” and later explained: “I had all kinds of delusional assumptions about Anna’s feelings toward me.” Previously, Lepeska had written letters and posted messages on her webpage and though his communication was unrequited, Kournikova, like most other globally known celebrities made herself or, at least, her representations widely accessible (see below). Dave Gahan had a male fan who kept an all-night vigil outside the Depeche Mode singer’s Hollywood home. Gahan ended up headbutting the fan who then sued, claiming brain damage.

Q: Both erotomaniacs, presumably.

A: Lepeska for sure. Gahan’s fan, possibly: gay fans have much the same motivations as all others, remember. But in all the cases, the fans had got into their heads that the celeb was, in some way, reciprocating their intense feelings. Nowadays there is no shortage of media coverage, in print and broadcast, so we have raw material. So we can imaginatively make up narratives about celebs. Most of us create harmless narratives. Some clearly don’t.

Q: So, have fans just turned ugly since the rise of celebrity culture and the media that’s fuelled it, or are there historical examples?

A: Well, in 1949, American baseball player Eddie Waitkus ensured himself a dubious place in history when a female fan shot him. The obsessive fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, died last year (see below). All the same, the preponderance of intense fans does seem to be the result of media coverage: we know celebs much more closely than at any time in history. Being a fan today involves watching, hearing and talking about celebrities, empathizing, perhaps even over-identifying with them and compulsively collecting items, like pictures, souvenirs or other artifacts. Fans often labeled obsessive-compulsives, stalkers or even full-on headcases, do not, on this account, do anything that other fans don’t typically do. Fans who crave a special relationship with celebrities can tolerate ambiguous experiences or interpret events that buttress their personally held beliefs. Potentially damaging episodes can be neutralized, setting in motion a kind of irrefutable, self-perpetuating cycle. Compulsive behavior and obsessive tendencies characterize the fans we’ve discussed already. The point to bear in mind is there might be much more psychological resemblance between this type of fan and those who enthuse over celebs but without expressing any thoughts or behavior that might be considered inappropriate.

Q: So let’s return to Lennon’s assassin.

A: Chapman has much in common John Hinckley Jr, who attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Both Chapman and Hinckley believed they were acting as proxies for others when they embarked on their missions to kill John Lennon and wound President Ronald Reagan respectively. Chapman, as I said earlier, said he received instructions through Catcher in the Rye, while Hinckley was motivated by his erotomaniacal fixation with Jodie Foster. In these two extreme cases we can discern qualities common to most other kinds of fans, albeit taken to extremes. Hinckley in particular shares much with the fans of Björk, Graf and Kournikova, in both their spurious romantic attributions and in their delusion that they were responding to the caprice of others. “The obsessive fan who camps on the star’s doorstep has the potential to become either a murderer or a marriage partner,” the media psychologist David Giles reminds us. “The difference between the devoted admirer and the dangerous ‘stalker’ may be alarmingly narrow.” Giles was writing before the rise of social media. Armed with the force of digitized communications, fans who are vengeful, unwittingly fearsome, or perhaps just plan creepy have found a conduit for their words and images. The practice of communicating deliberately hurtful and malicious messages through social media became known as trolling, and the perpetrators, trolls; though, as Giles’s point makes clear, the difference between deliberately harmful trolls and sycophantic devotees may be narrow. Fans are blissfully aware that they share a pseudoenvironment – in this case, in cyberspace – with others, some of whom will be more virtuous, others more nefarious than themselves. Their judgments are directed at those who either are or purport to be celebrities, not each other.


Vicarious consumption is the key to understanding why we think she is worth it

Q: I see Kate Moss is worth £20 million. I knew she was pretty well-off, but usually a model’s earning power seems to decline as she gets older. Kate’s 40 now. I see you’ve commented on her staying power in the Observer (above). But I wanted to ask you a different question: how do we Brits look at seriously rich celebrities?

A: Interesting question. Of course, Kate is rich, but not super-rich. I mean, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world is worth about £30 billion and counting. Simon Cowell is now worth £300m. David Bowie’s return last year saw his wealth expand to £135m. Pete Cashmore (no relation), who started the social media blog Mashable from a room in his parents’ house near Aberdeen, is said to be worth £120m. But I take your point: we don’t resent these people having so much money.
Q: But I can remember when we begrudged the rich having so much money, while the rest of us scrambled to make a living. When I was a student the rich were a class apart; in a sense they were the enemy in the class war. What happened?
A: First of all, we’ve seen the rise of a new class of rich people who have made their fortune not from industry, or business, but from services, specifically sport, media and other parts of what we might describe as popular entertainment. Think of the three rich Brits I named above: we’re all consumers of their products. Even if we don’t watch The X Factor, or buy Bowie albums, or use Mashable, we are all part of a culture in which these are integral parts. We’re surrounded by their products and effects.
Q: This is something to do with consumption, isn’t it?
A: It is. We used to place a lot of importance on how much money people had. Now we’re interested in how they spend it. So we read about how much money Kim Kardashian (below) earns, and we know she has what most people regard as limited, if any, talent. But do we begrudge her the money? Not while we get so pleasure from reading about her £6 million ($10 million) wedding. We expect wealthy celebrities to entertain us.
Q: Hang on. You’re saying we enjoy watching other people’s extravagance? We don’t mind them squandering  ridiculous amounts of money?
A: That’s it, yes. Think of footballers and their cars. We’ve got past the point when we complain about the so-called obscene amounts of money they earn. We realize that they can earn that much because we’re prepared to pay so much to watch football and buy the products they advertise. So we expect them to provide us with amusement, not just on the football field, but in the way they waste their money. We find this gratifying.
Q: It’s a kind of vicarious consumption, right?
A: Good term: vicarious consumption. We experience in our imaginations how it must be to spend lavish amounts of money.
Q: But how about wealthy industrialists? They don’t entertain us.
A: Name one.
Q: Err …
A: Let me name a few: Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, combined wealth, £11.9bn. Paul Sykes, the entrepreneur and property magnate who helped fund UKIP, has a fortune of £650m. We don’t get to hear about these people. If we did we would probably feel resentful and aggrieved that they have so much money, but don’t give us any value. I’m not saying they don’t create jobs, generate taxes and make a sizeable contribution to the UK economy. But they’re not in the media. That’s where we like the rich to be — right in our faces so we can see how they’re spending their money and, hopefully, getting into trouble doing it. Imagine if David and Victoria Beckham (worth £210m) stopped appearing in the media and drifted into obscurity. Not that this is likely to happen soon; but we’d think we were not getting much value out of them.
Q: So you’re saying consumption is so important now that we actually consume the rich.
A: That’s pretty much it: we know they’ve got rich thanks to our money and we want something back in return. As long as we are reminded about their expensive clothes, cars, houses, yachts, weddings and so on, we don’t mind. So I know people think Kate Moss has got rich just by appearing in fashionable places and looking good. But it wasn’t so long ago she was called “Cocaine Kate” and criticized for her dissipated lifestyle and her dodgy choices in men. She’s hardly ever been out of the limelight. And we’ve enjoy the Kate narrative so much, we’d probably miss her if she dropped off the radar.
Q: Let me summarize: while some time ago we were resentful of people who had a lot more money than the rest of us, we accept rich celebrities nowadays on the condition that they spend their money and maintain a lifestyle that we enjoy, albeit vicariously.
A: Yes. And remember: consumption isn’t just about buying stuff over the counter or online — though this is part of it. But it’s also about engaging with public figures, reading, watching, judging and talking about them in a manner we find agreeable. As long as they continue to amuse us, we’re prepared to accept their wealth. In other words, Kate Moss is probably worth her £20 million. @elliscashmore

Harry Styles’ deal with the devil


harry styles, where have you come from. amazing

Q: So what’s all this about Harry Styles? He’s taken out an injunction. What’s that?

A: An injunction is a court order or warning, restraining people from continuing an action that threatens the legal right of another. Harry says photographers follow him and invade his personal space.

Q: Which is?

A: 50 metres. So now photographers can’t stake out or loiter within distance of him.

Q: He’s not the first celebrity to do this, is he?

A: No. There have been several. Cheryl Cole won a similar high court order last year after complaining about the “intense and very annoying” experience of photographers camping outside her home. Lily Allen too. And the late Amy Winehouse. In 2008, when Britney Spears was taken to hospital, the ambulance needed at least 12 police motorcycles to escort it through a swarm of photographers.

Q: So you can understand why they get annoyed.

A: You can. But it’s like a professor getting annoyed by persistent students who are always asking questions, calling him at home and constantly asking for reviews of drafts. The students might be a bit annoying, but without them the professor would be sunk.

Q: You’re not serious. That’s a ridiculous comparison.

A: Follow my logic. Without students, a professor has no one to educate, no one to read his or her books and articles, no one who is interested in learning, no one to lecture. So the prof might get the occasional student who calls at inconvenient times or bombards him or her with drafts of essays. But that goes with the job. It’s not 9 till 5. Celebs need exposure: they become famous because the media, especially the paps, give them phenomenal publicity. Someone like Harry has been elevated to stardom courtesy of television (he shot to fame with One Direction on The X Factor) and has been in the public eye ever since. His band’s records sell in their millions and their concerts sell out. But can you imagine what would happen if the global media decided to ignore them?

Q: All their fans, the “Directioners” would kick up a fuss and … well, I’m not sure what would happen after that. What?

A: We’d all forget about them, stop buying records and all the other merchandise. Television shows would lose interest and stop booking them. And twitter traffic would eventually slow down. The band would still make a living, but, without the kind of media attention 1D now enjoys, it would be headed for oblivion.

Q: You say, “enjoys” but clearly the band, or at least Harry, isn’t enjoying all the attention, is he?

A: Apparently, not. Though the phrase “goes with the territory” should mean something to him. The band has shot to global fame in a relatively short period of time. They appeared in the 2010 X Factor. Harry is still only 19, remember. The band finished in third place behind Rebecca Ferguson, and winner Matt Cardle, neither of whom has made nearly as much impact as 1D. Imagine if they commanded the same kind of attention as Aiden Grimshaw or Katie Waissel, both of whom were in show’s finals, but never registered with the media. I think that when people go on a show like The X Factor, they strike a kind of Faustian bargain: they trade in their right to a private life in exchange for a shot at fame, riches and A-list status. In 1D’s case, the deal came off and the boy band got what it wanted. But Harry seems to want to renege on the deal.

Q: A bit harsh, isn’t it?

A: It sounds it, but surely anyone who contemplates fame – and a great many people, young and old, do – must know that being followed by paps is part of the definition. Being a celeb means that the media are going to chronicle your every move and convey this to consumers. If they lose interest, then chances are fans have either already lost interest or soon will. That’s just the nature of celebrity culture nowadays.

Q: So what will happen?

A: Either this is an astute career move for Harry and he is intent of becoming the most prominent member of the band. He probably already is. Or he could scare off the paps and they will just ignore him. I think the former is more likely. Interest in the band is inevitably limited by time. In a couple of years, fans will move on: look at JLS. But my suspicion is that Harry will try eventually to establish himself independently of the band. @elliscashmore


Entertainment and advertising — the same thing?


Britney Spears

Children and young people are being encouraged to try electronic cigarettes by social media and celebrity culture. At least that was the conclusion of a recent report by Cancer Research UK. The organization doesn’t want e-cigarettes banned. As many ex-smokers confirm, e-cigarettes help wean them off the smoking habit. But Cancer Research UK argues that children should be protected from what it calls the “unregulated marketing” of the products. This has got me thinking: what is “unregulated advertising”? In fact, what isn’t advertising today?

First let’s distinguish between the different types of advertising that surround us. Above the line advertising, often abbreviated to ATL, refers to what most of us understand as advertising: paid-for ads in publications, physical and online, commercials on television or at the movies, and hoardings, posters and street installations. This type of advertising is regulated and is usually clear; in other words, we see recognize it as advertising and know its purpose – to make us buy stuff. Below the line, or BTL, advertising is a little more difficult to identify and this is, presumably, the kind of surreptitiously invasive advertising that concerns Cancer Research UK. It covers all sorts of advertising that can’t, in practice, be regulated. For example, earned media means positioning a brand or product in the public eye, not by paying for advertising space or time, but just by creating or responding to news in an interesting enough way gets the attention of the media. This is valuable exposure and many companies hire public relations (pr) companies with the simple remit to get the company namechecked in the media as frequently as possible.

BTL advertising also includes sponsorships, which ensure a brand name appears in mentions of an event or on the physical presences of people involved (like on the shirts of footballers). This is paid-for, rather than earned, but it’s thinly disguised as something other than advertising. That’s the trick of BTL advertising: to convince consumers they are being agreeably engaged while subtly promoting a brand in their consciousness, though not in a way they would find offensive. But I don’t think Cancer Research UK has any of these in mind. BTL incorporates product placement: watch any movie with a pen-and-paper or your tablet at the ready and take note of every branded product you see on the screen. You will end up with at least 20 names and, in a Bond movie or a Hollywood blockbuster, many more. Car-makers, soft drink manufacturers and IT companies are among the thousands of advertisers who pay to have their products placed prominently in films. The bigger the boxoffice potential of the film, the more valuable the product placement. Television is also fertile territory for product placement: watch for the capital “P” in the corner of the screen, which alerts viewers that branded products will soon be in view. Again, I’m not sure Cancer Research UK have this method in mind.

The organization could be thinking of tweeted endorsements: this involves companies paying celebrities to use twitter to rhapsodize over certain products. Celebrities are paid to tweet enthusiastically about a product. Bosses at itv recently denied allegations that some Coronation Street actors had received gifts or been involved in any “unlawful marketing promotion.” An actor like Brooke Vincent, who has a twitter following of about 400,000 and can boast a certain influential cachet among fans, could be a valuable resource for advertisers. Strictly speaking this form of advertising is now allowed, though it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to regulate: how do you distinguish between a celebrity who genuinely likes a product and wishes to name it, and a celeb who is just paid to namecheck a brand? Unless, of course, you have evidence of pay-offs, which is rare. I don’t know of any tweets extolling the virtues of e-cigarettes though. So what is Cancer Research UK talking about?

The organization has named online promotions, including competitions, apps on phones and discounts of e-cigarettes. But is this a problem? It’s obvious that this is advertising. Were I charged with the responsibility of discouraging smoking, my concern would be with the manner in which the habit is still associated with glamour, elegance, self-confidence and all-round coolness. These associations have held sway since the golden age of Hollywood in the 1940s, when stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable used cigarettes to enhance their alluring, slinky desirability – and were paid by tobacco companies to do so. Despite all the negative connotations attributed to smoking in subsequent decades, it seems to have retained attractive qualities. What Cancer Research UK might be concerned with is breaking this association. This is no easy task, especially when we think of A-list celebs who make no bones about smoking: Britney Spears (pictured above), Johnny Depp, Paris Hilton are among those celebs. Some will argue that, as role models, they should set a good example. I personally think they can do as they please. But the problem for Cancer Research UK remains.

Whether we like it or not, these celebrities are living, moving advertisements for smoking. But, if I can broaden my point: advertising is simply inescapable today. And I mean BTL advertising that manages to sneaks under our awareness. I’ve mentioned product placement in films and tv shows; but have you ever wondered what’s happening when you watch a game of football? Advertising hoardings at the stadium are in full view, the logos of sponsors are plastered across players’ shirts, the competition probably bears the name of a brand, which is usually referenced by the commentators. If the game is shown on Sky Sports or itv, there are ATL commercials before, after and during halftime. So are you watching a sport or being subjected to a two-hour advertisement? Like an alien abductee, you’re held captive while the advertisers stealthily invade your consciousness. Think about this next time you’re enjoying the game.

Cancer Research UK will be heartened by the new movie Saving Mr. Banks, which not only deliberately avoids product placement for cigarettes, but changes history to accommodate its clean image: the film is about Walt Disney, who was an inveterate smoker, and is played by Tom Hanks. The film has been made by Disney, a studio that operates an absolute ban on screen smoking. Rather than flout its own policy, the studio has chosen never to show its founder lighting up or smoking cigarettes, though he is seen stubbing out a ciggie. Disney also favoured scotch and was famously potty-mouthed, but the film painlessly renders him a more wholesome figure by not featuring him having a drink or uttering a swear word. @elliscashmore