The Hollywood Strike: What does it mean?

The hottest buzz in Hollywood right now has nothing to do with Britney, drug addictions, or the use of racial slurs. For the first time in awhile, the industry has a bigger problem: the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike on Monday, November 5th for the first time since 1988 after failing to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) about the revenue writers receive when their work is distributed through other means, such as the Internet or on DVD. This strike, which places 12,000 writers and over 200,000 other industry employees out of work for an undetermined period of time, will have enormous effects on both the economy and individuals, especially in Southern California.

In researching this topic, I found two external blogs that I found very interesting. The first is called Captain’s Quarters and is run by a blogger named Edward Morrissey. His blog receives a high volume of traffic and posts on a variety of topics. His post dealt with the strike and basically argued that nothing will happen as a result because Hollywood only spits out poor writing in the first place. The second blog was a post on the PC World website by a Reuters reporter who proposed the idea that a lack of creative flow into television and film for the time being, the Internet will attract new writers and could possibly become “the cable of 2007.” My responses to both posts are below.

Captain's Quarters Response:
In superficial terms, the effects of this Writers Guild of America strike seem unimportant. As you said, “In other words, the American consumer shouldn’t notice any difference”. However, this view is short sighted and fails to take the broader social and economic impact of a prolonged strike into account.
While initially soap opera and late-night talk show viewers will be affected most heavily, eventually all viewers will be forced to cope with the strike. A lack of material may force media consumers to look elsewhere for their nightly entertainment, turning to outlets such as the Internet and web-based product. The last writers’ strike in 1988, which lasted 22 weeks, caused a huge growth spurt in cable consumption and is still continuing today.
In addition to the consumers that will be affected, those who work for the Hollywood machine will also feel an influence: 12,000 are in the WGA union, along with 200,000 other people who work as anything from hairstylists to actors. Furthermore, “the motion picture and TV industry generates $30 billion in annual economic activity for Los Angeles County alone.” Clearly, a large number of individuals depend on Hollywood for financial survival, and a delayed resolution of the strike would have long-lasting effects, particularly in Southern California.
So while many will choose to bemoan the fact that shows will be on hiatus until further notice and that viewers will be doomed to possible months of re-runs and reality TV, the situation really requires deeper analysis. Hopefully, we will see the end of the strike quickly and with a solution that will please everyone.

PC World
The idea that the Internet could become the newest creative haven for writers is interesting, and certainly worth examining. The needs of both consumers for new entertainment and of writers for work could easily lead to increased web-based media consumption. As stated in the post, it could create an influx of fresh talent that would hopefully inject some creativity into what is currently written in the industry.
What I question, however, is the longevity of such a situation. Although technology is getting increasingly mobile and media can be viewed on-the-go, I am not sure this would be the preferred means of consumption over a long period of time. In my opinion, what is more likely to occur is that should the strike become prolonged, as is extremely possible, the web will become a stand-in primary resource for entertainment. Then, after the strike is resolved and Hollywood gets back on track, online media will once again become a supplement to more established venues. While this may not be the case many years from now, I think that for the time being people will still choose to watch television in a traditional way.


Celebrity Spokespeople: Not worth the risk

While flipping through a popular magazine or channel surfing when watching television, it is more than likely that you will see at least one celebrity endorsement. Since modern advertising began, famous faces from Halle Berry (in a Revlon ad at right) to William Shatner have been paid for their celebrity seals of approval for a variety of products. However, despite the initial attraction these types of ads can have, companies may want to think twice before launching a celebrity-driven campaign. Although a celebrity spokesperson may appear to be an easy way to gain brand recognition and credibility, this tactic may not be as effective as previously believed, and the many cons can actually do more harm than good. While using a celebrity can over valuable face time to a cause or product, the celebrity can oftentimes overshadow the message, negatively affect the message due to bad behavior, or not live up to their hype.

The appeal of using a Hollywood star as the face of a product is simple: advertisers believe that if a celebrity uses Product X, consumers will want to use it as well. They argue that using a famous face is an easy and effective way of reaching a broad consumer audience: doors to talk shows, interviews, and other high-exposure outlets open without so much as a push. By presenting the person as an expert through means of a testimonial, people are likely to perceive a greater amount of product credibility and therefore purchase the product because “if it’s good enough for a celebrity, it’s good enough for me.” However, this is not always true in reality.

Recent research by the University of Bath and the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland determined that consumers’ main motivation when purchasing is to keep up with peers. Researchers found that people were more swayed by an advertisement with a fictional testimonial character than by a celebrity testimonial. “This is because many people feel the need to keep up with the Joneses when they buy,” said Professor Brett Martin, an instructor at the University of Bath. To them, it is more important that people in the same peer group as themselves think a product is cool or fashionable than whether Jennifer Aniston thinks so. Therefore, the money a company shells out to a celebrity is sometimes not even worth it in the first place.

In addition, using a non-fictional character who is already in the public eye can sometimes backfire. Firstly, because celebrities are already famous for other things, there is an extremely high risk that the image and/or actions of the spokesperson will overshadow the message the company is attempting to disseminate. Jessica Simpson’s up and down love life, for example, clearly takes precedence over her Pizza Hut sponsorship in mass media. Secondly, bad celebrity behavior is even worse for a campaign. Although advertisers attempt to “avoid controversy like the plague,” unexpected situations often arise. While Nick Lachey was promoting the Mastercard “Major League Baseball Dreams” event this past summer, nude photographs of Lachey and his girlfriend Vanessa Minnillo in a hot tub in Mexico surfaced. Although this poor timing would have been bad enough, it turned into a bigger scandal when while doing a television interview on Fox’s “Good Day New York,” Lachey’s video feed went out the moment the anchor began asking Lachey about the photographs. The fact that Lachey was seemingly attempting to avoid talking about the situation completely overshadowed the message he was being paid to promote, and more people knew that he ended the interview than that he was promoting anything at all. Finally, sometimes celebrity spokespeople are unable to fulfill their promotional roles and end up not living up to the hype surrounding their campaign. Sadly, this was the case with Anna Nicole Smith (pictured at left), the face of Trimspa before she died. After Smith passed away, Trimspa was forced to remarket their product and attempt to disassociate their name with Smith’s image.

In all, having a celebrity as the face of an ad campaign can have some positive attributes. However, the risk associated with famous people outweighs those attributes. Instead of seeking out a celebrity, advertisers should focus on selling their product through other means.


Green Celebrity: The Earth's Best Ally or Hypocritical Nonsense?

One of the most recently popular trends in Hollywood is environmentalism. “Over the past couple years, global warming has become the fashionable cause among the bien-pensant class,” says Jeff Bercovici in the article “Green Fakers." While a handful of celebrities have been involved in the environmental movement for quite some time, many more have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon, sparking criticism that these individuals have only recently begun caring about the environment because of the cause’s popularity. Celebrity endorsement and the increased level of public awareness that has resulted from this trend, yet has also induced polarized responses from consumers and critics ranging from appreciation to outrage at perceived hypocrisy involving the celebrities’ doctrines compared to their actual lifestyles. However, although environmentalism has become a trend, the overall positive effect of celebrity publicity far outweighs the reality that celebrities promoting a green lifestyle are not always perfect in living it themselves.

When one thinks of a green celebrity, politician-cum-filmmaker Al Gore comes to mind. His Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, was the first far-reaching, celebrity-driven attempt to inform the public about critical environmental issues. As a result, people worldwide were exposed to the information, and in October Gore was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Another celebrity famous for both acting ability as well as his green lifestyle is actor Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured at left on the Vanity Fair Green Issue cover), who started the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998, has made two feature-length documentaries concerning the environment, and actively works toward political and social change involving the earth. According to Erin Courtenay, “without ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and Leo’s sexy plea for environmental stewardship, a significant percentage of Americans would never have even contemplated reducing their own environmental footprint.” Voices such as Gore’s and DiCaprio’s have placed environmental concerns on the front burner and have sparked major action.

To environmentalists, action of course is the ultimate goal. Why then do some have a problem with celebrity endorsement? This viewpoint argues that celebrities do more harm than good for the environment because, in the opinion of blogger Jill in a post entitled “Green Living with Celebrities," “hypocritical celebrities and politicians are clouding the message and could be crippling to the budding ‘green-living’ movement.” According to this perspective, celebrities such as Sheryl Crow are detrimental because they give poor recommendations (Crow has suggested limiting toilet paper use to one square per sitting and wearing clothing with detachable dining sleeves instead of using napkins) and can over-saturate consumers to the point that global warming becomes an annoyance rather than a primary concern. These critics also condemn celebrities such as Barbara Streisand, George Clooney, and Al Gore (pictured at below right) because these so-called “eco-hypocrites” do not follow their own doctrines: Streisand and Clooney both travel in private jets and Gore reportedly use twenty times the national average of energy use while running his mansion. Why should we applaud these double standards? Because, while our role models are far from flawless, they are some of the best channels we have for disseminating environmental information to the public.

Today’s obsession with celebrity has allowed these public figures the media outlet through which to preach their opinions on political or social issues, and their voices oftentimes overshadow those of more qualified spokespeople. But this is not necessarily negative. “The positives are limitless,” says an article on Goodcommonsense.com. “In a culture driven by media sound bites, these individuals [celebrities] tend to have as much influence over the popular mindset as our political, religious, and otherwise leaders.” So if a fashionable pop star makes it known she lives an environmentally friendly lifestyle, that announcement will probably be much more influential in shifting consumer habits than it would be if it came from a virtually unknown research scientist. The celebrity perspective also reaches a much wider audience because it is spread across more mainstream channels. An article by Rebecca Carter puts it plainly: “We hear a lot of the same information day in and day out. But sometimes it doesn’t click until you hear it just the right way…that’s why it’s important to hear about the environment on the news, on the blogs, in the grocery store, in a magazine, and yes, even on E!” Although these may be unconventional ways to publicize such information, the bottom line is they are effective.

So while some may choose to focus on the negative aspects of celebrity spokespeople, an assessment that focuses on the bigger picture is best for the environment in the end. No one--not even a celebrity--is perfect, but the positive impact they can have far surpasses any amount of “hypocrisy."


Celebrity Homosexuality: Forced Outings

The dominant sexual ideology for the majority of the 20th century that still continues today is one of heterosexuality. Until fairly recently, coming out as gay in Hollywood was rare. Although many celebrities of the past, such as Rock Hudson, pictured at left, were homosexual, admitting so was uncommon because there was a high risk that it would negatively affect their careers. In fact, it was not uncommon for celebrities to file lawsuits or take out full-page ads in newspapers to deny accusations of homosexuality. Because of this, celebrities tended to conceal their sexualities and fervently deny any homosexual rumors that emerged, oftentimes only choosing to come out after their careers had come to a close, if at all. The same stigma was true for non-celebrities. However, the recent gay power movement has started to change this. Today, homosexuality has become much more widely accepted, and larger numbers of both regular people and celebrities are choosing to stop hiding their sexualities and come out on their own. But, although the movement has given hope and a sense of empowerment to gay individuals, coming out of the closet is still a personal decision. Despite this, the media seems bent on exposing homosexual celebrities, ready or not.

The gay liberation movement has created greater social acceptance of homosexuality and has made being gay almost trendy. Many forms of popular culture such as movies and television shows have jumped on the bandwagon and started incorporating gay themes that challenge dominant heterosexual ideologies. For example, the Academy Award-winning film Brokeback Mountain as well as the popular television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (at right) have both been able to capitalize on this trend. In addition, companies such as American Express and Target are increasingly using gay spokespeople to sell product. The increased visibility of homosexuality in the media has given many people the strength to come out of the closet without as much fear of rejection as in the past. While this empowerment has been beneficial, it can also place pressure on people who are not prepared to out themselves, especially celebrities who are oftentimes viewed as role models and end up being harassed into the open.

The decision to come out is hugely important, yet recently many celebrities are being forced out of the closet against their will by the media. “The media is more willing to ask the question, because being gay has become a more publicly acknowledged fact of life,” said Larry Gross, director of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. Perez Hilton, for example, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Media” and creator of Perez-hilton.com has made it his personal goal to out as many closeted celebrities as possible. He takes responsibility for exposing both Lance Bass (pictured below on the cover of People Magazine) and Neil Patrick Harris, and routinely accuses celebrities such as Anderson Cooper, Jodie Foster, Kevin Spacey, Queen Latifah, and Ricky Martin of hiding in the closet. He is widely quoted as saying, “We’ve said it before and we will say it again: the closet no longer exists if you are a celebrity or a politician! ... We are throwing down the gauntlet and issue a challenge to all the closeted celebrities out there ... Come out in droves! ... Society will no longer be able to marginalize us!” This insensitive quest ignores the fact that coming out deserves to be done in one’s own time, not out of harassment.

In addition, many homosexuals (Hilton included) believe that coming out is a celebrity’s responsibility to the gay community. “Most of today's movie stars have shirked their responsibility to come out of the closet. There's no excuse,” says author Norah Vincent in an article from popular gay magazine The Advocate. What these people do not comprehend or choose to ignore, however, is the fact that celebrities have their entire careers hanging in the balance. While some, such as talkshow host Ellen Degeneres are able to transition smoothly, others may not be so lucky: “Politicians…find themselves out of a job. Actors find themselves typecast. Singers lose fans. And athletes are shunned by many of their fellow athletes."
While coming out of the closet is life changing for any gay individual, public figures such as celebrities have their entire careers at stake when choosing to do so. Although being gay has become much more widely acceptable and even culturally popular, it can still have negative effects. The media trend of attempting to out people before (or if) they would like to do so themselves in their own time is insensitive to this fact, despite the opinion some share that it is these public figures’ responsibility to come out for the benefit of the entire gay community. While having more positive role models would be wonderful, gay celebrities should not be shoved into this position.


Underdressed and Overexposed: Sexual Celebrities and the Creation of Prostitots

The presence of celebrity is inescapable. The world’s favorite starlets are perpetually plastered across any and all media outlets one can imagine: magazines, television shows, and web pages name only a few. But the media coverage these women receive is usually far from positive (and oftentimes sexual). Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan (all pictured below) have each been photographed while accidentally exposing themselves in one way or another, the images captured by paparazzi on film and subsequently made available to anyone with an internet connection within minutes. However, even more startling than the recent celebrity tendency to go without undergarments is the fact that these stories, intended for a far older audience, do not go unnoticed by young viewers today. Girls as young as 1st grade view these over-sexualized Hollywood celebrities as role models without comprehending what these figures truly stand for. Many argue that this innocent naivety has the potential to turn little girls into what has been referred to as “prostitots."

Prostitots, according to urbandictionary.com, are “children who dress in revealing, adult type fashion.” The cultural cues these children pick up on which create the desire to dress like miniature prostitutes stem from the media and their glorification of wild behavior and skimpy clothing. The legendary “Girls Gone Wild” videos, VH1’s “The Surreal Life,” and almost any rap video attest to this. When wild celebrity antics are repeatedly shown in the pages of Star Magazine and are features on E! News, they become normalized and accepted. And even if such behavior is not replicated to a t, the influence still definitely exists. Young people especially have difficulty understanding the extent of which culture shapes all aspects of our lives. Says Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame in a Newsweek Health article by Kathleen Deveny with Raina Kelley entitled “Girls Gone Bad”, "They don't have enough perspective on how they are being formed by the world around them—and when they don't realize it, it can be more powerful." The appeal of young celebrity women to regular girl admirers is simple: celebrity lives look glamorous, cool, and regularly without consequence. "They've got great clothes and boyfriends,” says Emma Boyce, a 17 year-old high school junior from the Newsweek article, “They seem to have a lot of fun."

However, this is not to say that any young girls who admire a Lindsay or Britney character from afar are doomed to become the next ladies of the night. The most important cultural values are taught by parents in the home beginning very early in life. And although girls ages 12 to 14 are typically the most likely to want to emulate a particular celebrity (Girls Gone Bad), this fascination is transitory. In addition, even if the crazy activities of celebrity darlings are followed closely, this does not automatically mean that these escapades will be viewed positively. Britney’s downward spiral has been fascinating for most viewers to observe—many of my blogs refer to her as the world’s favorite train wreck—but this does not translate into acceptance of her behavior. "My friends and I look at them to laugh at them," says Boyce. "Our lives seem pretty good by comparison. We're not going to rehab like Lindsay."

Nevertheless, studies have shown that sexual activity among youngsters can be linked to overexposure to sexual content in the media. A study published in 2006 in the journal “Pediatrics” found that “for white teens, repeated exposure to sexual content in television, movies and music increases the likelihood of becoming sexually active at an earlier age” (Girls Gone Bad). In a Fox News online article entitled “Girl Culture Begets Backlash,” Susan N. Wilson, director of the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers University, says that today’s youth is "sexualized at an earlier and earlier age.”

This sexualization is what creates the age-inappropriate prostitot behavior in young girls that is so alarming. And although the media does not have a hypodermic needle effect on its audience, the over sexualized content can indeed have an influence on young viewers. What can have a greater influence, however, is guidance received from a respectable adult figure. Parents must become involved in the media their children consume and use wild celebrity moments as teaching opportunities that will hopefully curb this recent trend.


Celebrity Culture: Back to Basics

As an unofficial celebrity analyst, I am constantly perusing the blogosphere in search of new and pertinent events that could eventually make their way into a post. However, as I pondered a topic for this week I decided to go basic: what is celebrity culture anyway? While researching this question I stumbled across an interesting forum which contained an assortment of blog posts concerning various aspects of celebrity culture, all tied in to Princess Diana (pictured at left) in honor of the 10-year anniversary of her death.

The first of these was entitled “Diana and the Celebrity Culture We Enjoy” by Graeme Turner, a professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the author of the book Understanding Celebrity. Turner discussed the idea of parasocial relationships and the feelings of connection people feel toward celebrities, even if in reality there is no tangible relationship. His interesting ideas offered a basic understanding and reasoning behind the fascination the general public has with famous individuals.

The second blog was called “Diana, Versace, and the Celebrity Epidemic” by Maureen Orth, a longtime correspondent for Vanity Fair, and author of the book The Importance of Being Famous. Orth argued that people all over the world are connected through a collective infatuation with celebrities, and that this obsession is perpetuated by the media force-feeding celebrity news down our throats. Orth compares the media’s overindulgence of celebrity gossip with the obesity epidemic and the overindulgence of junk food.

Here are my responses:

Post #1: Response to “Diana and the Celebrity Culture We Enjoy”

A ‘celebrity culture’ unquestionably exists, even if many in the world of academia hate to acknowledge it. The Diana phenomenon proved to any in doubt that regular people have strong, vested interests in the lives of celebrities, or ‘parasocial relationships,’ as you call them. I found this idea very accurate and interesting. Cultural consumers are not content watching celebrities only at public events such as premieres, but feel the urge to know intimate details of their lives, making the relationship that much more real to them.

I was also interested in the “life work” argument that some academics make. While this idea may be somewhat true, I definitely do not think the majority of consumers are examining their own lives as a result of following those of celebrities. While modern-day celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, U2 front man Bono, and Leonardo DiCaprio are deeply involved in global causes (and anyone who follows celebrity news is well aware of this), I doubt it has caused a major revision in the lives of average individuals. I rather believe that celebrity watching usually does not have any socially or culturally redeeming values, but exists for pure entertainment. The most recent example would be Britney Spears, the world’s favorite train wreck. Ms. Spears should be a role model to no one, but her photo is still splashed across the covers of gossip magazines every week.

Your post is well-constructed and offers some interesting points. The idea of parasocial relationships is especially fresh and I would love to read more about it.

Post #2: Response to “Diana, Versace, and the Celebrity Epidemic”

There is no doubt that the world is obsessed with celebrities. People around the world are kept up to date on celebrity gossip by countless TV shows, gossip blogs, and magazines 24 hours a day. This communal infatuation and the media presence it requires has indeed created a global connection, made utterly apparent when Diana died. The intense reaction to her death demonstrated how everyday people felt connected to her, just as they do to celebrities today.

However, while I completely agree with your statement that “today we are all one besotted planet feeling the connection of celebrity,” and also with the idea that the way we cater to celebrities has perpetuated their out-of-control and sometimes diva-like behavior (example: the Lindsay Lohan incident), I do not believe that celebrity gossip is force-fed to us by the media. Yes, the media closely follows famous people’s every move and reports back to us using photos as proof, but we as a public demand such scrutiny, thus creating an ugly cycle between media and consumer.

I also believe that the infatuation with famous people is not new, nor has it exploded in recent years. People have always been interested in one another, but the technology which allows global celebrity gossip has only been made available fairly recently, creating the illusion that this is a new phenomenon.

Overall, your post is very interesting and thoughtful, and I love the comparison between the comics of yesterday and the celebrity air-heads of today as entertainment.


Celebrity Breakdowns: Who is to Blame?

Britney Spears’ disastrous performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA’s) on September 9th was simply the latest blunder added to her ever-lengthening list of shame. The lackluster show opener—already made infamous by video parodies, mean-spirited comic strips, and ruthless reviews—was a perfect illustration of just how far Spears has fallen from the height of fame. Her bouts of bizarre behavior and multiple attempts at rehab since her split from ex-husband Kevin Federline last November have left no doubt in many people’s minds that Britney is having a breakdown.

But Britney is not the only one. Celebrity breakdowns are nothing new. Mariah Carey, Mel Gibson, Johnny Cash, Anna Nicole Smith, and Courtney Love are only a handful of celebrities who have hit rock bottom.

In reality, the term “nervous breakdown” has no medical basis, but is used by the public to encompass a wide range of mental disorders. The phrase is generally used to describe an emotionally distraught individual who is unable to function normally. Symptoms may include uncontrollable crying, erratic behavior, and indecision, among others. Some breakdown triggers are stress and drug and alcohol use.

Stress and substance abuse are probably the two most frequently cited explanations for celebrity breakdowns. The first obvious question is why breakdowns are so common in Hollywood. While under constant pressure to perform, look perfect, and sell product, stars are perpetually provided with and have easy access to drugs and alcohol. This environment creates a Russian roulette-type of situation where something is eventually bound to go wrong. When it does, paparazzi cameras are standing by waiting to snap a high-priced photograph of a fallen star.

The most recent celebrity tabloid fodder is Lindsay Lohan(pictured below), the starlet more known for her wild partying and revolving door stints in rehab than for her acting ability. Lohan has been recovering in a Utah rehab center and has not been seen in public since she was arrested on July 24th on suspicion of DUI and cocaine possession in Los Angeles. The troubled star has experienced breakdowns in the past, and may be the perfect—if not extreme—example of the way tremendous pressure and opportunity for substance abuse can lead to a nervous breakdown.

If these breakdowns are so common amongst celebrities because of their high-intensity environments, the next logical question would ponder the environments themselves. If consumers did not scrutinize famous people with such fervor, would the entertainment industry place such a high value on celebrities’ images, which in turn places the celebrities themselves under unhealthy amounts of stress? The answer can only be speculative.

The public’s thirst for all things celebrity has led the mass media to address the demand for such information through magazines, blogs such as perez-hilton.com, and television shows. This has created a cycle in which the more we see, the more we want. The more we want, the more they give. Simply, the public places pressure on the media which places pressure on the industry which finally places pressure on the people (celebrities). If celebrity escapades were not so highlighted, would society truly care about whether or not Nicole Ritchie (at left) ate lunch today? More importantly, would Nicole care?

The idea that we the public perpetuate the cycle of celebrity exposure and infatuation, placing pressure on the famous and possibly (however indirectly) leading to a future breakdown is an uncomfortable thought for most. Instead of acknowledging the fact that without an eager consumer market, the very institutions which place celebrities under pressure would cease to exist, the general public ignorantly places all blame on the media. However, if we as a public would like to see the amount of celebrity breakdowns reduced, we need to stop caring so much in the first place.

Britney Spears’ life is in chaos. The VMA performance proves that. But instead of harpooning the media—or worse, laughing at her—we must stand by the fallen pop star and realize that our adoration is what eventually put her there.
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