Celebrities Are the New Aristocracy

8 Feb

Has globalisation resulted in a homogenised global culture?

Celebrities are the new aristocracy: high status players in a global world where their lives become part of a global culture. OK! Magazine feeds celebrity news to an audience seeking glamour, entertainment and excitement. Its function is to addressing a globally minded readership with an interest in signifying their allegiance to a source of cultural authority. Structured around a standardised layout, this weekly multinational magazine localises its global celebrity news for ten countries as diverse as Russia, Thailand and Spain. This diversification of content can be interpreted as the hybridisation of a homogenised form of globalised culture. While representing a pluralised interpretation of the world the magazine maintains the validity of sovereign cultures as points of reference and understanding. I argue the national online forms of the celebrity magazine OK!, in networking with a global culture centered on celebrity, exemplify the process globalisation plays in homogenising this form of global culture, but also in hybridizing localised systems of meaning. This essay will discuss the construction of global culture, as well as the increasingly arbitrary role of geographic boundaries juxtaposed against the persisting importance of the sovereign state. I will then turn to the roles of the media and multinational media conglomerates have in the creation and sustainment of global culture. Using content analysis, I will then compare sections from OK! websites, in order to justify my hypothesis that globalisation has indeed resulted in the homogenisation of global culture but has also promoted the heterogeneity of localised interpretations of global culture.

Globalisation has allowed for the construction of what to an extent needs to be described as the homogenisation of international standards of genres. However, the content produced by media through these genres is rather an organised hybridisation of diverse networks, catering to mutual spheres of global cultures: both localised, recognising the value of cultural niches and local abilities, as well as providing for an increasingly internationally minded audience. Today’s cosmopolitans live their lives within the structure of a global culture, integrating the structure of the nation and the structure of locality in which locals retreat (see Hannerz 1990). Hugh Mackay argues ‘…whatever globalization has been achieved – to the extent that it has – can be seen as a result of…the power of the cultural’ (Mackay in Held 2004: 48). Sylvia Harvey’s description of culture as a ‘…whole way of life and experience of a people…’ (2006: 1) emphasizes Charles Leadbeater’s argument that ‘cultures are not made strong by becoming inward looking, nostalgic and defensive’ (2002: 301). Globalisation is increasingly decentralised; its effects are felt as much in Western countries as others (Giddens 1999: 16). Anthony D. Smith argues ‘[t]oday’s emerging global culture is tied to no place or period. It is context-less, a true melange of disparate components drawn from everywhere and nowhere, borne upon the modern chariots of global telecommunications systems’ (1990: 177). Furthermore, Ulf Hannerz argues global culture ‘…is marked by an organisation of diversity rather than by a replication of uniformity. No total homogeni[s]ation of systems of meaning and expression has occurred…’ (1990: 237). According to Hannerz ‘…cultures rather than being easily separated from one another as the hard-edged pieces in a mosaic, tend to overlap and mingle’ (1990: 229). Culture is not a static construction, and therefore, all forms of culture ‘…construct and deconstruct social identities and social relations’ (Diana Crane 2002: 1).

The last several decades have seen the restructuring of state and corporate identities to move with global changes in identity. ‘The strongest homogenising factor so far has been nationalism’ (Rantanen 2005: 92). However, cultural identities increasingly transcend national boundaries, rejecting the state’s need to confer specific identities and values over their citizens to the exclusion of others (Rantanen 2005: 92, Crane 2002: 10-11). Manuel Castells argues ‘[t]he dynamics of networks push society towards an endless escape from its own constraints and controls, towards supersession and reconstruction of its values and institutions…’ (Castells 1999: 409). Therefore, as Anthony Giddens suggests there arises the need to reflect on our current institutions and their incapacities to deal effectively with the tasks they are called to perform in an increasingly interconnected world (1999: 19). Increasingly we are aware of the diversity of cultures within a single nation, to the extent that a homogenous national identity is no longer tenable as traditions are enhanced in order to paradoxically either defend against or encourage global influence and exchange (see Giddens 1999: 36-50). According to Crane ‘[g]lobal cultures may render traditional identities less salient or produce hybridized identities as local cultures absorb and respond to these influences’ (2002: 10). Multinational media companies can be seen to be fulfilling a vacuum of sorts between a state constructed sphere of influence and a global marketplace for cultural interaction. Multinational media conglomerates may extend their influence and control over types of global culture, but more importantly, they facilitate the production of standardised genres of information and entertainment, increasing the producers of and markets for media diversification and access.

Global culture reflects increasingly ‘borderless’ (Vick cited in Morris and Waisbord 2001: 9) communications systems, where a global public sphere of interaction fulfils the function of a network encompassing or disregarding national cultural networks, where shared ideas and information are exulted to a separate sphere of interaction. These networks within networks can be seen to function as internal and external dimensions to sovereignty (Vick cited in Morris and Waisbord 2001: 10). These networks are perceived as a threat to sovereign culture, fearing a process of homogenisation as ‘…an ever-greater uniformity of personal tastes and lifestyles…’ (Ramachandra 2010: 25), heavily influenced from the west and the United States of America especially. Those who argue globalisation will result in homogenisation believe the dominance of global distribution by western and primarily US products ‘…diffuse the ideology and value system of their creators and will ultimately replace the cultures where they are distributed’ (Hannerz cited Garrett 2006: 393). However, others argue the products are hybridised. As such the ‘ideology is ignored’, it is only the genre of the original which is disseminated (Howes cited Garrett 2006: 393).

Susan McKay argues media ‘help us to organise the ways we understand our society and culture. They are often the only way we have of understanding other societies and cultures’ (2006: 597). OK! magazines offer readers the opportunity of showing their allegiance to a global culture of celebrity, reflected in the pleasure and entertainment they receive from their interaction with the publication by accessing it in multiple media forms. Van Leeuwen suggests “[t]he problem is how to safeguard specific local interests while catering to the new, globally oriented readership” (2006: 218). To an extent this heterogeneity to reflect localised identity shows the ability and the desire of companies and readerships to access and create local or regional content above international content with the flare of the later. In order to explore this idea of hybridised versions of media, content analysis was conducted of online versions of previews for the magazine OK!. I have compared the most recently updated OK! ‘In This Issue’ online descriptions as of the 16th April, 2010, in the Australian, German, Thai and USA versions of the magazine. These countries versions were chosen for their diversity in region and culture.  The purpose of the content analysis is to establish to what extent the content produced for each country’s version of the magazine is similar in composition.

The format of the websites is very similar for each of the versions represented online. The ‘In This Issue’ section allows readers a preview to the contents of the tangible magazine, which goes on sale weekly as ‘a high quality glossy stock…OK! provides credible, in-depth coverage of celebrities’ (ACP Magazines Website 2010). The target audience is mostly women, aged from their mid-20’s to their mid-30’s. The magazines online and printed content chooses to focus on celebrity interviews, with large glossy and often glamorous photographs. OK! magazine as a global brand chooses to concentrate widely on positive coverage, with few negative portrayals of celebrities or the celebrity lifestyle (see Voice of America News 2007, Pierce 2002, Murray, Askew 2006, Lee 2006).

In examining the content themes of these online content descriptions, I hypothesized there would be a large extent of uniform coverage of American Hollywood celebrity culture across all four versions. I have chosen to analyse the frequency with which comparable themes and language are presented ‘to help determine motivations, values, beliefs and attitudes of the source’ (Go 1984: 149). The themes present in these sections I have identified as: pregnancy; divorce or cheating; religion; marriage, engagement or dating; fashion or models; health trends; music, television or movies promotions; adoption or children discussions. I have placed all of the written content from the selected section into one of these theme categories in Appendix 1, with similar results for each version. The majority of content appears to be focused on relationships, pregnancy, fashion and promotional interviews. From this analysis it can be argued the general themes discussed in each version are similar. Hence, the genre of celebrity magazine is being translated across geographic boundaries.

However, further analysis of the content within these categories suggests there is a diversity of celebrities being discussed. Appendices 2 and 3 identify the nationality of the celebrities mentioned in each version. Overwhelmingly it is evident that each version significantly reports on a localised form of celebrity. For example, OK! Australia discusses the largest number of celebrities in its preview. The largest coverage is on Australian celebrities, and international celebrities linked to Australian celebrities. OK! USA is the most localised content reporting on relatively few international celebrities. This reflects the world recognition of American celebrities and their centrality in this global culture. However, this level of recognition does not seem to prevent other versions of the magazine from localising global content to their audience’s interest. Indeed, OK! Thailand has, I argue, the most localised content with the fewest overlapping representations of global celebrities, choosing rather to focus on stars within their own region (see Appendices 4 and 5). This focus on localised content demonstrates the power of the media to create the tradition of celebrity in each context. Allowing the application of the global ideal of high status persons enables OK! magazine to adjust its genre just enough to reach cosmopolitans and locals alike around the world, manipulating all elements of the global culture to deliver profits.

Hence, it can be argued OK! magazine promotes the positive coverage of global celebrity culture, which it then adapts to localised preferences, whilst maintaining the nature of celebrity and the magazine’s ideological frame of reference. Globalised media content is ‘domesticated’ (see van Leeuwen 2006: 235) by localised translation of interests, just as local media content can be ‘foreignised’ (see van Leeuwen 2006: 235) for a globally oriented readership. Globalisation has contributed to a homogenisation of global culture but has also facilitated the development of an active process of localised cultural hybridity in an attempt to personalise patterns of cultural response. Cultural identities can increasingly be seen to transcend national boundaries into regional cultures (Crane 2002: 11). Hence, multinational media conglomerates are able to extend their influence and control over certain types of global culture (Crane 2002: 7), creating standardised production values, conforming to preconceived genres and layouts. These homogenised styles of structure allow for the establishment of benchmarks in international media coverage.  Genres are being translated across geographic boundaries but the ideological values associated with them are not necessarily also being transmitted.

Therefore, content analysis of an international media source reflects a regional response to the concept of a global culture. Celebrity culture can be seen to be selected to reflect the desires of a localised readership that is both complex and diverse. Target audiences in this case have reflected an internationally minded notion of the world but maintain a strong connection to a regionalised form of cultural identification. Hence, it can be argued in this case it is the genre of the medium and a standardised content layout which is being transferred. However, the ideological values are not necessarily being conferred in the texts I examined. The magazine although created by a global media corporation does not expect its audience to simply absorb the content or desire a purely westernised concept of celebrity. Hence, this example would suggest that globalisation has not resulted in the homogenisation of global culture because as yet there is very little conceptual or business value given to the idea of a global culture; rather it is more specifically regionally related.

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One Response to “Celebrities Are the New Aristocracy”

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