Tag Archives: celebrity culture

WHY DO FANS HURT THE ONES THEY LOVE?

 

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.

IS KATE MOSS WORTH £20 MILLION?

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

Studying Beyoncé

Beyoncé studies anyone? 8 other ridiculous university courses1) Harry Potter studies Fierce In some ways Harry Potter is Britain’s own version of Beyoncé – he is pretty fierce against Voldemort and his popularity following could rival hers. Which means it isn’t too surprising that Durham University offered a Harry Potter course in 2010 .

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WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM CELEBS?

Beyoncé is the subject of a course at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, USA. Apparently, the course uses the artist’s music and career to “explore American race, gender and sexual politics.” Similar courses have been offered on Madonna and David Beckham (though the latter is actually called Football Culture and runs here at Staffordshire University). Ten years ago, this kind of course would have been dismissed as another example of the dumbing down of higher education. Now it seems perfectly legitimate to use a prominent figure to analyze race, gender, class, politics and any other feature of contemporary culture. I’ve written a book on Mike Tyson that attempts to do exactly this. So what can Beyoncé teach us? Well, I have to put my hands up again: I’ve also written an article on Bey. You can read it and decide for yourself click here for the full text: Buying Beyoncé

Harry Styles’ deal with the devil

IS HE RENEGING ON A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN?

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

 

Our parasocial affair with Nigella

WE THOUGHT WE KNEW HER, BUT WE KNEW NOTHING

Nigella Lawson

Why do we know so much yet so little about Nigella Lawson (above), the domestic goddess who brought sensual pleasure to the mundane domestic chore of cooking? It seems only yesterday, she was a regular in our homes. Now, we’re not so sure know her at all. We thought we knew her. But it seems we didn’t know the first thing about her. While neither she nor her ex-husband Charles Saatchi is in the dock, for the past few days, they have been the centre of attention: she and her marriage have been opened up for public inspection. Nigella’s court case, which started last month, is actually the trial of the celebrity couple’s two personal assistants, Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who worked as Nigella’s and her husband’s personal assistants. The Grillos are accused of fraudulently using the credit cards of Saatchi’s private company. But they have barely been considered: all attention is on Nigella. Every day, it seems we have learned something new about her private life that has systematically disabused us of any fanciful notion we knew the first thing about her. It started last June with the release of a picture of her being, it seemed, throttled by Saatchi. Since then, her relationship with Saatchi has been methodically cut up and its internal parts displayed.

Celebrity relationships have been dissected publicly before, of course; usually as they happen. Brangelina and Bennifer were narratives the media asked us to share. But the analysis of Nigella’s multi-dysfunctional relationship — Nigella characterized it as “intimate terrorism” — is particularly enlightening: it’s taught how little we really know about people with whom we feel close. This is a condition of today: we assume we know people from the two-dimensional images we see of them. Let me explain how this happened.

During the second half of the twentieth century, television transformed the way we thought and behaved. It affected the way we relaxed, the way we learned, the way we communicated. The complete cultural landscape was transfigured by television, to the point where we can’t recognize its presence. So much of what we know about the world is gleaned from tv that we find it tough to think where else we find out about some event or other. The internet has, of course, emerged as an alternative. It barely needs stating that Nigella or the celebrity culture she inhabits wouldn’t have been possible without television. Prior to its acceptance as a domestic appliance in the 1950s, we knew about prominent figures mainly by their names or artist’s impressions, still photographs or newsreels shown at the movies. “Television, bringing famous faces and sounds into our homes, has created different kinds of celebrity,” writes the social psychologist David Giles in his book Illusions of Immortality.

Television brought with it intimacy: we were able to see moving images and hear voices — in our own homes. It also brought replication: those images and sounds were not just one-offs: they could be repeated time and again, exposing us to the famous in a way that stirred us to new interest. We saw people that were previously remote and perhaps unknowable as ordinary humans with the same kinds of mannerisms, faults and maybe foibles as the rest of us. Giles argues that the proliferation of media, specifically television, in the late twentieth century expanded the opportunities for people to become famous. In material terms, there were more tv screens on which they could appear and become known. Viewers could not only see and hear a new array of people: they could almost reach out and touch them. In a way, they could almost swear they knew them. The more they felt they knew them, the more they became entranced.

Giles invokes a term from to a 1956 article in the journal Psychiatry to capture the emerging relationship between tv figures and viewers: “parasocial interaction.” The 1950s was the decade of growth for television: at the start, few households had a tv; by the end over 90 percent of household in the USA and 70 percent in the UK had at least one set. Viewers were forming unusual attachments. They were developing “friendships” with television characters, some fictional and others real (like announcers, or weather forecasters). They also “hated” some of them. Familiarity led to a sense of intimacy. Viewers actually thought they knew the figures they saw on their screens. They interacted with them parasocially. The relationships were and still are strictly one-way. It’s called parasocial because para means beyond, as in paranormal. The attachment might only have been as strong as a beam of light from a cathode ray tube. Yet it was experienced as strong and meaningful. Viewers actually felt they knew people they had never met, probably never seen in the flesh and who knew nothing of their existence. So there is no actual interaction (inter means between): it’s oneway. This doesn’t stop viewers feeling like there’s a genuine interaction. In this sense, it’s an interesting term that captures the way we think and feel about people we don’t know and who don’t know us but who sometimes unwittingly and unknowingly move us to act, occasionally in erratic and irrational ways.

Since 1999 when she appeared on our screens in Nigella Bites, the domestic goddess has been in our homes, our kitchens even. This is, I think, the reason why we assumed we knew her so well: seeing celebs on stage, in movie roles or even in the contrived circumstances of reality tv shows is one thing; but seeing them in the kitchen doing nothing more sensational than preparing food, contributes to an especially close parasocial relationship. @elliscashmore

 

Entertainment and advertising — the same thing?

HOW CIGARETTE ADS SNEAK INTO OUR MINDS

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

 

They must be worth it

…  SO WHY DO CELEBS ADVERTISE STUFF? (CLUE: 5 LETTERS BEGINNING WITH ‘M’)

adele

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. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, or David Beckham offer continuity and consistency in the way they go about their business efficiently and reliably: the chances of a scandal erupting around them are slim and they are known to a wide spectrum of people. Not that a hint of indecorum is a bad thing. Sales of Katie Holmes’ high-end ready-to-wear fashion line, Holmes & Yang, increased in the wake of her unsavory divorce from Tom Cruise. “Unsurprisingly, the label has benefited from Holmes’s increased visibility,” confirmed Charlotte Cowles, of New York magazine (July 30, 2012).

Jennifer Lopez, a prodigious endorser of, among others, Kohl’s clothing and lifestyle collection, was caught up in an eighteen month on-off relationship with Ben Affleck in 2003 and 2004. The Latina singer-actor was one-half of “Bennifer” as the couple was known. The tumultuous relationship coincided with a career slump defined by boxoffice flops (Gigli, Jersey Girl) and disappointing cd sales (Brave, Como Ama una Mujer). Becoming a judge on American Idol smacked of desperation, yet it turned out to be a career saviour and, by 2012, at the age of 42, she was, according to Forbes, the most sought after celebrity by advertisers. Idol regularly pulled 26 million viewers to their televisions (i.e. a 9.8 per cent of the total potential audience), most of them in the 18-49-year-old segment advertisers love. JLo used the series as a showcase to premiere music videos and perform singles. “On the floor” went multi-platinum, and the music video amassed over 530 million YouTube views. Mariah Carey must have been enthused by the prospect of emulating JLo when she accepted the offer of becoming a judge on Idol, though the $18 million (£11.6m) one-off fee was a further incentive. Mariah’s advertising file included T-Mobile, Mariah’s …  fragrances and Jenny Craig, for whom she directed a diet plan commercial.

JLo and Mariah are among an elite of celebrities whose name or image adds value to a brand and, in turn, make products move off shelves. And you imagine L’Oreal considered Adele (above) in the same league when the company offered her £12 million to appear in its advertising a couple of weeks ago. The big surprise was: she turned it down. This is an exceptional occurrence nowadays. A huge endorsement contract is almost a membership card to the A-list, and Adele would have become one of the highest paid advertisers in L’Oreal’s stable, which includes the likes of Cheryl Cole, Eva Longoria and, of course, Beyoncé. Of all the endorsers used by L’Oreal, Beyoncé is perhaps most closely associated with the brand and its signature tagline “ … because I’m worth it” (a slogan dreamt up by Ilon Specht, of McCann Erickson, in 1973 and which is now recognized by 70 per cent of consumers.

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 cellphone? Sharon Osbourne is hardly likely to shop at Asda, particularly after that same supermarket chain paid her millions to appear in its ads in 2005. Is anyone in the world unable to spell out the motive behind celebrities’ behavior (clue: five letters beginning with “m”)? Adele earned over £11m last year, so maybe she doesn’t need the extra cash.  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? We’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. I’ll explain what I mean in a later blog. @elliscashmore

The X Factor — cool or cruel?

X-Factor at the O2 London

How the show offers a perverse empowerment

The X Factor has turned into torture porn – that’s the film genre that specializes in exposing audiences to the wilfully cruel and sadistic infliction of pain, suffering and humiliation to others.  I’m exaggerating a bit: torture porn, as exemplified in movies such as Hostel, Vile and the Saw series, is intentionally about hurting people. The films attract audiences who share a taste for watching others in pain. The X Factor, by contrast, is supposed to be a talent contest. But it now seems to appeal to the torture porn sensibility: its viewers might once have been drawn to the singers and allowed themselves the indulgence of laughing at the manner in which the judges expressed their disapproval. But the current series seems vicious: the entertainment value of others’ pain seems to have been foregrounded to the point where the singing is almost supplementary.

A few weeks ago, contestant Hannah Sheares and two friends auditioned as Daisy Chain, a band, only to be told that, Hannah herself was passable, but her friends were useless and would have to be dumped. Presumably forgetting that bands like the Supremes, the Three Degrees and Destiny’s Child all did pretty well with a strong lead and two backing singers, the judges offered Hannah the chance to progress as a solo performer. Amid much crying, she did so and lost her friends. “We don’t talk any more,” Hannah stated the obvious. She was eliminated from the show a couple of few weeks later. When the panel gave the same choice to another band, the trio refused, though a week later, the lead singer mysteriously re-appeared minus her two friends, meaning that she had been persuaded. It’s not the first time the show has made enemies out of friends and it could always be argued that the choice always remains with the contestants. Yet it seems a peculiarly vicious and unnecessary way of filtering out “talent” and, if we are honest, the way in which the camera dwells on the breakups suggests the producers think we enjoy becoming voyeurs. Maybe they are right.

The X Factor is not just a television show, it’s a cultural phenomenon. There has never been anything quite like it in the history of television. Starting in 2004, it has launched the careers of Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and, of course, One Direction (about whom I blogged a few weeks ago). It has also given career boosts to panellists, particularly Cheryl Cole, Nicole Scherzinger and Tulisa Contostavlos. Its viewing audience is barely believable. Over the years it has regularly snagged 40% of the total audience share and, even in slumps, draws in 10 million viewers. At its historic high point in 2010, 17.2 million tuned in to watch Matt Cardle triumph – that’s over 27% of the total population of the UK. It’s perfectly in sync with today’s culture, inviting audiences to vote using their phones and to tweet, text and engage fully with social media. In a sense it offers a perfect cultural democracy. But, as the show morphs from a talent contest to an all-purpose entertainment platform, its benign character has changed. It is now a heartless, insensitive and callous psychodrama in which astringent is poured on open wounds.

Like the torture porn filmmakers, the X Factor producers would probably shrug and say, “That’s what the audience wants.” They have a point: no one points a gun to the heads of 10 million telly watchers and demands they stay glued to their screens every Saturday and Sunday anymore than filmgoers are scooped up from the streets, strapped into place and forced to watch people having limbs cut off without anaesthetic.  Viewers not only want to watch, they feel entitled to watch the slaughter and the human response that accompanies it. As the torture porn fan delights in witnessing the pleading, the whimpering and, best of all, the sobbing, the X Factor fan enjoys the privilege of observing human emotion at its most painful. We can identify with the rejected wannabes to whom winning would mean “everything” and this confers its own empathic rewards. Living in celebrity culture makes us realize how fragile hopes of instant fame are popular currency. But the real bonus is that we can also identify with the torturers … I mean, the judges: the power to grant someone’s wildest dreams or consign them to oblivion is something viewers have never had, and probably never will have. But by aligning themselves with Sharon or Louis as they traumatize young hopefuls and reduce them to incoherent losers, they get to identify with the powerful too. And the best bit is this: no one feels bad about this. There may be a brief moment of sorrow as the losing contestant blubs inconsolably and either promises to come back stronger or just go back to stacking shelves at the supermarket, but it passes as soon as the next TalkTalk commercial arrives. The perverse empowerment offered by the show is too good to risk undermining with sympathy.

Now the filmed sequences are over, we are into “live” shows and audiences will bear witness to exhibitions of inconsolable distress as their judges deliver their agonizingly prolonged verdicts (“I’m gonna say … ” followed by a 10-second wait). Years ago, we might have felt uncomfortable and switched channels. Who takes pleasure not just in other people’s distress, but in their shameless, often excruciating public display of that distress? I know the answer to this question. So do you.

@elliscashmore

 

 

 

 

 

Exposing our private parts

Keith Lemon thought

Privacy. Has it vanished? Is there part of your life that you jealously protect, don’t want observed or discussed with other people and restrict to yourself and perhaps very close confidantes? Or do you live a life that’s pretty much open to inspection by all and which you’re happy to share with others, even people you don’t know and will probably never meet?

In the 1980s when BBC launched its show Through the Keyhole, it was a daring innovation: the host Lloyd Grossman led viewers into the homes of famous people, scrutinizing the décor and furniture in an effort to disclose aspects of their character. The show was predicated on the intellectually respectable assumption that the physical places in which people live offered a reliable reflection of aspects of their “real” personality rather than the public persona they presented to their audiences. It was a legitimate invasion of privacy and offered viewers a rare sight of the largely hidden side of the rich and famous.

Last Saturday, ITV revived the concept, replacing the vowel-strangling gastronome with “Keith Lemon,” alter ego of Leigh Francis. Unsurprisingly, the show removed any intellectual pretensions or ingenuity. The formula was camped up, but the pleasure it offered viewers was essentially the same.

At the time of the original series, most people would have felt slightly uncomfortable about wandering into the homes of other people and poking around their personal belongings. But only slightly. And when viewed through the filter of television, the whole experience seemed completely wholesome. The beauty of the show was that it effectively turned us into shameless peeping toms.  No one felt guilty about invading others’ privacy.

Since then, we have less respect for other people’s private lives. Celebrity culture is founded on our curiosity: we don’t just want to know about other people’s private lives – we demand they don’t have private lives at all. We insist on having access to all areas of their lives. And, in exchange, we’re prepared to share our own lives. Facebook, twitter and other social media have painlessly removed any semblance of privacy – or perhaps, more accurately, they have turned it inside out. Many people provide minutely detailed logs of their daily lives, complete with accounts of their own views, opinions, feelings, emotions and all kind of personal states that they wouldn’t have dreamt of discussing in public in the 1980s. In recent decades the old-school privacy has receded. Television has both initiated and responded to this. Just look at the Jeremy Kyle Show: people clamour to appear on telly to reveal the most intimately embarrassing details of their lives in front of 1.5 million viewers.

Privacy has been under assault in all sorts of other ways: CCTV cameras surround us, many of your newspapers and magazines are dedicated purely to discovering dirty little secrets, credit card companies store an astonishing amount of detail on us. And we don’t seem to mind; we just accept that today’s society is like a vast panopticon – a circular prison in which prisoners can at all times be observed.

We’re both parts of and creators of a voyeuristic culture: we neither object to be being watched and infiltrated, nor mind admitting that we enjoy watching and infiltrating others.  Ravenous for information on other people, not just celebs, but anyone we care about, we’ve become nosey parkers. If you don’t probe others’ lives, you can’t really care about them at all. No one, it seems, feels embarrassed about tweeting the kind of information that would have made them squirm a few years ago.

The new show is in this sense catches the zeitgeist much more than the original. Back in the 1980s every scene set a question and we, assisted by Grossman and, later, the recently deceased David Frost, were invited to supply an answer. Lemon is less complex. The problem is: does the new show still have the power to surprise? After all, part of the pleasure of the first show lay in the little thrill of penetrating someone else’s private domain. Now we know full well the homes may be owned or rented by someone else, but we also know they are allowing cameras free entry because they have to: they are just filling their side of a bargain. That’s part of the deal in celebrity culture: anyone with aspirations to become a celebrity has to surrender their private life. In a way we all surrender our private lives.

Consumers today insist on a constant stream of information and, if they don’t get it, they lose interest. Once that interest has gone, the celebrity is effectively consigned to oblivion. This is a problem for the new show: it’s going to have a tough time presenting us with anything new; so it can’t really surprise, less still shock us in the way the Grossman show managed. We’re no longer peeping toms who need our pangs of guilt assuaged. We’re inquisitive, intrusive, snooping eavesdroppers and not the least bit embarrassed by our nosiness.