Celebrity, according to Graham Turner (2004), refers to ‘a genre of representation and a discursive effect; it is a commodity traded by promotions, publicity and media industries that produce these representations and their effects and it is a cultural formation that has a social function.’ Film stars, media professionals and famous political figures who appear in advertisements and television news are perceived to carry the connotations which the media industries would like to reveal to the public for the sake of profit. The stars are the embodiment of social category (Dyer, 2004). Therefore, the representation of celebrity corresponds to the normative values and standards in society.
The hegemonic ideological formation of the prevalence of male over female has made news coverage of celebrities as gendered social construction. For instance, the portrayal of pop singers Lady Gaga and Rihanna as objects of desire with their highly sexualized choices of clothing, also along with their lyrics in songs yearning for love from the opposite sex. They reinforce the message that women are living under male gaze. However, rather than pop stars in popular culture, the political female leaders, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, are represented as the violation of the traditional values. Hillary Clinton has been represented as a gender outlaw, ambitious bitch and wronged wife. Unlike the pop stars mentioned above living arguably in the male image, Hillary by contrast can be viewed as a figurehead for female independence and power with her role on the global political stage. However, the media representation of Hillary has somewhat reinforced the traditional gender imbalance by criticising her anti-traditional femininity.
Social Perceptions of Women
Women’s position in society has been historically and culturally perceived to be subordinate to men. As Ann Oakley (1974) pointed out in her book Housewife that women are regarded to have the identity of a housewife, a woman is a housewife and they are oppressed by and subjected to the will of the dominant group in society. Apart from this, she also expressed the view that reflects the discrimination against the female, ‘Men are people: women are women. Men have careers, women look after the house and children (and men). (1974: 82)’ Women are traditionally regarded to have the social position of housewife who support their husbands’ career, or they can only have access to a rather limited number of social positions in the workplace compared to men. However, in the case of Hillary Clinton, she has successfully subverted this traditionally granted social position of women by intervening her husband’s presidency and rising to a position of power as a woman in her own right. She offers an alternative vision for women. A vision of female power and independence as women compete with men for jobs traditionally occupied only by men. Clinton has successfully broken through the normative social regulations set upon her as a woman through her attempt to build up a positive image for women and impose her feminism in American society, whereas, media representations of Hillary tend to criticise her strong power as a woman in society and wife in family. In advertisements and news reports, Hillary is always represented as manipulative and ‘bitchy’. This media representation of a political celebrity like Clinton as gender outlaw could indicate the connotations of a stressful and problematic social category of gender.
Media Representation of Celebrities and Otherness
The images chosen by advertisements and news reports depict Hillary Clinton as robotic, or not quite human, some even suggest a monstrous quality, and, she is depicted as a gender outlaw. Ritchie claimed that, ‘images were chosen specifically for their construction of the image of Clinton as a hybrid creature that collapses distinctions between male and female, or between human and machine, or both—and the destructive potential suggested by this hybridity. These images point both to the anxiety produced by Clinton herself and to wider concerns about the category destabilisation caused by women in the political realm.’ (2013:109). This gender anxiety caused by the media representation of Hillary Clinton intensifies the difficulties for women as they attempt to enter positions of power in the public arena. Hillary is depicted as a monster at the crossing boundary of male and female. Men feel frightened by this powerful woman, and, due to the media representation, some women view Hillary as anti-traditional (although others consider her a role model). The hidden message is that this kind of strong and powerful woman is not acceptable to the mainstream culture in which men’s superiority prevails.
The media representation of Hillary Clinton as a different creature has not only strengthened the normative gender inequality, but also described women as ‘the other’ in society. Feminist Ritchie also proposed the idea of ‘Otherness’ of political women pictured as monsters (2013:103). Besides, media representations are considered responsible for producing and privileging the meanings associated with feminist politics today, yet some media still constructs women as Other to politics, to finance, to the corporate world, and so on. As a political celebrity Hillary Clinton is sometimes represented as monster and cyborg. Such media messages place women in an othered position and as inferior to male dominance by portraying her as not accepted. This representation has in return reflected the social and cultural construction of female as disempowered and vulnerable. The influence of historically and culturally shaped mainstream value of male prevailing female cannot be neglected.
In being a powerful political woman, Hillary exposes both the performative nature of being masculine and the way that it is regulated and denaturalised by discourses of normative gendered social and cultural values. The media representation of Hillary reflects the binary and opposition of the social positions of male and female.
- Dyer. R. (2004) ‘Introduction’, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, pp. 1-16, London: Routledge
- Oakley. A. (1974) Housewife, London: Allen Lane
- Ritchie. J. (2013) ‘Creating a Monster’, Feminist Media Studies, 13(1): 102-119
- Turner. G. (2004) Understanding Celebrity, London: SAGE