Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury: An

 Examination of Masculinity and Stardom in

 Contemporary Society.

 

Nicholas Danton

 

Dissertation submitted in part fulfillment of the

Programme BA Media and Society.

 

Supervisor: Alev Adil.

 

School of Humanities, University of Greenwich. May 2002.

 

 

Contents. (click on titles to go straight to chapters)

 

Aim

Objectives

Rationale

Literature Review

 

Part 1 (click on titles to go straight to chapters)

 

1.1 Introduction – Why I Am Analysing Michael Jackson And Freddie Mercury

 

1.2 What Is A Star?

 

1.3 How Has The Term Star Changed?

 

1.4 Technologies That Determine Our Relationship To Stars – Part 1

 

1.5 Technologies That Determine Our Relationship To Stars – Part 2 (Music Videos)

 

 

 

Part 2 (click on titles to go straight to chapters)

 

2.1 Michael Jackson And Freddie Mercury – An Analysis

 

2.2 Age

2.3 Race

 

2.4 Sexuality

 

 

 

Part 3 (click on titles to go straight to chapters)

 

 

3.1 Fan Material

 

 

 

Methods

Conclusions

Footnotes

Bibliography

Figures

 

 

Aim

 

 The aim of this dissertation is to examine masculinity and stardom in contemporary society with particular reference to Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury.

 

 

Objectives

1. To examine how people relate to stars.

2. To examine why people are interested in stars.

3. To examine what people's interest in stars tells us about our culture and our relationships to other people.

4. To examine the relationship between audience and stardom and the connotations of, and  connections with, traditional religion.

5. To examine how stars reflect social and cultural trends in society.

6. To examine the way stars identities are technologically mediated.

7. To examine the multiple identities of mainstream stars.

 

 

Rationale

 

 Through studying stars we can tell a lot about our culture as the media increasingly uses such famous people to embody various issues, both social and cultural. One could argue that stars are not solely geared towards entertainment, stars are people who portray social and cultural values like traditional institutions such as the family and education once did. We must therefore examine such values to see whose values they reflect and whether they reflect the status quo. To look at stars is therefore to look at society in general. Such a statement justifies why I believe this dissertation is worthwhile.

 

 Throughout this dissertation I will examine how our culture has become increasingly orientated towards stars, through looking at the way new technology has redefined our notion of stardom. I will explore how new technology has been used to promote various audience relationships. Furthermore, I will examine the sometimes complex social and cultural meanings male stars in particular have embodied over time with particular reference to their sense of masculinity. My dissertation will be of interest to those who have had a particular fascination with a star in their life, because stars not only embody entertainment but also embody a host of other values both personal and institutional.

 

 One could argue that stars are remembered for their entertainment and not the values they convey to us, their audience. There has been a fair amount of research conducted on the star values of film stars, however I am pursuing a different line of enquiry. I am looking at Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury, two male performers from different genres of music who both possess ambiguous masculinities, giving my work a new and exciting basis. By looking at these two performers who are virtually mainstream contemporaries, I hope to use them as examples of how some male stars transform their masculinity into an ambiguous creation which embodies many different social and cultural meanings. I hope to visually illustrate their constantly changing masculinities by looking at certain key images of the stars, reinforcing the arguments in my text. I am also referring to the stars as examples of the way fan devotion resembles religious devotion. I am therefore not intending to provide a biographical account of the two stars but will engage in a thorough analysis of their images.

 

 To begin my dissertation I will predominantly look at stardom in contemporary society. I will then look at contemporary stardoms implications with regard to masculinity referring to my two case studies. I am therefore illustrating the arguments made at the beginning of my dissertation with two examples bringing my work to a convincing close. My dissertation will be a predominantly text based study applying various concepts to stars as though they themselves were texts. I will also examine fan material on the Internet which will provide me with a greater understanding of why people see stars as meaningful and significant.

 

    “By reading the images of stars as meaningful or significant, it is implied that there is someone for whom the star is meaningful or significant.” (McDonald in Dyer 1998:187).

 

 

Literature Review

 Before investigating masculinity and stardom in contemporary society I must first provide an explanation of what a star is. I will explore this further later in my dissertation but to begin with, here are two definitions:

 

    “Thus a star is well-known for her/his well-knowingness, and not for any talent or specific quality.”

(Dyer 1998:13).

 

 Furthermore, Boorstin (in Dyer 1998:13) argues that stars do not have a “strong character, but a definable, publicizable personality: a figure which can become a nationally-advertised trademark.”

 The central text in which I am referring to in my dissertation is ‘Stars’ by Richard Dyer (1998). I have chosen to predominantly look at his work as it could be classed as a ‘classic’ text which expressed pioneering viewpoints. The preface to the New Edition reads “on its first publication in 1980 this book set new standards of critical and theoretical rigour in the field of star studies.” The work of Dyer (1998) also helps to introduce the wider debate surrounding the culture of stardom, his work therefore provides a basic introduction to the themes in my aims and objectives.

 

 Before I begin my investigation into masculinity and stardom in contemporary society, I must first introduce the ideas of Dyer (1998) and other relevant theorists. Dyer (1998) predominantly views stardom as a capitalist industry in which stars are turned into consumer goods and marketed. He shows how film stars are owned by studios and the manner in which their names and images are used as commodities to sell films. In the same manner as products stars images are constructed and aimed at certain audiences through publicity and promotion. He therefore suggests that their images are just as produced as characters in novels.

 

 Moreover, Fowles (1992) argues that people want to find out about stars in an intimate manner and as a result spend much of their leisure time using modern technology to watch or read about them. Stars are obvious figures to look up to, argues Fowles (1992) and they can help popularize an issue we may not have considered, for example the implication of a disease. In his book ‘Common Fame’ Schickel (1985) on the other hand shows how media technology constantly recounts what stars are doing. We could therefore argue that stars are constructed in order to feed technology and the audience who engage with it on a daily basis.   

 

 Dyer (1998) argues that star's artificial images are constructed via big businesses and are used to symbolize or promote issues in society. He argues that by doing this they can embody values that are under threat and even fix types of beauty, this is often done covertly through their actions and personality rather than their words. The manner in which stars embody values and meanings causes people to relate to them. In his work Dyer (1998) lists the ways people relate to stars for example some may imagine themselves as the star or imitate their behavior in their own lives. The work of Dyer (1998) is very useful in showing how stars can be classed as models of consumption and products of capitalism. His work is therefore central in the pursuit of my objectives as it shows what stars reflect and what this tells us about society.

 

 In this dissertation I am narrowing down the broad subject of stardom. I will predominantly assess people’s interest and relationship to stars as it is the audience who increase the popularity of stars and it is they who grasp and illustrate their meanings to academics.

 

 

Part 1

1.1 Introduction – Why I Am Analysing Michael Jackson And Freddie Mercury

 

 I have chosen to look at pop star Michael Jackson and rock star Freddie Mercury as case studies in an attempt to give us a greater understanding of the notion of a star in our society. Both of these stars are associated with the music industry as they have performed, written and recorded music. Furthermore both have succeeded in this industry as their singles and albums have performed well in the charts often reaching the top, number one position. An analysis of Jackson’s image is also very topical as this star has recently released a new album entitled ‘Invincible’ in October 2001, bringing the issues surrounding his image to the fore once again. The two performer's success is also an interesting analysis of the times and changing styles as their careers have spanned three decades, the 1970s, 80s and 90s. In an effort to reflect the zeitgeist both performers have interestingly transformed their image and manipulated the images of race, sexuality and age they portray.

 

 The two stars are also particularly interesting as despite adopting a sense of masculinity which is not mainstream, they have reaped success on a major scale. Both have defied categorization and have adopted unconventional images but have surprisingly attracted fans from very wide age groups. These stars are also interesting as they used new technology via the music video to promote their music and image. As both stars have embraced the mass media they have become superstars and their image has reached a very wide audience. The mass communications industry has caused their images to become immensely popular and widely recognized in the same way as religious figures once were. As a result these performers have often promoted intense audience relationships which can be used as a comment on our role models and sense of community in society.

 

1.2 What Is A Star?

 

 As the definitions suggested earlier, a star is a highly publicized figure who is well known due to their image rather than their work or talent. A star's fame therefore transcends their work, something we will clearly see later when we examine the image of Jackson and Mercury.

 

 Dyer (1998) argues that stars can be represented as a form of capital. We could argue that just like capital they are controlled by someone, be it Hollywood, or a record company. The qualities of stars are therefore marketed argues Powdermaker (in Dyer 1998), for example a musician's dancing or looks may be advertised in an attempt that they will be celebrated by the audience. Powdermaker suggests:

 

    “The star has tangible features which can be advertised and marketed - a face, a body, a pair of legs, a voice, a certain kind of personality real or synthetic and can be typed as the wicked villain, the honest hero, the fatal siren, the sweet young girl, the neurotic woman” p.11.

 

 As certain qualities of stars are marketed the audience may model themselves on these elements. Jarvie (in Dyer 1998:14) argues “one function a star serves is to fix a type of beauty, to help a physical type identify itself.” An audience for example may therefore use stars as a way of defining norms of attractiveness. Such a situation is illustrated by the magazine ‘Celebrity Bodies’ which features many articles on recreating the stars looks.

 

 One could argue that stars and the institutions behind them have a great deal of power over our actions and behaviour. King (in Dyer 1998) for example argues that stars have great control over the representation of those in society. Some therefore suggest that stars are role models. Dyer (1998) argues that stars are role models as they lead the audience into a process of self-identification in which people imagine themselves in the stars role and ask themselves what the star would do in that situation. Dyer (1998:99) explains “stars are supremely figures of identification.” One could therefore argue that we imagine ourselves in the star's world but also unconsciously reinforce the relations of power expressed in their work.

 

 We may also alter our identities to reflect those of the stars which once again shows the power stars have over the audience's lives. Stacey (in Gledhill:160) argues “many forms of identification involve processes of transformation and the production of new identities, combining the spectators existing identity with her desired identity and her reading of the star's identity.”

 

 Stars show a strong link between both production and consumption. Dyer (in Gledhill:215) for example argues “although stars and films are commodities, their only ‘value’ (i.e. what people use them for) resides in what meanings and affects they have. Stars/films sell meanings and affects.” One could suggest that the meanings and affects of stars are therefore created by institutions and the audience embraces these. Furthermore as stars become famous even their names become commodities which are used to advertise films and other products. The pop star Michael Jackson for example was used to advertise Pepsi in the Eighties. It could be argued that Jackson was chosen to advertise Pepsi as he is associated with a childlike image, something I will explain further later. Soft drinks for example are distinctly linked to children as they are non-alcoholic and therefore the only drinks which can be drunk by this age group. The image of childhood innocence which Pepsi promotes meant that when Jackson was accused of child abuse, the company did not want to be associated with him. On November 14th 1993 when the allegations went public, a spokesman for Pepsi announced that their relationship with Jackson was over (Grant 1997). We can therefore clearly see how brands trade on the stars brand image to advertise their products and the way they disregard stars when their images cannot be trusted or relied upon. 

 

 We could argue that those named stars reinforce the notion of spectacle and pleasure in looking. Such an argument is clearly seen by female stars. Stacey (in Gledhill:143) suggests:

 

    “This fetishism of the female star within Hollywood cinema is one form of scopophilia (or pleasure in looking) offered to the spectator, the other is the voyeuristic pleasure in the objectification of the female star on the screen.”

 

 One could argue that pleasure in looking has become quite perverse in our society. The wax-work museum Madame Tussaud’s in London for example is based around closely looking at the stars. However, what is really disturbing is the way the museum has placed mass murderers and other criminals alongside the stars, showing the perverse and sadistic pleasure which we reap from looking at media figures. Furthermore, Madame Tussaud’s is visited by over two million visitors every year (Grant 2001) which again shows the extent of people’s interest in stars.          

 

 One could therefore argue that stars promote the sense of watching and admiring, encouraging escapism. Some argue that escapism prevents political criticism and promotes an acceptance of the relations of power in society. Harvey (2000:168) argues “the continuous spectacles of commodity culture, including the commodification of the spectacle itself, play their part in fomenting political indifference.” We could therefore argue that stars reinforce the status quo and the values of the institutions which created them. Walker (in Dyer 1998:6) suggests “stars…are the direct or indirect reflection of the needs, drives and dreams of American society.” We could therefore argue that stars often do not challenge society as those privileged few who created them do not want their power and position challenged.

 

 As people go to their films or buy their records stars reap fame, fortune and a privileged elite position from their audience. However Dyer (1998) argues that stars do not arouse resentment because anyone can supposedly become one through luck or altering their image. Such a situation defines a star as it makes them different from politicians or business figures who some may resent due to their title and position. Stars are therefore kept in power by their audience which can cause them to go in and out of popularity, they are not kept in power by a title or hereditary right.

 

 Throughout this dissertation I will use Jackson and Mercury as case studies to illustrate the way they have attracted a wide audience and fuelled their popularity by promoting a perverse sense of masculinity. The interesting way in which these stars have therefore defied categorization illustrates why I am analysing them.

 

 

1.3 How Has The Term Star Changed?

 Stars were firstly promoted in films. When the film industry began, films were silent and stars were often portrayed as godly figures. Dyer (1998:21) argues “stars were gods and goddesses, heroes, models - embodiments of ideal ways of behaving.” Stars were used to instruct people with regard to good manners in the same way the Bible is used to instruct people with regard to morals. Furthermore, stars were seen to have some God given talent. Samuel Goldwin (in Dyer 1998:16) the famous studio boss once commented “God makes the stars. It’s up to the producers to find them.”

 

 In the same manner as Gods, silent era stars commanded intense relationships with their audience. During this era one of the major factors which increased the intensity of people’s relationships and defined the notion of a star was surprisingly a camera shot, the close up. Dyer (1998) for example argues that the close up brought us closer to the stars. Although this may seem simple there is much more to understand. Dyer (1998:15) argues “the close-up led to ‘the discovery of the human face.’” For the first time audiences could see the details of the stars faces and their true feelings were revealed. One could argue that this had a great effect on our psychological relationship with stars.

 

 Walker (in Dyer 1998) argues that the close up made stars increasingly seem more unique and personal whereas before this camera shot was invented they were isolated, distant figures on a stage. Walker (in Dyer 1998) argues that now the audience could see a stars looks and therefore their personality, it had a great effect on them:

 

    “It was to be the decisive break with stage convention, the most potent means of establishing an artists’ uniqueness and the beginning of the dynamic psychological interplay of the filmgoers’ and the film actors’ emotions” p.15.

 

 Our emotional attachment to stars was therefore greatly increased and audiences felt a much more intimate relationship with them, a closeness they had only previously shared with their family and lovers.

 

 Dyer (1998) however makes us aware of the way stars have changed over time. He suggests “in the later period, however, stars are identification figures, people like you and me - embodiments of typical ways of behaving” p.21. One of the major factors which changed the notion of star in society was the development of sound in films. Dyer (1998) argues that the shift to sound films destroyed the godly illusion as the stars had voices just like the audiences, giving them greater realism. As stars could talk on screen they seemed like you and I and they become figures of identification rather than godly figures who we looked up to. Schickel (1985:74) argues:

 

    “The psychological distance between stars and their audience was radically shortened with the coming of sound. What seemed to be their last significant secret, their tones of voice, was now revealed - or so it seemed.”

 

 Morin (in Dyer 1998) however seems to suggest that post war stars combine ordinary, everyday characteristics with those of an exceptional, ideal and godly nature. He suggests that the star now combines “the exceptional with the ordinary, the ideal with the everyday” p.22.

 

 However, with regard to stars in the music industry, one could argue that stars are still portrayed as rather godly. Schickel (1985) argues that music stars are relatively reclusive which creates a sense of mystery around them. The pop star Michael Jackson for example is rarely seen in public and when he is, he often appears wearing a mask promoting a sense of secrecy and unusualness that perhaps resembles the non-human. We seem to predominantly see Jackson in his well-crafted videos aimed at enhancing his rather godly image. Later we will examine the godly image which Jackson has portrayed in greater detail by referring to relevant examples.

 

 However, Jackson became a star in the late 1960s and many new stars are rivalling him. These new stars tell us a lot about stardom in general. In an interview with Asda magazine (2001:105) 1 Andrew Morton, the famous celebrity biographer discusses the pop star Victoria Beckham and her footballer husband, David Beckham. He comments “I think they are a perfect representation of the notion of celebrity today. As with Charles and Diana, everything they do is fascinating to the public.” However, perhaps this situation reflects a greater sadism in our relationship with stars. We seem for example to take great pleasure in discovering everything about the stars even the negative aspects of their lives.  

 

 Very recently the notion of stardom has also changed due to contemporary television. The television show ‘Pop Stars’ (2001) for example showed how a pop group was put together for a certain audience. People’s awareness of how stars are created has therefore increased, something which was hidden in the pre-war years in an effort to suggest that stars had God given talent. However, despite this awareness today, people have not been disillusioned by contemporary stardom. The Daily Express (2001) stated that ‘Pop Idol’ (2001), the show which aimed to search for a solo pop star, drew six million viewers on Saturday 17th November.

 

 The show ‘Big Brother’ (2000) was another example of how stardom was so easily created. The show consisted of members of the public being constantly watched in a house by the public. Those who appeared on the show became instant stars despite having not worked for their fame. The stars become famous through being visual figures and not through work, perhaps reflecting the visual nature of television. One of the stars of ‘Big Brother’ was Helen Adams who drew a thousand people to a book signing 2.

 

 One could therefore argue that in contemporary society the illusion surrounding the progression from little known citizen, to star, has therefore been broken and has been made obvious to the public.

 

 Nevertheless, the ‘Big Brother’ show still illustrates the traditional hierarchy expressed in stardom with some stars being given more power than others. If we look back at the first ‘Big Brother’ show in 2000 for example it is difficult to remember the names of the contestants. Such a situation shows how short their moment of fame was, perhaps illustrating Andy Warhol’s phrase “famous for fifteen minutes” (in Hemming 2002). Stars such as Jackson and Mercury however often have television programmes dedicated to them and their music videos are often played, constantly reminding us of their names and images which illustrates the power they command over the media.

 

 

1.4 Technologies That Determine Our Relationship To Stars – Part 1

 One could argue that our increased interest in stars could be linked to the rise of the technologies which consist of the mass media. One could suggest that people are interacting as much with the mass media as they are with everyday life, this naturally effects who they look up to. Harris (2000:40) argues:

 

     “With Americans allocating an increasing share of their leisure time to the mass media of communication it is not surprising that their choice of public heroes and heroines is, to a large degree, determined by perpetual exposure to the media.”

 

 Instead of looking up to family or community figures, we could suggest that stars are the role models of today. We could even go further by suggesting that people are taking more notice of stars than those close to them. Fowles (1992:76) suggests:

 

    “In the ways that citizens used to observe their neighbours, they now observed the stars. Instead of sitting on their front porches or looking out their kitchen windows, Americans peered into screens.”

 

 Stars therefore seem close to people as they see them in their homes on television, however they are particularly distant figures as many of their audience have never spoken to them.

 

 The technologies that determine our relationship to stars are visually orientated. Much of what we see of stars is produced via photographic technology, a visual method of communication. Most stars take part in photo shoots which produce cleverly constructed photos by professional photographers. These help to enhance a stars image as they are controlled and approved. Furthermore, such photos can be given to the media to promote news coverage, the media for example may use the photos in a news broadcast or article in an effort to examine a stars ‘new look.’ Fowles (1992) also reminds us of the visual nature of stars lives and says there is a great pressure to be ‘seen’ in this industry. Stars therefore go to functions such as film premieres so they are photographed and appear in the news, their name and image therefore becomes increasingly famous which sells their work.

 

 As being seen by the public helps sell stars work, the images photographers produce are of great importance to the famous. Fowles (1992:126) suggests “because in an age of visual communication what the photographer captures is the essence of what the publicly perceived image will be.” If a photographer therefore produces an unflattering image of a star it can effect the public’s perception, perhaps resulting in less film or record sales for example. Fowles (1992) argues:

 

    “A photograph of a star taken offstage and out of performance is not only a discourtesy; if it is disseminated it can jeopardize the image the star has worked so hard to create, and which is the essence of his or her working life.”

 

 Modern technology means photographers can fly around the world relatively cheaply, with lightweight camera equipment, following the stars wherever they go. Photographers therefore often take photographs of the stars relaxing from their well-crafted images, often unaware that the public will later judge their actions. Unofficial photographs represent the drive among the media to bring us closer to our role models, stars, however this is not done solely for our benefit but as a way of winning viewers or readers in our visual technological age. Schickel (1985:14) suggests:

 

    “For far more important than the technological developments that make the task of these professional voyeurs easier is the fact that, under the impress of television, there is now a powerful drive among all news gathering organizations to obtain intimate behind-the-scenes, unofficial material. It’s all a matter of competition.”

 

 Despite initially disapproving of unofficial photographs and invasions of their privacy such material can ironically keep the stars in the public eye, reinforcing the saying that ‘bad news is good news.’ The stars name is heard and seen, reminding the audience of the star's work which keeps them in business. Schickel (1985:266) argues “technology may be essential to keeping these characters lively by almost daily recounting their adventures.” Photography is so powerful that it can be used to symbolize what we associate with a star. Wilson (1999:40) discusses the late Princess Diana and suggests “to the end, Diana’s face was covered by the dazzling images that immortalized her.” When we remember a star who has died therefore, we often remember certain key images of them as it is these which summarize their ethos and their representation of the zeitgeist.

 

1.5 Technologies That Determine Our Relationship To Stars – Part 2 (Music Videos)

 Both of the artists I am analyzing have pioneered the use of the music video as a medium to represent their images. It would therefore be useful to analyze the music video as it is the main medium through which these artists have revealed their personas.

 

 Music videos play the role of presenting the visual image of performers. Before music videos however, artists could only appear on television shows. Negus (1992:27) argues “the introduction of consumer television coincided with the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and provided a medium for beaming the image of the performer into homes across the United States.” Instead of constantly touring to visually reach an audience, the new rock ‘n’ roll performers could visually reach large audiences via television, promoting mass adulation. The music video was also seen as an easier way to reach audiences in the same way as television shows.

 

 Negus (1992) suggests that the first music video was created to promote Queen’s single ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1975). Negus (1992:93) argues “in the years following its release record companies began producing videos in order to promote established artists around the world and occasionally to overcome the logistics of touring.” Music videos may therefore be favored by record companies and artists as they allow stars to still reach wide audiences but without the complex organization of tours and appearances. Furthermore, unlike television shows, music videos give artists greater control over the image they want to portray.

 

 Another major video which set a new standard for the production of music videos and also illustrated their power as a marketing tool was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (1983). Unlike ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1975) which primarily focuses on special effects ‘Thriller’ (1983) took the art of the music video a step further and incorporated the song with a horror film narrative which lasted fourteen minutes. Negus (1992) also uses the rise of MTV in America as a way of explaining the rise of the music video. MTV began to show music videos twenty-four hours a day causing a demand and an expectation for artists to make videos.

 

 The music video has also affected our general experience of music. One could argue that with the rise of the music video a greater importance is being placed on an artist's visual image to reflect the visual nature of television, the medium which plays the music videos. Negus (1992:98) explains “video is primarily a form of television programming in which the emphasis is on entertainment and maintaining interest rather than presenting music.”

 

 One could suggest that artists are increasingly spending large amounts of money on music videos, perhaps more than their actual albums. Music videos have therefore been heavily criticized. Negus (1992) highlights the critic's view that the music video is damaging the experience of music and makes this interesting suggestion “responses have been similar, but by no means as dramatic, as the reaction to the introduction of sound into the movies.” Such a quote illustrates the major implications that videos have posed to the music industry.

 

 However some see the visual interpretation of music as a positive situation, David Howells (in Negus 1992:66) managing director of Peter Waterman Ltd argues “the extraordinary thing is that you see what you hear” he continues “there is a relationship that the public identify with.”

 

Part 2

 

2.1 Michael Jackson And Freddie Mercury – An Analysis

 

 Below I will predominantly refer to academic discussions of Jackson and Mercury, I will however refer to these and other stars in an attempt to make a comment on stardom and our society in general.

 

2.2 Age

 

 To begin with it is important to look at Mercury and the way his image has become immortalized. We could argue that by dying from Aids at forty-five, Mercury has become immortal as we will always remember him as a relatively young man. Although the public have allowed some artists to grow old and perform for example Tom Jones, 61 and Mick Jagger, 58, one wonders whether they will still be physically able to perform in their 70’s and 80’s. Mercury however, never had to endure the indignity of his image being tarnished by the severe signs of ageing. Furthermore, by dying in his forties Mercury did not feel the full pressure to grow old gracefully in an industry dominated by youth and young bands. One could even argue that Mercury’s death from Aids, a disease associated with sexual promiscuity, in fact reinforced his image as the stereotypical wild rock star, perversely working to his advantage with regard to his future image.

 

 Mercury’s image is now preserved or kept alive through the medium of the music video in the same way as religious figures were via paintings and statues. In mentioning religion, we could argue that the fan and audience relationship has many connotations with traditional religion. Fans for example often place pictures of their favourite stars in their houses resembling religious shrines, while some go to fan conventions in the same way as Christians would go to Church.

 

 Jackson has also tried to adopt a godly image similar to Mercury’s. After his performance of ‘Earth Song’ during the 1996 Brit Awards, Jackson tore off his dark clothes to reveal pure white trousers and shirt (figure 2). If we were to analyse this, we could say that white is associated with godliness which reinforces the idea that Jackson is portraying himself as a religious figure. After changing his clothes Jackson opened his arms and was kissed and hugged by members of his cast as though he was their saviour. We could use this example to show how music stars increasingly follow the binary opposition of good and evil. Many performers for example adopt an image of goodness or Godliness whereas performers such as Marilyn Manson or Eminem play on the fact that they possess an evil image. One could argue that such categorisation in the music industry has an ideological function as it is a larger than life representation of good and evil in society.

 

 However, one could argue that if a star wants to be truly immortal, death is often the answer. It would be interesting here to refer to the singer Elvis. As Elvis has passed away his image resembles Mercury’s as it has also been immortalized. One could look at Elvis as firstly an example of the true extent to which stars are turned into godly figures after their death and secondly, as a prediction of Mercury’s future. Although an unreliable source, the tabloid newspaper The People (June 18, 1995) provided us with an insight into the Presleyterian Church in Dever, USA which has been set up to worship Elvis. According to the newspaper Presleyterian’s, as the followers are called, pray at Las Vegas and keep certain household goods which are associated with Elvis for example peanut butter and fudge cookies 3.

 

 In the same way as Elvis, Mercury’s death and immortal image has given his work a greater longevity which has made it more profitable. Discussing the band Queen, in which Mercury was front-man, Dean (1991:110) argues:

 

    “They have become one of the most collectable bands in the world, with fans paying higher and higher prices for Queen memorabilia and artefacts. Freddie’s death can only have enhanced this aspect of their following.”

 

 The increased interest in a star and promotion of an immortal image has lead some to conclude that death has positive benefits for stars with regard to the consumption of their products. Schickel (1985:130) therefore suggests:

 

    “Death can be a career move, for the careers now have a theoretically infinite life, thanks to television and video cassettes, thanks to revival houses and film festivals and the academicizing of film.”

 

 Due to the increased profitability of Queen’s music a partly finished Queen album entitled ‘Made In Heaven’ was released after Mercury’s death. By providing new material it illustrates the pressure to meet the fans constant need to consume a star. However this comes into conflict with the need preserve the star's image. Sinclair (1995) argues:

 

    “Thus the immediate question begged by the appearance of a new album at this late stage in the day must be: what manner of tasteless, barrel-scraping exercise are the serving members of the band involved in now? The odd thing is that, in most respects, ‘Made In Heaven’ could easily fit the bill of the hypothetical album described above.”

 

  Although not immortal in the same way as Mercury, Jackson has also tried to appear eternally youthful. Gold (1989) and others have argued that Jackson has a Peter Pan image with his facial features and personality refusing to grow older. Discussing age and stardom Fowles (1992:140) argues “the threat of ageing out of one’s persona constantly shadows performers, particularly women and athletes.” We could however use Jackson as an example of the way male stars are increasingly being threatened by the issue of age. Living stars such as Jackson therefore consciously make themselves appear godly and immortal as figure 2 illustrated.

 

 In an effort to regain a youthful image, Jackson has also tried to portray himself as a childlike figure who prefers to communicate with children, rather than adults. Jackson’s style of dress also seems rather childlike, figure 1 shows him wearing a military uniform accompanied with a fedora. One could argue that this reflects the childlike interest in fancy dress, he is almost portraying himself as a kind of toy figure which you can dress outrageously. Furthermore, particularly in the Eighties, Jackson tried to present himself as a role model to the young, for example the ‘Beat It’ (1983) music video contains an anti-violence message.

 

 One could therefore argue that in the Eighties, Jackson stood for family values as he was portrayed as someone who donated to charity and especially helped good causes for children. It could be argued that Jackson was like the Walt Disney of the music industry who was perceived to have an integrity people could trust and rely on. He therefore did not want to appear as a threat in the eyes of his potential audience, or those who influence them, for example their parents. In 1993 however, Jackson was accused of child abuse which was a serious charge for a man who had portrayed himself as a childlike figure. The allegations which Jackson faced therefore put his career in jeopardy. Brown (1996:129) highlights the impact of the allegations:

 

    “Throughout the Eighties and early Nineties, Jackson had given freely and generously to sick and underprivileged children and built up an image of one who treated all children with largesse. So this was an utterly devastating charge.”

 

 When the allegations arose the media therefore finally found something to challenge Michael Jackson’s integrity and the family ideals he stood for. Furthermore, one could argue that at this time the sense of secrecy surrounding Jackson’s image worked to his disadvantage as the public did not know whether to believe the innocence of such a mysterious figure.

 

 After Jackson settled the case with his accuser for an undisclosed sum, he regularly appeared with children in an attempt to reverse what had been used against him. He also continued to give money to children’s charities. However Jackson’s record sales have declined especially in his home country of America. His first album in 1995 after the allegations, ‘History’ (1995) was less successful than his other albums and as a result Jackson did not perform his ‘History World Tour’ in this country.

 

 One could suggest that in a perverse way, the allegations seem to have inspired yet another image for Jackson. Rather than answering his critics with a greater seriousness, Jackson seems to have concentrated on changing his image from a childlike character to a more emotionally mature, rebellious figure. Unlike the innocent love centered lyrics of the Eighties, Jackson's 'History' album (1995) features the occasional swear word and a general disgust and hatred of authority. Furthermore, for the first time, one of Jackson's music videos, 'They Don't Care About Us' (1996) was banned as the songs lyrics possessed controversial anti-Semitic connotations (Grant 1997). By appearing more upfront and aggressive, Jackson’s music also reflected the tone of Gansta’ Rap which was very popular in the Nineties, promoting the image that he was still a contemporary musical figure.  

 Another factor which may have influenced Jackson's emotional progression into the realm of adult life could be his role as a father to two children. Fatherhood for example implies a giving up of childlike qualities and the need to face life with an adult responsibility.

 

 Both Jackson and Mercury have therefore attempted to appear immortal with perhaps Mercury completing this aim through death, much more effectively and less controversially than Jackson.

 

 

2.3 Race

 Freddie Mercury was born on the island of Zanzibar in Africa. His Persian parents originally named him ‘Farookh Bulsara,’ however just before becoming famous he re-christened himself ‘Freddie Mercury.’ Discussing stars who have changed their names Fowles (1992:94) suggests “the most conspicuous tendency is to render names less ethnic, and thereby to situate them in the mainstream of American life.” Mercury may therefore have seen his race as a burden to his success so changed his name to one which sounded more Western. O’Hagan (2000:28) argues:

 

    “In a world where England and America provided the predominant physical role models for the rock and roll look, from Presley onwards, his otherness, ethnic and cultural, must initially have seemed like a burden, and perhaps one he never totally transcended.”

 

 The need to blur racial identity in the music industry is also seen in Jackson. In the 80’s Jackson began to have plastic surgery and his skin became lighter, something he argued was caused by the skin disorder vitiligo. One could compare Jackson to the black film star Lena Horne who had more cross over appeal to a white audience due to her lighter and more Western looking skin colour. One could suggest that Jackson’s appearance has blurred the barriers of age, gender and race giving him a unique image. His white appearance with flawless facial complexion transformed him, either accidentally or purposely, into an individual who defies categorization with regard to race.

 

 Jackson has also defied race in the images he has appeared in. Figure 3 portrays Jackson as an American citizen who is serving under the flag despite his colour, portraying an ambiguous image. Such an image is similar to the French image analyzed by Barthes (in Chandler 2002) (figure 4) which shows a Negro soldier saluting and probably looking up to a French flag, creating an equally ambiguous image.

 

 One could suggest that Jackson’s Western appearance has made him more marketable and fascinating to different audiences around the world. It could be argued that a black man in a position of power for example would threaten some white audiences. However, by blurring his racial identity, Jackson’s acceptability to wider audiences has increased. Such a pressure to appear non-threatening was also expressed by other black stars before Jackson. The singer Little Richard (in White 1984:71) said:

 

    “We decided that my image should be crazy and way-out so that the adults would think I was harmless. I’d appear in one show dressed as the Queen of England and in the next as the Pope.”

 

 Due to the blurring of his racial identity, we could suggest that Jackson has become a mythic figure. Mercer (in Gledhill 1991:301) argues:

 

    “What makes this reconstruction of Jackson’s image more intriguing is the mythology built up around it, in which it is impossible or simply beside the point to distinguish truth from falsehood.”

 

 We cannot tell whether Jackson has had plastic surgery to alter his skin colour for example as we do not know what is fact and fiction with regard to his image. Some have argued that such mystery is created deliberately to generate publicity for Jackson. Discussing the publicity for the Bad album for example Gold (1989:xi) suggests:

 

    “Cynics might argue that the rumours only increased the considerable early sales of Bad, that the tall tales flung at the young man are nothing more than the parts of a complicated ploy to generate publicity during the long, dormant stretch between projects.”

 

 One could therefore suggest that the assumptions made by the media keep Jackson in the public eye, reinforcing his status as a star. We do not know whether Jackson has had plastic surgery on his nose to hide his racial features for example. However, the blurring of truth and reality with regard to Jackson’s appearance means that one is constantly questioning the real from the synthetic. One could therefore argue that Jackson has transformed himself into a cyborg figure. Defining the term cyborg, Haraway (1991:149) suggests “a cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” Jackson’s appearance as a black man is both amazing and shocking and no longer do we know the extent of his constructed identity and the sources from which it came.

 

 The mystery surrounding Jackson has had serious implications with regard to his racial identity. Some argue that due to his extremely light skin colour Jackson has alienated the black community from his music. Jackson seems to be very conscious of this and in his latest music video ‘You Rock My World’ (2001) he reinforces his relationship to his black peers. In this music video he is attracted to a black woman and his best friend is also black, the white people in the video however are gangsters opposing Jackson. Nevertheless, the blurring of truth and reality concerning Jackson’s image has perhaps worked to his disadvantage. One could argue that if you do not know the truth surrounding someone’s appearance you constantly refer to past assumptions which have been made. Such a situation poses a major problem for Jackson’s attempts to reinvent his image.

 

 If we look at Mercury however, perhaps the fact that he appeared to be ‘different’ ironically worked to his advantage. Discussing Mercury and stars in general, O’Hagan (2000:28) continues:

 

    “Of such a deep rooted sense of otherness, though, is the star born. And, because it is an arena which encourages, which celebrates otherness, because it is a place where the outsider can not just find a home, but a huge empathetic audience, the pop life is nearly always a complex, contradictory one.”

 

 Mercury’s early image in the 1970’s reflected the so-called otherness of his background. At this time O’Hagan (2000) reminds us that he wore satin, chiffon and black nail varnish which gave his image an exotic, ethnic appearance. He also wore black eye make-up which Freestone (1998) argues was a reflection of the traditions Mercury experienced when he was young. He suggests:

 

    “Some people might say that this instinctive use of eye make-up was a throwback to his days in both Zanzibar and India where Kohl is used by all women throughout society to accentuate their eyes, the mirror of the soul” p.22.

 

 Jackson has also tried to create a sense of fascinating otherness. In the Eighties, Jackson’s look and style began to combine elements from Western and non-Western traditions adding to his cross over appeal, this resulted in ‘Thriller’ (1982) becoming the biggest selling album of all time. Jackson also went against the image of black stars as non-threatening and adopted a more risqué image, he even grabbed his crotch when dancing. Furthermore, ‘Beat It’ (1983) a song from the ‘Thriller’ (1982) album had a rock slant usually associated with white artists, as a result it became the first black music video to be played on MTV. Nevertheless, Jackson wore extravagant clothes and sang and danced which resembled the variety style of entertainment of the stars on his previously all black record label, Motown. One could argue that Jackson’s success resembles a long tradition of black artists who have blurred black and white traditions to reap success. Jackson’s image resembles that of Jimi Hendrix who was a black rock star in a predominantly white genre. Stockdale (1995:12) argues:

 

    “Britain had not witnessed a black rock musician before, especially one who played with such flamboyant virtuosity, and the choice of two white Britains behind him made a statement before the band had even played a note.”

 

 One could argue that such a flamboyant masculinity in the predominantly white genre of rock meant that Hendrix was seen as challenging racial identities in the same way as Jackson. However, there is a feeling that Jackson has left his racial identity behind as expressed by his appearance and his music, the same is true of Mercury. If we look at Mercury for example he begins to look less ethnic as his career progresses. Instead of the long hair and ethnic bangles which he wore in his early photographs (figure 5), his image became more Western with short hair and moustache (figure 7).

 

 

2.4 Sexuality

 

 Jackson’s sexuality remains a mysterious due to his appearance. His facial complexion is clean-shaven with heavy make-up, he therefore appears rather feminine. He appears to be of no gender as he does not fit the masculine appearance of a traditional male who perhaps has signs of facial hair and definitive lines on his face.

 

 Like Jackson and white music stars such as David Bowie and Annie Lennox, Mercury’s image has been equally ambiguous. In the Seventies for example Mercury chose the name Queen as his bands name, a word used by some homosexuals to describe themselves. St.Michael (1996) therefore argues that such a name was deemed to be quite risqué for the times. Furthermore, at the start of the Eighties, Mercury’s image reflected the stereotype of a homosexual, Dean (1991:110) explains “by the Eighties he’d adopted the traditional uniform of the macho male gay stereotype - cropped hair, bushy moustache, bodybuilders physique and tight jeans and tee shirt.”

 

 At the beginning of Mercury’s career on the other hand, his image was rather feminine with long hair and nail varnish (figure 5). In the Eighties however Mercury was reasserting his masculinity and had become almost overly masculine when compared to most men in society. One could argue that as Mercury had not admitted he was homosexual, the public may have seen the adoption of the homosexual stereotype as just a temporary image change. However those who were homosexual may have realised his sexuality. St.Michael (1996:73) explains:

 

    “To many fans (and those less well disposed toward him), Freddie’s fishnet tights - style of on stage camp was just another typical pop gimmick; his trademark. But to London’s gay community, well into its dance music stride, Freddie represented something else. They knew.”

 

 Some have even argued that Mercury used his music videos as a way of subtly ‘coming out’ or admitting his sexuality. One such music video was ‘I Want To Break Free’ (1984) in which Mercury dresses as a woman but keeps his moustache. Here we can see how he blurred the gender boundaries of masculine and feminine and heterosexual and homosexual. In the same way as film stars Rock Hudson and Dirk Bogarde, Mercury never admitted his homosexuality. Maybe he wanted to portray himself as a sex symbol to his female fans like Hudson and Bogarde once did. By appearing overly masculine with moustache and muscular physique, Mercury emphasised his masculinity so not to alienate his female fans. He therefore did not promote a greater awareness of homosexuality but instead kept a mystique about his image to attract a mass audience.

 

 One could argue that Mercury’s stereotypical homosexual image was just a cleverly planned persona adopted to generate media and public debate. Mercury (in Dean 1986:73) once said himself that “people can think what they like about my bi-sexual stage image. That’s what I want them to do. I want to keep the mystique.” One could argue that by encouraging debate about his sexuality via controversy, this helped Mercury stay in the public eye, generating greater profit for himself through more record and memorabilia sales.

 

 Jackson has also used his music videos to make statements about his sexuality. Nevertheless like Mercury, these statements have been very ambiguous as seen by the ‘Thriller’ (1983) music video. In this video he tells his girlfriend “I’m not like other guys” a line which could be a statement in relation to his image. Mercer (in Gledhill 1991:310) suggests:

 

    “Thus, the warning ‘I’m not like other guys’ can be read by the audience as a reference to Jackson’s sexuality. Inasmuch as the video audience is conscious of the gossip which circulates around the star, the statement of difference provokes other meanings: is he homosexual, transsexual or somehow presexual.”

 

 Jackson has also promoted an image of ambiguous and unconventional masculinity in his later music videos. The music video ‘In The Closet’ (1992) features Jackson erotically dancing with supermodel Naomi Campbell. One could argue that this video forcefully reinforces an image of heterosexuality and was an attempt to deny rumors that he was homosexual due to his feminine appearance and soft-spoken voice. However the saying ‘in the closet’ is a reference to a homosexual who hides his sexuality, this means homosexuals are kept wondering about Jackson’s sexuality therefore not alienating them from the star. In this music video Jackson appears masculine and grabs his crotch while dancing but his features look rather feminine. The ‘In The Closet’ (1992) video is therefore an important example which shows Jackson’s contradictory masculinity and how he has blurred the boundaries of gender appealing to both heterosexual and homosexual audiences.

 

 One could argue that Jackson image is therefore rather threatening and challenging to conventional views of masculinity. Discussing the ‘Thriller’ (1982) album cover in which Jackson is pictured with a tiger on his knee, Mercer (in Gledhill 1991:311) argues:

 

    “This plays on the star’s ‘man-child’ image and suggests a domesticated animality, hinting at the menace beneath the cute and cuddly surface. Jackson’s sexual ambiguity makes a mockery out of the menagerie of received images of masculinity.”

 

 One could argue that such a sense of threatening menace in Jackson’s masculinity fuels the scandal surrounding his relationship with children. Mulholland (2001) of the Guardian newspaper for example, discusses the preview party of Jackson’s recently released album and writes:

 

    “It is certainly not a desperate attempt to stimulate a buzz on an artist about whom no one except the morbidly voyeuristic and the clinically insane can think of any more without hugging their kids and feeling slightly nauseous.”

 

 Jackson’s ambiguous masculinity has partly been his downfall as it has been promoted by the press as threatening and controversial especially with regard to his private life.

 

 We could apply the work of Butler (in Gauntlett 1998) to the image of Jackson and Mercury. Butler (in Gauntlett 1998) argues that gender is a performance and an expression of our identity at certain times. Describing her arguments in relation to gender, Young (1998) states:

 

     “As opposed to the fixed masculine/feminine gender binary, Butler argued that gender should be seen as fluid, variable; the way we behave at different times and in different situations rather than who we are.”

 

 By looking at Jackson and Mercury therefore, we can see how their image of gender is not fixed, rather is a constantly changing phenomena. If we look at Mercury for example we can see that at the start of his career he presented himself as a rather feminine figure (figure 5). In figure 5 he has adopted a feminine pose and is pouting at the viewer. He is therefore presenting himself as a passive figure and the object of our gaze. The long hair, black nail varnish and bangles also reinforce this feminine image. The white clothes Mercury is wearing also presents him as a godly figure. His long hair however is associated with rebelliousness, it is also black like the background, illustrating the binary opposition of good and evil. Mercury’s image is therefore promoting many contradictory images and we are not sure what role he is presenting to us.

 

 If we look at Mercury on stage we can clearly see how he is performing different roles. Figure 6 shows him dressed as a woman which portrays a feminine image. However, if we look closely we can see Mercury’s moustache which presents him as almost overly masculine, showing the uncertain nature of the roles he is portraying.

 

 In other performances however, Mercury has portrayed a much more active/macho image. Figure 7 shows him in jeans and sports vest emblazoned with the words ‘Gold’s Gym.’ He appears heterosexual but his macho image resembles the gay butch clone which some homosexuals may relate to. Discussing this stereotype Holmlund (1993:219) argues “like the femme, moreover, he demonstrates that dressing up, putting on, and stepping out can be fun.” The gay butch clone therefore provided another way for Mercury to dress up and present himself to an audience. Jackson and Mercury in particular therefore show how male stars constantly change the façade of masculinity they portray.

 

 

Part 3

 

3.1 Fan Material

 

 After looking at the academic interpretations of Jackson and Mercury we must now look at the feelings of the actual audience who consume the stars. To do this I am bringing my research into the contemporary debate by using the new medium of the Internet as a research tool. I decided to use this medium due to its time saving advantages. Using the Internet meant I could find fans feelings about Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury instantly after a few clicks of a computer mouse. I looked at two message boards, one on the Michael Jackson fan site www.mjfanclub.net and one on the Queen site www.queenzone.com. While doing this, I transcribed some of the personal messages dedicated to the two stars. In this part of my dissertation I will refer to some of these messages, in an effort to examine what they tell us about the artists and society in general.

 

 I discovered that many of the messages dedicated to the two stars had religious connotations. To introduce this argument we could look at those messages dedicated to Mercury and his embodiment of immortality.

 

“Thanks for your talent. No-one lives forever…but you do.”

(Gene - Illinois, USA On www.queenzone.com).

 

 Due to his early death we will never imagine Mercury as an old man and he will always retain the same youthful image. He is therefore immortal in the same way as Gods are said to be. Such a situation promotes strong religious connotations. Many of the messages for example refer to Mercury in particular as a godly/angelic figure.

 

“Freddie, you are the best of all. Your voice sounds like God’s breathe on my ears. I know that all of us miss you, but ‘someday, one day,’ we will find you in heaven, because we find you in our hearts.”

(Leonardo de Souza Miers - Brazil On www.queenzone.com).

 

 The connotations that stars have with religion are so strong that some fans see knowing them as spiritually enhancing.

 

“I can only think that the world is a poorer place and we all would be better off knowing someone like Freddie.”

(Sam - Perth, Western Australia On www.queenzone.com).

 

 Such a situation resembles the way some see knowing God as providing greater fulfillment in life. The fans seem to feel a sense of fulfillment through engaging with the stars music which helps to enhance the strong bond and closeness shared between star and fan.

 

“I feel an amazing power fill my whole being when I listen to your music or look at your face, and if I close my eyes its like you are here with me, knowing and understanding the way I feel.”

(Jodi Smith - Burleigh, Australia On www.mjfanclub.net).

 

 One could argue that as your admiration for a star grows your views and feelings on them become more out of touch with those shared by the majority in society. Jackson’s and Mercury’s fans for example seem to admire everything about the stars, both their public and private image. One reason for this great admiration for music stars in particular, could be linked to the medium via which they communicate. One could argue that songs seem to speak to fans individually which creates a false sense of closeness. Sometimes this closeness can promote sexual feelings which shows the true extent and seriousness of the star and fan relationship.

 

“Your voice gives me goose bumps and it tickles my insides. Your dancing is the best and you are a very gorgeous person.”

(Stephanie Wiggins - Geraldton, Ontario, Canada On www.mjfanclub.net ).

 

  In the messages a great need is expressed by the fans to get closer to the stars whether in reality or in the afterlife.

 

“I would love to meet you. Please, write me back, Michael. I would cry my eyes out if I were to meet you or even receive a phone call or an email from you.”

(Samantha - Lenoir City, USA On www.mjfanclub.net).

 

 Such an urge to get closer to stars, reminds us of how the fans constantly want to consume their lives. The public appearances the stars make never seem to be enough to satisfy the fans who constantly crave intimate private moments with them as well.

 

 Despite never knowing the stars many of the messages revolve around the way their music has uplifted the fans, illustrating the constantly emerging sense of fulfillment and enjoyment which fans reap from their idols.

 

“I thought I was alone in my feelings towards Freddie. ‘The Show Must Go On’ got me thru 6 months of chemotherapy 2 years ago. ‘My Life Has Been Saved’ by Freddie and the band.”

(prm19@mail.idt.net - Chicago, USA On www.queenzone.com).

 

 The above message also uses two of Queen’s song titles to transfer its meaning which again has religious connotations. One could argue that it resembles the way religious figures quote passages from a holy book to reinforce their arguments. The unfailing loyalty expressed towards stars also mirrors the devotion of religious followers who may support their religious idols despite the fact that some may be criticizing them. Such blind devotion is rather worrying and shows the level of support stars command over their fans. Jackson’s fans for example have continued to support him, regardless of whether he has had plastic surgery or whether there is any truth in the child abuse allegations.

 

“Michael Jackson is the coolest person I’ve ever known and I don’t care what he does he will always be my hero.”

(Krystal - Grandchute, USA On www.mjfanclub.net).

 

  We could therefore use the messages to illustrate the way stars are increasingly becoming more important, powerful and godly with their images and work epitomizing the same enhancing and fulfilling qualities to an audience as a religious text. 

 

 

Methods

 

 Throughout this dissertation I did not produce primary data through my own research which would have been very time consuming. Instead, I used the Internet as a secondary resource to provide me with fan material that already existed. I therefore looked at how the actual fans or consumers, related to the stars masculinity rather than just analysing the academic discourse. I therefore provided a more balanced insight in an effort to fulfil my aim and objectives. I chose to use the Internet as a research tool as it provided me with an instant source of fan opinions which I could transcribe. It was therefore less time consuming than writing off to a magazine for replies and waiting for responses. My research conducted via the Internet consisted of a relatively small section of my dissertation as it was just an attempt to illustrate the arguments made in the academic texts about fans.

 

 My Internet research however can be questioned in its reliability. One could argue that the messages dedicated to the two stars may have been over exaggerated. In the fan community for example there seems to be a social hierarchy where fans seem to be competing over who is the greatest or ‘number one’ fan. Fans may therefore have over exaggerated their feelings so they appear to be the most loyal and dedicated to a particular star.

 

 We could also question whether the fans who wrote these messages really believe them. One wonders for example if some fans really believe that the stars are angels or that they helped them overcome their illnesses. We could argue that such messages are productions of the overall fantasy involved and associated with the fan and audience relationship.

 

 Furthermore, one could also question whether those who signed the message boards dedicated to Mercury and Jackson were really fans of the artists. Some of these individuals may have adopted the identity of a fan and may have over emphasised the connotations of fan devotion as a joke. Communicating using the Internet means that you cannot see people and do not know whether they are serious in their replies. This is one of the disadvantages of the Internet in relation to research, however I would have also encountered this disadvantage through letter correspondence. 

 

 Completing this dissertation has inspired me with various ideas for further study. If I was to research this topic again, in greater detail, I may have explored primary research. I could interview hotel staff in an attempt to see what efforts fans would take to avoid hotel security and meet their idols. It would also be interesting to speak to those selling star memorabilia in an effort to see the demand and discover what obscure products are made to meet the fans needs. Furthermore I could interview a psychologist about the fan and star relationship to provide a comparison with the social sciences discourse.

 

 

Conclusions

 By analyzing Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury, I have discovered that male stars inspire quasi-religious devotion in the music industry and I was personally amazed by the religious connotations which were apparent. The two stars I examined, both used visual technology via the music video and performance to promote their godly images. By looking at such visual stars, I have also revealed the importance male stars place on changing their image of masculinity, to both change with the times and resist categorization with regard to traditional masculine identity. The photographs I have analysed also show how stars use images to identify with audiences to sell their products. Visual changes are therefore important to stars and occur to arose audience interest, they also reflect the constant need to be visually pleasing or immortal in an industry dominated by youth.

 

 If a star has an ambiguous image it also means an audience can interpret it in their own way. Both Jackson and Mercury have unconventional masculinities which seem perverse in mainstream culture. The stars invite the audiences into a process of interpreting their images and the different sources from which they came. One could also argue that God and other religious figures also have many meanings and interpretations which their followers must decipher in a similar way.

 

 By defying categorization with regard to masculinity, race and age, Jackson and Mercury have therefore become almost non-human. Such images and the varied assumptions surrounding them have transformed the two stars into mythic figures, in which it is impossible to decipher truth from reality. Both Jackson and Mercury have disguised and cloaked their identity with that of a stars. In doing this, they have projected various images of masculinity and personas which have kept them in the public eye. Due to the mythic nature of stars and the way they constantly change their image, we could link them to the ancient Greek Gods, Evans and Wilson (1999:4) argue “like the stars of today the early gods and goddesses sometimes resorted to disguises.”

 

 One could therefore link fan devotion to religious devotion but perhaps there is a distinct difference from traditional religion as we understand it in our society. Evans and Wilson (1999) suggest that there is a return to the godly hierarchy expressed in the ancient Greek times. However, we could even go further by suggesting that admiring stars is a new kind of religion. In the same way as traditional religion one could argue that stars provide an idealized outside figure who comforts people. Nevertheless there is something distinctly different from traditional religion. One could suggest that stars provide comfort without rules or feelings of guilt if these are broken. All stars require from an audience is there support.

 

 In my rationale I argued that stars can tell us a lot about our culture. One could therefore argue that although audiences are aware that stars are created and marketed, they still identify with them, despite their larger than life and godly status. Through my examination of masculinity and the notion of stardom, I have learnt how two male stars in particular have embraced the media to promote their larger than life images. Looking at two artists with such a strong link to the media helps us explain the implications of stardom today. People’s admiration of media figures could illustrate an avoidance of human contact and an urge to substitute actual physical relationships. One could argue that such a situation mirrors the rise of the Internet, where synthetic experiences and relationships are replacing real one’s. We could therefore suggest that traditionally family members, friends or religious figures were role models. However, one could argue that with the rise of the media, it is media figures that we are paying more attention to and interacting with, so it is stars who we are looking up to. If we were to assess the wider implications of this, my research is therefore extremely useful, particularly in explaining why some believe that traditional religion is declining in society.

 

Word count = 11,539.

 

Footnotes

1.  Although referring to a supermarket magazine may seem a comic example, it does help illustrate the everyday fascination with stars today. It also highlights the strong link stars have with consumption as their lives are being consumed in the same area as food products and other commodities.

2. Describing Helen Adams at this book signing The Daily Express (2001:15) stated:

 

    “To think that three months ago Helen Adams was just an ordinary hairdresser. Just look at her now, though - every smile, every wave, every glittering inch the super-celeb she became on Big Brother.”

 

Such a statement illustrates to the public how easily people can become stars.

 

3. The connotations with Elvis and religion are also seen in literature. Jacobs (1994) wrote a book called ‘The Two Kings. Jesus - Elvis’ which compares extracts of the Bible with parts of Elvis’ life. One such comparison reads “if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink” (John 7:37) which is compared with Elvis’ words “the drinks are on me” from the film ‘Jailhouse Rock’ (1957).

 

 

Bibliography

 

Academic Texts:

Chandler D (2002) Semiotics For Beginners On www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem06.html

Dunleavy P (1986) Studying For A Degree In The Humanities And Social Sciences Macmillan.

Dyer R (1986) Heavenly Bodies. Film Stars And Society Macmillan.

Dyer R (1998) Stars. New Edition BFI Publishing.

Evans A & Wilson G D (1999) Fame The Psychology Of Stardom Vision.

Fowles J (1992) Star Struck. Celebrity Performers And The American Public Smithsonian Institution Press.

Gauntlett D (1998) Judith Butler On www.theory.org.uk.

Gledhill C (1991) Stardom. Industry Of Desire Routledge.

Holmlund C (1993) Masculinity As Multiple Masquerade In Cohen S & Hark R (eds) Screening The Male: Exploring Masculinities In Hollywood Cinema Routledge.

Mercer K (1991) Monster Metaphors: Notes On Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ In Gledhill C (ed) Stardom. Industry Of Desire Routledge.

Negus K (1992) Producing Pop. Culture And Conflict In The Popular Music Industry Edward Arnold.

Richards J, Wilson S & Woodhead L (1999) Diana. The Making Of A Media Saint I.B.Tauris: London, New York.

Schickel R (1985) Common Fame. The Culture Of Celebrity Pavilion Michael Joseph.

Young S (1998) Judith Butler Essay On www.theory.org.uk

 

Media Texts:

Brown G (1997) Michael Jackson Facts From The Dancefloor UFO Music Ltd.

Brown G (1996) The Complete Guide To The Music Of Michael Jackson And The Jackson Family Omnibus Press.

Dean K (1986) Queen. A Visual Documentary Omnibus Press.

Dean K (1991) Queen. The New Visual Documentary Omnibus Press.

Dudman G (1995) Crazy Elvis Cult Gets The Faithful All Shook Up At The Presleyterian Church The People, June 18, 1995, pp.16-17.

Freestone P & Evans D (1998) Freddie Mercury Omnibus Press.

Gold T (1989) Michael Jackson. The Man In The Mirror Sidgwick And Jackson: London.

Grant A (1997) Michael Jackson The Visual Documentary. New Updated Edition Omnibus Press.

Grant J (2001) Madame Tussaud’s London. Souvenir Guide Quantock.

Hemming S (2002) Art The Daily Express, February 1, 2002, pp.51.

Hogan P K (1994) The Complete Guide To The Music Of Queen Omnibus Press.

Hutton J & Wapshott T (1994) Mercury And Me Bloomsbury.

Jacobs A J (1994) The Two Kings. Jesus - Elvis Pavilion Books.

Morton A (2001) Star Gazer Asda Magazine, June, 2001, pp.105.

Mulholland G (2001) Beat It, Michael The Guardian, October 18, 2001 On www.guardian.co.uk

O’Hagan S (2000) Freddie Mercury In Freddie Mercury The Solo Collection Box Set Pozzoli S.p.a.

Sinclair D (1995) Optimistic - Sometimes Sickly, Sometimes Dark: Queen From Beyond The Grave Q Magazine, December 1995 On www.geocities.com/Area51/Dungeon/5490/articles/mihreview/.html

St Michael M (1996) Queen Carlton.

Stockdale T (1995) They Died Too Young. Jimi Hendrix Parragon.

White C (1984) The Life And Times Of Little Richard Pan Books: London And Sydney.

 

 

Figures

FIGURE 1 (above) (in Brown 1997:53).

FIGURE 2 (above) (in Brown 1997:67).

FIGURE 3 (above) (in Grant 1997:135)

FIGURE 4 (above) (in Chandler 2002).

 

FIGURE 5 (above) (in Dean 1986:14).

FIGURE 6 (above) (in Dean 1986:73).

 

FIGURE 7 (above) (in Dean 1986:76).

 

 

MY FINAL MARK WAS 68%

MY TUTOR'S COMMENTS WERE:

"This is a thoughtful and carefully argued study of celebrity both as a quasi-religious focus in contemporary society and a source of contested ideals around masculinity, sexuality and race. You frame and evaluate the conditions that produce stardom and the media that disseminate it.

 However, at times your writing is a little awkward and repetitive. The choice of stars: figures who are mainstream and yet produce a profusion of multiple (and perverse) performances of masculinity is excellent and could have been developed further."

 

Michael Jackson & Freddie Mercury comparisons.

Rare Queen videos.

Rare Freddie Mercury photos.

Michael Jackson & Freddie Mercury dissertation.

Watch a rare Queen video.

Tribute to Freddie Mercury 2001.

Queen book reviews.

Queen zone essay.

Rare David Bowie videos.

Rare Boy George videos.

Links.

Home.

 

 

 

Nicholas Danton 2010:

 

Put Your Website Link On My Adboard For Free And It Will Appear Here For Life