Lady Gaga gets real?

31 05 2011

I was pretty obsessed with Lady Gaga’s first album, The Fame, when it was released in the summer of 2009. The combination of dance beats and commentary on the nature of stardom provided me a perfect escape that somehow still counted as work during my dissertation writing. (“I’m not dancing! I’m working!”) What drew me to Gaga, in terms of her image, was that in a celebrity culture dominated by the revelation of the ‘private’ and ‘real’ self behind the public persona, epitomized by celebrity reality shows and the nonstop paparazzi surveillance the crash and burn stardom of people like Britney and Lindsay, Gaga was nothing but image. I honestly did not even want to know anything about her private life, as that would somehow ruin the fun.

We only see what Gaga wants us to see


The private self wasn’t completely absent, but it was consciously constructed and a part of the overall “Gaganess” of her image. Though we learned there was a ‘real’ person named Stefani Germonatta, she was never anything other than Gaga (even her mom calls her Gaga, after all). Unlike other stars always tied to the idea that they are ‘themselves,’ I’m thinking here of reality stars like Kim Kardashian, Gaga’s image was rooted in her pop star self. Kim is always tied to her private self, but Gaga is always her public and constructed self. She consciously satirizes fame by both embodying and refusing the contradictions between the private and authentic self and the public and constructed persona that are at the root of stardom. By always being Gaga, it was never clear when the façade ended and the real person began. Or, more accurately, it never did.

This is partly because she never wanted to reveal that real person, and always wanted to be a star. In her memorable 60 Minutes interview, she said:

“As part of my mastering of the art of fame, part of it is getting people to pay attention to what you want them to, and not pay attention to the things you don’t want them to pay attention to.

My philosophy is that if I am open with [my fans] about everything and yet I art direct every moment of my life, I can maintain a sort of privacy in a way,” she continues. “I maintain a certain soulfulness that I have yet to give.”

Take a look at the video for “Paparazzi.: The song and the video play with the notion that being famous means that one’s self is always up for public scrutiny, always being watched, always being built up and then knocked down by the celebrity media. But the ‘real’ self revealed in the video, the ‘behind the scenes’ Gaga is just as constructed as the stage persona. She never takes off the makeup and fashion because that’s who she really is and, more crucially, that self (like all selves) is always already self-consciously constructed. At this moment, I think, we were meant to think of it as a private self, but not necessarily the ‘real’ self. It was still a part of the act.

So in the early days of Gaga’s stardom, she wasn’t really on the blogs or in the magazines (except to mock/adore her fashion, another key part of her persona). You didn’t hear about who she dated, see pictures of her grabbing a latte at Starbucks, or walking her dog in the park. Her image simply could not fit into those established public/private splits the magazines cling to for other stars. They tried though. There was the ‘media scandal’ when she caused a ruckus at a New York Mets game by she showing up in her black bra and studded leather jacket, had to be moved to Jerry Seinfeld’s private box to avoid “distracting” the fans, and flipped the bird to photographers. My reaction was first to just plug my ears and say “lalalala I don’t want to know anything about her ‘real’ self lalalala” and then to laugh at the fact that she was still ‘doing’ Gaga even in this more unguarded moment.

In the lead up to the release of her new album Born This Way, her image has taken an interesting turn in its inflection of private/public . She’s definitely public, as she’s been everywhere lately. And I do mean everywhere. Guest mentor on American Idol. Google Chrome commercial (see it below). The crazy egg thing at the Grammys. Appearances on daytime talk shows from Today to Ellen to Oprah. For the love of overexposure…she was the guest editor of the free newspaper they give you on the subway, The Metro.. What?

I have to admit that even I was getting a little tired of seeing her every time I turned around. Plus, I’ll also admit that I was not immediately sold on her new singles. Since listening to the entire album, I’ve come around and am remembering why I loved her in the first place. Though I still don’t really like the single “Born This Way.” I like the impulse behind it, just don’t really like the song itself. But it does fit in with this new turn where what we once thought was constructed and part of the act of ‘being’ Gaga is actually who she really is. Or at least we are now meant to see it as less constructed (though certainly still conscious) and more ‘real.’

I am in no way surprised that she would shake up her image, as she’s been doing some sort of shape shifting throughout her brief time in the public eye. But what does surprise me is the way her new image hails a ‘real’ self at its core. She’s still the ‘real’ self that is always constructed in her appearance (the fashion, the makeup, the horns), but is now being pulled back to a more ‘authentic’ private self. But it is still one she is actively controlling, rather than a self constructed by the tabloids or other media.

Gaga’s new(ish) Mother Monster self is completely rooted in the idea that she is being herself, even though that self is glamorous, constructed, extreme, over-the-top and all the things that we already associate with her image. Her new songs and the press she’s done surrounding the album foreground the idea that you should, like Gaga, be yourself no matter what. She has become the icon of outsiders by claiming her outlandish identity as not being artifice. What you see is constructed in the sense that it is thought out, but it is not “fake” or an “inauthentic” facade she puts on just to be famous (which is different, I think, from the Gaga of The Fame and The Fame Monster).

Now not only do we see her ‘real’ self, her image also explicitly invites audiences to connect with her and feel she is ‘just like us.” Anyone who has ever been on the outside can look to Gaga as someone who has been through the same ridicule and doubt that all outsiders experience. We see this in her recent Google Chrome ad:

The MTV documentary, Lady Gaga: Inside the Outside that premiered last week, is all about this view of the ‘real’ Gaga who is completely coherent with her public pop star image. Instead of the artifice of fame, her image is all about a highly stylized yet nevertheless authentic self as her claim to fame. Her talent and drive makes her special, but, at the same time, her message is that ultimately anyone who is true to themselves is already as special as she is. It’s a small shift, as she is still controlling what we see of her private self and is explicitly revealing things in her album and in the press surrounding it (in the MTV doc, for example, she discusses her early days as a performer, experiences being bullied in school etc) that showcase this more coherent image.

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ICorrect and Celebrity Rumor Patrol

8 04 2011

What I love most about celebrity culture is the constant battle for dominance amongst its various players. My own work focuses on these tensions, drawing out how gossip media outlets, for example, are based on the idea of breaking down the celebrity facade so carefully constructed by publicists, managers and even the celebrity him/herself.

Tabloids are built on the premise that audiences want to know more about the stars than the stars will give up. Audiences love to play the game of determining what is “real” about the star and what is “fake” or controlled by other forces. Are Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson really dating, or is it just for publicity? It’s the ability of tabloids (and, of course, blogs) to intervene into the more controlled system that makes them so appealing.

Is she really going out with him?

At times, this intervention into the star’s image has radical implications. Britney’s shift from good girl pop star to party girl to Hollywood cautionary tale is largely related to the tabloid construction of her image. She and her manager/publicist/other official team members work(ed) hard to counter these constructions and regain control of her image, its circulation and its meaning in popular culture. I’ve written about a component of this particular struggle before, and am currently working on an article about how bloggers offer a new sort of intervention into celebrity culture that draws on both their roles as audience members and as producers or official commentators on celebrity culture. I’ll be presenting a part of that project at ICA this May.

Anyway, such interventions are a necessary part of the celebrity system, in part because they keep us the celebrity in the public eye. Celebrities (and their handlers) know this, and certainly turn to media outlets (including tabloids) to attempt to counter stories that tarnish their image. They typically turn to more “legitimate” celebrity media sources, notably places like People magazine, because they’ll be treated with kid gloves and get the chance to at least attempt to regain control over a tarnished pubic image in a way that gives the appearance of authenticity and truth.

In the midst of a potential divorce scandal, Britney turned to People to set the record straight

This is nothing new, stars have been doing this since the earliest days of the studio system. For example, in exchange for “exclusive” information, Louella Parsons would allow stars to put out their side of the story during scandals (often ones she herself broke and perpetuated). In addition to using these media outlets, celebrities now can harness the tools of new media (indeed, the same tools that are used to expose them via blogs etc) to attempt to control their own images. Celebrities have official websites, some cultivate relationships with fan sites, and many have turned to Twitter as a place to get the news “direct” from the source–the celebrity herself.

Within this tension filled system comes a new, and frankly puzzling, mode for the celebrity to “correct” rumors and media reports: ICorrect. The site’s founder, David Tang, was the guest on Wednesday’s episode of The Colbert Report. You can watch the interview here. Basically, for an annual fee, Tang’s site offers a place for celebrities to write their own corrections/rebuttals to any and all rumors they feel need to be addressed. My cursory look at the site reveals such shocking revelations as Tommy Hilfiger countering the (age old) rumor that he doesn’t want black people to wear his clothes and Cherie Blair denying she will take part in Strictly Come Dancing (the British Dancing with the Stars. Riviting.

I have to say, I don’t get it. Why does this site exist? Who is reading it? And what’s in it for the celebrity, who could find many other outlets to do this sort of image correction/management? The stars have historically turned to places like People because they already have an audience, and I just don’t see a large audience being drawn to this site (in part because the layout is terrible, imo). It seems the cache is that the celebrity (or, let’s face it, a manager or publicist) can quickly correct and control a rumor. Not every star or rumor can get on the cover of People, yet every little rumor can play an important role in the star’s overall image. So ICorrect offers a way for stars to deal with any intervention into their public image.

But how does that make ICorrect different from Twitter or a celebrity’s official website? I’m not seeing how the fact the correction is on ICorrect makes the audience feel it is more “real” or “true.” ICorrect positions itself as “the first website to correct permanently any lies, misinformation and misrepresentations that permeate in cyberspace.” Um, how is a correction on this site any more “permanent” than any other?

In his interview with Colbert, Tang says ICorrect addresses the fact that sites like Twitter don’t verify that the person tweeting/writing is actually the celebrity. But Twitter does verify “well known account users” and gives them a “verified account” checkmark to indicate they have passed the “real” test. It’s all here. So, again, how is ICorrect offering a new sort of intervention into the gossip game that allows celebrities greater control? Yes, Twitter can be more fleeting, but, really, so are most rumors in terms of impact on a celebrity’s image. Remember when Ashlee Simpson got busted for being drunk at McDonald’s? Yeah, I thought so. Are audiences going to look up the “truth” about older rumors? Is such permanence really necessary, particularly in the age of new media where celebrity rumors are constantly changing?

Furthermore, how ICorrect is supposed to reach a larger audience than any other source? This is the most important part of rumor control. If no one reads it, who cares? Now, when celebrities use their websites or Twitter to counter a rumor, you often see those posts/tweets pop up on blogs or in other celebrity media as part of the story. This is crucial for the recuperation of control over a particular story. I know my gossip blog reading isn’t what it used to be, but I haven’t seen ICorrect popping up anywhere. The first time I heard about it was on Colbert. It needs way more access to the media side of the production system in order to become truly effective.

ICorrect also claim it “enables the Corrector [celebrity] to post precise corrections, without the danger of third parties quoting them out of context.” How are they going to prevent third party persons, like a blogger who reposts the “correction,” from quoting them out of context? If they need outside media exposure to bring attention to the correction, how can such a thing be controlled?

So while I love a good intervention into the celebrity system of production, this is, well, lame. It strikes me as an attempt to catch up to new media’s impact on celebrity culture, but one which is way behind. As my friend Zach would say, “Welcome to 2005!”





Comedy and Celebrity Critique: Kathy Griffin

21 11 2010

As my incredible lack of updates demonstrates, my first semester in a new teaching position has been a busy one. My attention has not just been diverted from this blog, but from blogs in general. Compared to the dissertation-writing-me of last year, I am woefully behind in my celebrity gossip. Considering I used to spend my days immersed in it and constantly checking the various blogs in my sample, it’s pretty amusing how far behind I am. Case in point: I found out about Jessica Simpson’s recent engagement from a gossip headline in the Boston Metro, the ridiculous free newspaper they give out at subway stations. The Metro, people!

Sure, I’m getting “things accomplished” and “being productive,” but for someone who is still interested in studying celebrity culture and gossip media, I’ve got to figure out a way to stay a bit more current. The answer is probably Twitter, which has essentially been my news feed for a variety of media and media studies related topics in these past few weeks. I’m actually enjoying Twitter much more than I thought I would. It’s an easy place to lurk as, I think, it lacks Facebook’s constant update imperative (yeah, yeah, I know I’m not on FB, but this is how I see it used by others, including those who constantly hassle me to join). Don’t get me wrong, I love the people who tweet frequently, but it’s easy to just follow and not have to post yourself.

Someone who has no problems staying current, and in fact makes her living doing so, is Ms. Kathy Griffin. I had the pleasure of catching her live show in Worcester last night, and it was hilarious. I love when she mocks celebrities, but she’s also got a critical and political edge to her comedy that I think is often overlooked. If you haven’t seen the episode of My Life on the D-List where she judges and then participates in a toddler beauty pageant, I highly suggest you seek it out (and a big BOO on Bravo for not putting episodes of their shows on their website). It’s an episode full of feminist critique of the child pageant industry and our cultural obsession with youth and beauty.

Kathy Griffin takes on beauty pageants

At last night’s show, Kathy cast her insider/outsider eye on various aspects of celebrity culture. What was most interesting to me was the way that her own mocking reminded me of the type of gossip talk I saw across the blogs during my dissertation research. It’s complex and often contradictory. For example, though she made fun of celebrities (and herself) for “visiting the dentist” aka getting plastic surgery as a way to challenge ridiculous beauty norms, she also, fairly viciously, body snarked on Bristol Palin for “being the only contestant on Dancing with the Stars to gain 40 pounds during the show. Look, I’m not fan of any of the Palins, but this moment of contradiction really stood out to me. She talked explicitly about feminism and the idea that young women don’t relate to it in today’s culture even though it is still desperately needed, yet she mocked a young woman’s body size as a way to discredit her. If there was some deeper critique in that, I missed it.

Nevertheless, overall the show was fantastic and I continue to love me some Mrs. Kathy. I generally love her over the top performances because they show that female comics can be just as political, raunchy and hilarious as the guys. She uses her femininity in a way that makes people uncomfortable, particularly in the sense that she acts and talks like women “shouldn’t.” Furthermore, I think because so much of her work centers on celebrity culture that she is often dismissed in ways that reinforce “women’s talk” as something outside of the political sphere. She’s officially added to my ever expanding list of topics for further research.





Stars–They Tweet Like Us!: Some Thoughts on Celebrity and Twitter

23 10 2010

This post is really overdue, as I’ve actually had it written for some time. I attended the *amazing* Flow 2010 Conference at UT-Austin just over three weeks ago, and this post is taken from the position paper I submitted and presented at that conference. I really cannot say enough positive things about this conference. It’s non-traditional set-up consists of panels where presenters have 5 minutes (no, really!) to discuss their position papers around a common topic and the rest of the time is used for discussion between panelists and audience. This allows for a really productive dialogue to emerge and everyone (from grad student to senior scholar) has the opportunity to participate. It meets every other year, and you can bet I will be submitting for 2012. I highly encourage any media scholars to check it out. Plus, Austin = awesome.

Since completing my dissertation on gossip blogs, I’ve been widening my view to think about intersections of celebrity culture with other forms of new media. Twitter and celebrity is basically a match made in heaven. I know Twitter can serve lots of different functions (and I highly recommend checking out the other position papers from the Flow Twittertube panel) , but its use by and for celebrities is really fascinating to me because it so perfectly encapsulates the private/public blurring that is inherent to the celebrity image. It’s also very distracting, as I can’t seem to go through a day without checking for Kanye’s latest tweets. Where is his antique fish tank anyway?

So here is my position paper, which explores how celebrities use Twitter to manage the private self and manage scandal. I will also mention that I have a post on celebrities using Twitter for more straightforward self-promotion that will appear on next week’s In Media Res. I’ll post the full link when it is published on Thursday, October 28.

Celebrity Twitter Feeds and the Illusion of Intimacy
The media product known as the celebrity emerges from a “circuit of celebrity production” in which various cultural intermediaries—the celebrity, her industry producers, the “legitimate” and the gossip-oriented celebrity media—feed off of each other in a constant struggle to control how that individual is represented to audiences.

In modern celebrity culture, the extratextual media coverage of stars has played an increasingly important role in promoting the “illusion of intimacy” between a star and her fans/audiences by elevating the private side of the image as the privileged site of meaning. Tabloids and other entertainment-oriented media forms encourage the audience to pursue the “real” person behind the star persona with the hope that, beneath the controlled surface, the star “really” is who she seems to be.

Tabloids, in particular, seek to disrupt the carefully constructed public image forwarded by the celebrity-industry producers (studios, publicists, managers, etc) through the revelation of the “unguarded” private self as the “real” or “authentic” star, often challenging the dominant meaning of the celebrity’s image. But the contradictory and ambivalent nature of celebrity means the circuit of production is a highly unstable process and no one player ever fully controls the meaning of the celebrity image for audiences. In other words, the meaning of the celebrity is constantly contested terrain.

Tabloids attempt to define the meaning of Angelina's image. This certainly is not sanctioned by her or her management. But nevertheless becomes an important part of how we read her image.

Social networking platforms, particularly Twitter, offer new insight into this fraught process of production by highlighting the ways in which the illusion of intimacy can be manipulated by various players in the circuit. On Twitter, unlike traditional celebrity media outlets, audiences are offered immediate and interactive engagements with the celebrity that (purportedly) originate outside of industry control and even specifically challenge other representations of the “real” celebrity. Though celebrity media outlets have also taken to Twitter, I suggest that Twitter offers the celebrity-industry intermediaries a way to recuperate control over the image using the same appeals to the unguarded and private self central to gossip media constructions of celebrity. That is, celebrity Twitter feeds recuperate celebrity-industry control over the image by explicitly engaging the same media discourses and platforms that typically disrupt that control.

The most successful celebrity Twitter users offer a glimpse of the everyday and even mundane details of their private lives, thus stressing the ordinary self behind the extraordinary public image.

Twitter’s appeal is based in its interactive nature, offering audiences a more direct sense of engagement with the celebrity than, say, reading a publicist-sanctioned interview in Vanity Fair. Though there is typically no way for a fan to know whether a Twitter feed is actually written by the celebrity (or to what degree other intermediaries influence the tweets), the very nature of Twitter as a social network gives at least the illusion of the celebrity herself as the sole author of her tweets. [NB: Annie Petersen has an excellent blog post about the believability of celebrity tweets]

This is not to suggest that celebrity tweets are not “real,” and indeed many are genuinely authored by the celebrity. Yet as a site of image production, celebrity Twitter feeds offer glimpses of the star’s private life that appear uncontrolled and authentic, even as these glimpses are limited and, often, deliberately staged. In this way, Twitter provides the celebrity and her intermediaries greater control over her image by engaging the same appeal to the unmediated and authentic self more typical of the tabloids.

The illusion of intimacy promoted by Twitter’s interactive access is also a site of struggle in which the star can challenge the tabloids’ construction of her as the “truth.” For example, in the days leading up to Lindsay Lohan’s court appearance and jail time, she used her Twitter account to challenge the negative way she was represented in the gossip media. Such a move uses the illusion of intimacy promoted by Twitter as a means to control the representation of her image to her most important audience, existing fans. In fact, she explicitly encouraged fans to “get the news straight from me” via her Twitter feed rather than turn to other media outlets, thus rejecting their representations of her as false and untrustworthy.

Of course, using Twitter cannot guarantee her version of her image will be the dominant one, and many of Lohan’s tweets have been used by the gossip media as further evidence of her instability. Nevertheless the ability to speak directly to her fans about the “truth” of her situation exploits the illusion of intimacy and offers Lohan and her producers a controlled platform from which to “fight back” against tabloid gossip in the midst of scandal. In these tweets, Lindsay attempts to control the scandal after she tested positive for drugs and alcohol just days after being released from jail:

Such image control is crucial if she wants to rebuild her public career post-incarceration. Within the contested terrain of celebrity culture, Twitter enables the celebrity to (at least appear to) bypass other players in the circuit of celebrity production, recuperate (if temporarily) control over her image and, most crucially, increase the illusion of intimacy with her audience/followers.





Link-o-rama: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

19 08 2010

I know. It’s been quite a while since I posted anything to the blog. But the move has been made, the kinks in the new internet connection have (mostly) been worked out, and I’m falling into end of summer procrastination mode on all other work that should be done. Here’s a quick run down of some of the celebrity-related things that have been occupying my mind of late.

Kanye (and Erin) Joins Twitter
I’m honestly amazed that it took so long for Mr. West to join Twitter. His blog is already a thing of celebrity overshare legend. And Twitter’s stream of consciousness format seems tailor made for Kanye. But he has certainly made up for lost time, most notably starting a public love fest with Justin Beiber. I told you Bieber Fever knows no bounds. Inoculate yourself now, people! His tweets are just what you would expect…grandiose, egotistic, and (unintentionally?) hilarious.

Speaking of late arrivals to Twitter, I also recently joined. You can see my feed (which is nowhere near as exciting as Kanye’s, let’s be honest) on the right or you can follow me @erin_meyers. I’ll admit, I kind of like it. There’s something about the 140 character limit and the fact that following in no way implies any reciprocal commitment (unlike *coughcoughFacebookcoughcough*) that I’m getting into. Mostly just following celebrities at this point for something I’m working on, and it’s a pretty interesting window into how celeb’s attempt to control their images. More on that to come.

Celebrity Weddings
Celebrity weddings have dominated the gossip landscape this summer. Hilary Duff and Mike Comrie, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, Carrie Underwood and Mike Fisher, to name just a few. The coverage of these, of course, paled in comparison to the big one, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s wedding in Rhinebeck, NY on July 31.

Celebrity Wedding of the Season

Chelsea’s wedding was fascinating to me for the massive amount of coverage it received from gossip media (natch) as well as the mainstream press. She never courted the spotlight and it is really her parents’ (political) star power that was the draw for the media. So suddenly all these media outlets who eschew celebrity-oriented stories as not news are falling all over themselves to find out how much she spent on port-a-potties for her guests and interviewing every resident of Rhinebeck twice to find out some tiny detail. Look, I know that celebrity content constantly bleeds into “real” news, but there is really no difference between covering Carrie Underwood’s wedding and covering Chelsea Clinton’s. It seems in this case that the fact they are political celebrities is just a gloss that somehow makes it more acceptable for mainstream media to cover it without sneering. Nevertheless, she looked amazing and did a relatively good job of keeping the celebration private. Mazel Tov!

Real Housewives of New Jersey
I really need to dedicate a post just to this show and my addiction to it. Chuck Klosterman has already written an excellent piece debunking the term “guilty pleasure,” rejecting the idea that we need to be embarrassed about any media consumption. But I think guilt is a major part of my personal pleasure in this show, because there is really so much wrong with it, and that is crucial to my weird love for it. I know it’s wrong, and that’s part of why I like it. It’s complicated. Stop judging me.

Real Housewives of New Jersey

In an interesting twist on the reality of reality TV, it seems resident villain, Danielle Staub, has been fired the show and will not appear in season three. One rumor has it the reason she will not return to the show is because she failed to bring the reality to her BravoTV.com blog about the show. Instead of addressing all the drama going down on the show that ostensibly documents her real life (and, if you don’t watch, there has been plenty this season) and giving viewers more insight, her blog posts mostly just thank people for standing by her and gloss over any of insanity. The key to this show is the gossipy nature, the idea that you get different parts of the story from the various housewives and, yay new media, get even more insight if you read their blogs. By not keeping up her end of the bargain by delivering more “reality,” she was, allegedly, canned.

I kind of want that to be the reason. More likely, however, the firing was the result of her sex tape scandals or her too-volatile-for-reality-tv relationship with the other housewives. (quite a feat in itself!) But the actual reason seems to be that she’s getting a Bethany Frankel style spin off. Which simultaneously horrifies and delights me.





Too Good To Be True, But I’ll Believe It Anyway

21 07 2010

While I have about a ba-jillion other things I should be doing today with my move looming over my head and my apartment still a mess of chaos, I had to say something about this little gossip gem because of the way it perfectly encapsulates the role of rumor in celebrity media and celebrity images.

First, some background. Are we all familiar with Alexis Niers, star of E! reality show Pretty Wild and member of the Hollywood Bling Ring? No? I highly recommend this excellent Vanity Fair article about the celebrity-wannabe and her involvement in both the reality show and the Bling Ring. Niers hates this article and feels it paints her in an unflattering light. But I dare you to watch one episode of Pretty Wild, especially the one where she freaks out about the article, and not see the same fame-hungry ridiculousness on display.

As a side note, I can only imagine how much the E! executives were peeing their pants with excitement when this whole scandal broke out, as they had already signed the family and begun shooting the reality show before the Bling Ring members were arrested and tried in court. I don’t think the particularly successful, in part because they are really all so obnoxious and vapid without a pre-existing reason for us to care about them as celebrities, but this scandal certainly helped draw an audience. It has yet to be picked up for a second season, but when one of your stars is in jail, it’s probably hard to put together a production schedule. ZING!

In a nutshell, while Niers and her family were filming their reality show, the 19-year-old was arrested for being a part of a robbery ring targeting celebrities. Essentially, these spoiled Hollywood teenagers would troll celebrity gossip sites (like Perez and TMZ) in order to case the fashion and jewelry of Hollywood stars. Then, knowing the star was out of town working or whatever (thanks again, gossip media!), they would break into the celeb’s home and steal clothes, jewelry and cash. Their celebrity victims included Orlando Bloom, Paris Hilton, Megan Fox and Lindsay Lohan. Neirs denies that she was actively involved, claiming she didn’t really know what they were doing or whose homes they were in. She is, however, serving a six month jail sentence for her involvement in the heists.

Why is this important now? Unless you’ve been living under rock or simply try to ignore all celebrity-related news (though why are you reading this blog if that’s true?), Lindsay Lohan was sentenced to 90 days in jail for breaking the terms of her probation. Though there are so many things to be said about this whole celebrity drama, this headline from tabloid-mainstay The New York Daily News’ online outlet struck me as hilarious and perfectly scandal-oriented:

Lindsay Lohan in jail cell next to Alexis Neirs, E! reality star charged with robbing celeb homes

Here we have a headline that adds another level to scandal-du-jour Lohan by putting her in a jail cell NEXT to Alexis Neirs, who allegedly stole a Chanel necklace from Lohan (police found the missing necklace in Neirs’ house during a search related to the Bling Ring case). This allows the audience to speculate about a jail time showdown between the two that calls up both women’s “bad girl” personas. Even a casual glance at celebrity gossip media will illustrate that the tabloids love nothing more than a catfight (real or imagined). Just look at any story involving Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston potentially being in physical proximity of each other.

Celebrity Prison Rumble?: Lohan and Neirs

What’s hilarious and awesome about this is that it isn’t even true, and that the article accompanying this headline tells us its not even true. It states that “it remains unknown whether the women will share the same module,” meaning that not only are they not NEXT to each other, they may not even be in the same part of the jail. But, gossip doesn’t always have to be completely true to be delicious and pleasurable. It just has to speak to some sort of existing knowledge and expectation about a star in order to work. It allows the gossip media to call up other existing scandals (Lohan’s known volatile behavior and the big story of her incarceration, Neirs’ involvement in the Bling Ring and her fame mongering, the overall love of celebrity catfights) to keep the story going. In other words, it’s close enough to true to work as gossip. It doesn’t have to be completely true, but I (and I think gossip audiences more broadly) kind of want it to be…or at least find it entertaining to speculate about what would happen if it WERE true. And that’s key to the pleasures of gossip.

Neirs should probably be grateful that Lohan was sentenced to jail time and is serving in the same facility because it’s getting her name back in the press. For Lohan’s image, this is probably just a minor blip within a larger scandal that won’t really have any lasting effect. For me, the gossip media watcher, its an intriguing mix of fantasy and reality that makes reading celebrity gossip so much fun.





Can’t Be Tamed

21 06 2010

And I thought I’d have more time after I defended my dissertation! But when it rains, it pours, and my life has been pretty hectic lately. Between getting a job (yay!), looking for new apartments, doing revisions for a journal article, revisions for my dissertation, and working as an RA, there’s been precious little time for blogging. Since I’m headed out of town for a mini-vacation/family wedding this week, I figured I better get something up. Not to mention this whole Miley Cyrus/Perez Hilton fracas nearly demands that I comment upon it!

On June 15, notorious gossip blogger Perez Hilton (allegedly) posted an upskirt paparazzi photo of 17-year-old pop star Miley Cyrus on his Twitter account. The original photo (allegedly) showed that Miley, in the tradition of Paris Hilton and Britney, was not wearing any underwear. Though Perez took the photo off his Twitter account, we all know that once something goes out in the world of the internet, it’s nearly impossible to delete it completely. So the photo continued to circulate on other web sites, though most blurred out her lady parts.

The problem, of course, is that Miley is underage and such a photo could be classified as child pornography. Perez has faced a lot of legal problems before, but this is a new one. And in his typically classy way, has defended himself by saying that 1) he blurred out the naughty bits anyway (though then backtracks and said he didn’t pixilate anything) 2) Miley “should know better” because she’s been in the business too long to make such an “unladylike” exit from a car when she “knows” paparazzi are present and 3) (and this is my personal favorite) that the pictures aren’t pornography because they “aren’t arousing”. That’s the nutshell of his “side,” but you can watch his full interview on Joy Behar here:

I think his main justifications are ridiculous (particularly when he backtracks) and really just designed to keep the controversy going so that he can reap some pageviews. But Miley is also in her Britney-esque moment of trying to break free from the Disney pop princess image and become more of a grown up pop star. So to me, this just raises a whole set of questions about the sexualization and objectification of female celebrities in general. Miley is, in a way, trapped in this moment where she has to become more sexual in order to continue as an adult pop star while simultaneously being lambasted for doing so because of her Disney past that is absolutely reminiscent of Britney’s “I’m a Slave 4 U” moment. For example, see her new video for “Can’t Be Tamed,” which is clearly working to make her more of an adult (read: sexual) star. The fact that I could see Britney doing this exact same song is really no coincidence.

Miley’s just playing the game as it, for better or worse, exists for female celebrities in general. Perez makes this point, though, of course, in a bratty sort of way that slut-shames Miley for expressing her sexuality in any form. This is certainly not the first time he has slammed her for behavior he deems to be inappropriate, further shrinking the already precariously thin line separating proper female sexuality from “slutty” behavior. Margaret Schwartz has a great piece on the upskirt photo during its Paris/Britney heyday of early 2007 that I highly recommend as a way to think about the construction of female sexuality and agency in these moments of exposure. But this, of course, is not the way most of the media discuss this controversy.

I find it maddening, but not particularly surprising, that few people are talking about the overall objectification of female celebrities inherent to these sorts of photos. While I would certainly take some pleasure in Perez (finally!) going down for something, I think to consider the photo a problem only because of her age is missing some of the larger issues at work here in the construction of female stardom. Even though Miley may claim she “can’t be tamed,” such “out-of-control” female sexuality is simply recuperated back into a contemporary celebrity culture in which female stars are both praised and shamed for their sexuality.