Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury: An
Examination of Masculinity and Stardom in
Dissertation submitted in part fulfillment of the
Programme BA Media and Society.
of Humanities, University of Greenwich. May 2002.
Contents. (click on titles to go straight to chapters)
Part 1 (click on titles to go straight to chapters)
1.2 What Is A Star?
3.1 Fan Material
aim of this dissertation is to examine masculinity and stardom in contemporary
society with particular reference to Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury.
To examine how people relate to stars.
To examine why people are interested in stars.
To examine what people's interest in stars tells us about our culture and our
relationships to other people.
To examine the relationship between audience and stardom and the connotations
of, and connections with,
To examine how stars reflect social and cultural trends in society.
To examine the way stars identities are technologically mediated.
To examine the multiple identities of mainstream stars.
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.
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
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.
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
“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).
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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
What Is A Star?
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.
(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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
(in Dyer 1998:16) the famous studio boss once commented “God makes the
stars. It’s up to the producers to find them.”
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
(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’
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.
(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.”
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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)
“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.”
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.
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.
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
it can jeopardize the image the star has worked so hard to create, and which
is the essence of his or her working life.”
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.
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
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.
(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.
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
“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”
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
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).
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
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.”
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
“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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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
ambiguous masculinity has partly been his downfall as it has been promoted by
the press as threatening and controversial especially with regard to his
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
for your talent. No-one lives forever…but you do.”
- Illinois, USA On www.queenzone.com).
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.
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.”
de Souza Miers - Brazil On www.queenzone.com).
connotations that stars have with religion are so strong that some fans see
knowing them as spiritually enhancing.
can only think that the world is a poorer place and we all would be better off
knowing someone like Freddie.”
- Perth, Western Australia On www.queenzone.com).
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.
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.”
Smith - Burleigh, Australia On www.mjfanclub.net).
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.
voice gives me goose bumps and it tickles my insides. Your dancing is the best
and you are a very gorgeous person.”
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.
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
- Lenoir City, USA On www.mjfanclub.net).
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.
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.
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.”
- 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.
Jackson is the coolest person I’ve ever known and I don’t care what he
does he will always be my hero.”
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
count = 11,539.
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.
Helen Adams at this book signing
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.”
a statement illustrates to the public how easily people can become stars.
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).
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(above) (in Brown 1997:53).
(above) (in Brown 1997:67).
(above) (in Chandler 2002).
(above) (in Dean 1986:14).
(above) (in Dean 1986:73).
|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."
Nicholas Danton 2010: