The Media and Angelina Jolie

Last Tuesday, Angelina Jolie revealed in a NY Times op-ed that after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene, she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. As a woman whose career is based on the commodification of her body, Jolie has done more for the stigmatization surrounding breast cancer, gene testing, and reconstructive surgery with just one statement:

“On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

As someone who lives off of celebrity news, I didn’t know about Jolie’s mastectomy until Wednesday afternoon. A full 24 hours had passed by the time I got around to reading the op-ed and the discussions about the impact of Jolie’s revelation. The People and Time magazine covers (pictured below) were already in place for the next week.


I did something unusual after seeing these two magazines in the drugstore. I purchased them. There is something monumentally impactful and fascinating about these magazines. Side-by-side, the differences between how these two publications address this story are astounding. It is soft news vs. hard news; feminized media vs. de-feminized media. Moreover, we see the remarkable nature of Angelina Jolie’s star image. She easily toes the line between all types of media. Continue reading “The Media and Angelina Jolie”

Reese Witherspoon’s Post-Oscars Blues

Et tu, Witherspoon? Photo: Film School Rejects
Et tu, Witherspoon? Photo: Film School Rejects

In case you missed it, Reese Witherspoon and her husband Jim Toth were arrested on Friday April 19. This is one of the biggest, juiciest gossip stories to happen in a long time. According to police reports, as Toth was being arrested for a DUI, Witherspoon got out of the car and said to the police officer: “Do you know my name?” When the officer said that did not matter, Witherspoon responded: “You’re about to find out who I am.”

Oh my Reese. That is not how one of America’s sweethearts behaves. Continue reading “Reese Witherspoon’s Post-Oscars Blues”

The New Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow revealed her miscarriage. But for what purpose and to what affect?

One story caught my attention this past week in the land of celebrity gossip. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she suffered a miscarriage during her third pregnancy. “I had a really bad experience when I was pregnant with my third. It didn’t work out and I nearly died.” She goes on to describe the void she feels in her life because of the absence of a third child.

I was instantly struck by the frankness of Paltrow’s revelation. A miscarriage is a profoundly sad event for anyone to experience and it is a profoundly personal event for a celebrity to share. Although about 1/4 of all pregnancies result in a miscarriage, few celebrities are forthcoming about having had a miscarriage. This fact alone makes Paltrow’s revelation noteworthy; her candor will certainly help other women dealing with their own grief.

But we should immediately question why a celebrity shares revealing personal information. Celebrities might lead public lives and want us to respect their privacy but they also depend on us – the fans and consumers – to buy their products. Thus when a celebrity is promoting their latest movie, album, book, or product, privacy becomes a relative term. So why did Gwyneth Paltrow choose to discuss this personal experience that happened several years ago? The (somewhat cynical) answer is that Paltrow is currently promoting her latest cookbook, It’s All Good and she is attempting to rebrand her public image. Continue reading “The New Gwyneth Paltrow”

The Tiger Woods Road to Redemption

As someone who cannot watch golf without changing the channel, I frankly stopped caring about the Tiger Woods scandal a few days after it happened. I was neither disgusted by his behavior nor worried about the future of his career. And I certainly did not (do not) care about the state of his personal life.

Yes I watched Tiger Woods’ press conference on March 17. But I did not see him simply as an athlete seeking redemption. I saw a man with a carefully constructed public image who was desperately trying to keep his image in tact. (Whether or not this has worked is an entirely different issue.)

This fact is once again clear to me after watching the first post-scandal Nike advertisement featuring Woods. Here it is:

The voice you are hearing is Earl Woods, Tiger’s late father who passed away in 2006. “Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive,” he says. “To promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?” I don’t know when this voiceover is from but it is incredibly ominous and freaky.

Yet this strikes me as a genius ad campaign. Tiger and his managers are not shying away from addressing Tiger’s mistakes. But they are also not afraid to spin his mistakes by indicating that Woods’ personal problems are the result of his father’s death.

What do you think? Twisted? Brilliant? Sound off below.

Life After Death: How Celebrities Linger On In Public Memory

When artists, musicians, actors and celebrities die, they leave behind something that has been imprinted in our memory: an image, a song, a film, a book, a sensation. Yet what fascinates me is how the death of a celebrity, when it is most unexpected, becomes the center of our universe. Take Michael Jackson’s death, for instance-here a ruined musician who went from being completely loathed by society in life to becoming a beloved icon adored by all in death. Let’s be honest-the reaction to and coverage of Michael Jackson’s death was one of the most sickening occurrences of this decade. Never before had we seen the power and frightening reality of the media-obsessed culture we currently live in.

But what happens to a musician, who was largely unheard of in the United States, who died under bizarre and horrifically tragic circumstances, and who was just beginning her career? How will she remembered by the media?

Taylor Mitchell was a Canadian folk singer who I bet practically no one on this campus had heard of until her death. I didn’t either until I read a headline that I believed was a joke: “Taylor Mitchell, singer, killed by coyotes.” Mitchell was hiking in a Canadian national park when she was attacked and killed on Oct. 27. Had Mitchell just been an average person, her death surely would have been reported on; it is only the second human-killed by coyote case in North America.

Taylor Mitchell

Her death is most striking because Mitchell was only 19. Now her life, and brief career, will have a new, far more significant meaning. She will, undoubtedly, in death have a greater influence than she ever did in life.

Like most people, I sought out her music on her MySpace page. What I found were seven promising tracks of a singer, who had she had been given the time, certainly would have made a mark in the US. Songs such as “Don’t Know how I got here,” “For Your Consideration” and “Fun While It Lasted” not only speak her talent but, when heard in the context of her death, they have a chilling and eerie foreshadowing effect.

What has occurred following her death are remembrance posts on MySpace, tribute videos on YouTube, trending topics on Twitter, memorial groups on Facebook-which are all very banal and very impersonal. They focus on the way she died, not necessarily on her life. Even more disturbing is how these tribute videos, for instance, often include images of coyotes spliced together with images of Mitchell. We, as a collective society, trivialize celebrity deaths for the sake of entertainment. Should we expect anything less when we are given so many outlets to make light of the phenomenon of celebrity?

How we address the deaths of celebrities shows how we are unable to deal with the reality of death, something that is so final and conclusive. We can easily trivialize the death of someone like Michael Jackson because we know too much about his life. But what happens to someone like Mitchell and her legacy-of what little there is-is a clinging to the idea that there is life, through memory and in her case music, after death. Taylor Mitchell’s life will most likely be that of something similar to James Dean. She is someone who did so little in life, but left us with just enough to immortalize her in a way that assures us of the longevity of being.

Published: Mount Holyoke News
November 5, 2009
Reprinted with permission