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Conference Corners

May 19, 2015

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I have just over 7 days left for the inaugural Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) conference in Toronto – it will be an honour and pleasure to finally meet all delegates in person. Part of me is in New York as I am also organizing our next media conference there and being interviewed for Shannon Skinner’s new radio show this week. I am grateful for the opportunities to speak and looking forward to sharing views on celebrities at the conferences and in media.

Historically, stardom had its origins in Hollywood where film played a role in creating the actor as a star. Later, television personalities became famous in ways that were similar to film actors. So celebrities have been constructions orchestrated by large media corporations. With the rise of the Internet, stardom has become less exclusive and ordinary citizens can become celebrities. Although home-based Internet use started 20 years ago, the rise of Web 2.0 made a significant change to the production, distribution and consumption of celebrity images in the last decade. Celebrity has become an ideology that is ubiquitous and pervasive in our society.

The Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) responds to a growing need to coordinate academic and media relations in studies and practices of fame. It is founded on the basis of my PhD on celebrity culture that I started in 2008. My committee asked if I could focus on Canada – I was teaching in Australia at that time – and I thought of questioning the myth that Canada doesn’t have stars or a star system, and that we don’t celebrate our own talent. However, there has been a growing influence of celebrity culture on our lives. CMCS particularly responds to a pressing need of celebrity studies scholars and journalists to integrate informed opinions in media. In tabloid journalism, gossip, rumors and scandals often represent celebrities in unethical and stereotypical ways. CMCS bridges these gaps by bringing researchers, journalists, and public personalities together and facilitating diverse representations and understandings of celebrities.

Celebrities such as Woody Harrelson, Tobey Maguire, Moby, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Silverstone, and Ellen DeGegeneres among many others are positive role models of health and wellness. These celebrities have been following a healthy vegan lifestyle for an extended time and have had a positive influence on wellness while protecting the lives of animals and the environment.  In fact, many celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Ryan Gosling have been advocates of healthy causes and fight for environmental sustainability, food justice, and animals that are often treated in very cruel and toxic ways. In a recent interview, Betty White showed how her plant-based lifestyle is the secret to her longevity – she turns 93 this year. There are number famous vegan athletes such as Patrik Baboumian, Timothy Shieff, and Hillary Biscay who are also living examples of strong fitness and diet.

There are also negative examples of celebrities who do not follow a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle. While Daniel Radcliffe declared his heavy reliance on alcohol, Angelina Jolie confessed how she used every possible drug. Charlie Sheen has also been highly associated with the use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. The heavy usage of these products has led some of these celebrities to go to rehab. Although their admission and taking steps to recover from addictions can be inspiring, their initial behaviors can have a negative influence on leading a healthy lifestyle. Recently, Beyonce received $50 million for signing a Pepsi advertisement that does not inform healthy choices.  However, we must remember that the endorsement of these products reflects our consumerist society and an emphasis on markets economy.  Thus, although celebrities may influence choices, the high fees paid to stars for product endorsement is only possible due to market drives and consumers behaviors.

I don’t think celebrities have a greater obligation than any others when it comes to following health tactics. Fans often idolize and worship celebrities and overlook their own responsibilities and influences in the process.  Celebrities are media constructions and are subjected to the same corporate pressures that people experience in their daily choices of consumption. Media corporations, business sponsors, and audiences should be equally aware of and responsible for celebrity images that they reproduce, disseminate, and consume.  In fact, teachers and parents should be better informed so that they can guide forthcoming generations. That said, since celebrities are part of the media machinery and have influence, they should be aware of health choices and impact that they may have. Yet, we are all ultimately responsible for our own well being and for the impact we have on the environment, and celebrities are no exception. Ultimately, what would be very beneficial is to include critical media awareness in our education system, including programs that show the extents to which celebrity culture impacts our behaviors.

As a certified broadcast journalist and cultural critic, I have been part of media spaces in which celebrities also figure.  In this respect, I have been an embedded observer able to see parallels with celebrities rather than be subjected to any particular influence by them. I believe that personal experiences and self-reflection in stardom are important for researchers in celebrity studies to ensure our work is not disconnected from reality and can also have applications for personal and social transformation. It is important to understand that celebrity shares its origin with celebration, and inspires all to shine as a star and celebrate their own path.

Photo credits: Jeremiah Hill Photography

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