Here is one of my essays from my third year of University, that I wanted to share. It is an analysis of celebrity culture within the British reality television shows, The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea. I achieved a grade of 60, which is a 2.1. It’s good but I really wanted to score a higher mark. The reason I didn’t, my marker stated, was that I didn’t follow the right topic and structure that he wanted from the essay. He said that if I had, this essay would of been scored with a much higher grade. Never mind, hope you enjoy anyway. Any feedback would be great so feel free to leave comments below.
A critical analysis of celebrity culture within British reality television
I aim to analyse celebrity culture within British reality television shows. The two shows I will focus on will be The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea. These programmes are of a similar style in regards to reality television and, most importantly, portray a high level of celebrity culture.
‘The appeal of reality television for many viewers is that they get to watch people in what seems like a more natural setting than a show with actors and written scripts. (Hetsroni, p. 9, 2011)
The shows depict lifestyles of individuals that audiences can relate to but also aspire to have. I will explore the different aspects within these shows that make up this perception of celebrity culture. By looking at individual characters within the show I will demonstrate how stars are becoming their own brand in themselves.
I shall also analyse social media sites in relation to these shows and look at how these too help to portray a larger sense of celebrity culture. To finish, I will delve further into debates on whether celebrity culture has a positive or negative influence on society.
Our fascination with celebrities in society has lead to the increasing consumption of reality television. Without such a fixation, reality television would most definitely be out of the equation. Reality television began with such shows as America’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians (2007) and The Osbornes (2002) which followed the stars everyday lives. The programmes I am analysing use relatable characters to the audiences. This is a clever platform to firstly have the audience engage with the shows. It then shifts their views on such individuals and they begin to look up to them and admire them as celebrities. This demonstrates that celebrity culture is a key formula used to create such reality shows. Alternatively, I would suggest that it is actually the reality shows themselves that create this culture of celebrity consumption and are needed to keep it functioning. The reality shows I am analysing push celebrity culture further in the sense that we view these everyday individuals as celebrities. This raises the concept of authenticity/amateurism and whether it is morally right to look up to such individuals we consider as celebrities.
‘Or, yet again, one can become a celebrity with scarcely any pretense to talent or achievement whatsoever. Much modern celebrity seems the result of careful promotion or great good luck or something besides talent and achievement.’ (Estein, p.9, 2003)
The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea are two similar reality television shows that convey the so called “everyday” glamorous and dramatic lives of a series of individuals. Both shows carry the same format in regards to reality television, in that they offer the audience a camera into their lives. ‘Private lives are transformed into public spectacle through an emphasis upon drama and performance over information’. (Skeggs & Wood, p.6)
The blatant differences between the two shows are the types of people and the locations the audience witness. Made in Chelsea is primarily set in Chelsea, London, a wealthy area where the cast of the show are resident. This wealth is conveyed through the up market bars, restaurants and shops the cast visit on a daily basis. All characters are represented as rich, well-spoken individual with inherited disposable incomes. The Only Way Is Essex, on the other hand, is set in a less affluent area, Brentwood in Essex. This choice of setting is deliberate as most of the targeted audience can identify with this type of town. The characters featured are represented as more ‘common’ individuals that indulge in a lot of activities to enhance their appearance such as fake tanning, visits to spas, beauticians etc. It carries the stigmatisation that people from Essex are fake, due to their obsession with self beautification. These characters live very one dimensional lives and are regularly portrayed as being unintelligent and self absorbed. The Only Way Is Essex is represented as a way of life for them which ultimately helps to create this stigma. You could almost suggest class as a differentiation.
These so called “celebrities” from both shows have been branded by the nature of their shows. As we come to know and understand each individual’s life on these programmes, we build up a persona of them. ‘Many star or celebrity personae do remain associated with a particular media context or role.’ (Redmond & Holmes, p.6) This is shown through the type of shows they are associated with and the type of people they are. For example in TOWIE, one of its cast called Mario, got branded as a ‘love cheating rat’ from his infidelities with other women who were not his girlfriend. This featured on the show for a long period of time, causing the audience to brand him as a “love-rat”. This ties into celebrity culture, where we think we know the celebrity, so we take it personally when they are involved in negative behaviours.
Celebrities from these reality shows have gone onto to use their fame as an avenue for advertising their own businesses. A few members from TOWIE, went onto sell their own fake tans, nails, eye lashes and various other beauty products. Such products specifically fit how they are represented on the television show. It is the portrayal of fake glamour. ‘Non-celebrity endorsements images are created and fine-tuned by the brands company, and therefore, their images, personalities, and actions can be ensured to fit with the brand’s image.’ (Keel & Nataraajan, p. 691, 2012)
The whole point of reality TV seems to be to allow the audience to think that the people on the show are similar to them and they can imagine themselves in the situations faced by the participants.’ (Hetsroni, p. 9, 2011) Whilst at the same time giving the audience something to aspire to, whether it be enhanced beauty regimes or having more money to spend on lifestyle goods and choices.
Oliver Driessens article explores the concept of celebrity culture in detail. His main points illustrates the construction of celebrity cultures through the ‘us and them’ binary and communities. (p.109, 2014) This is helpful in understanding the popularity, in terms of geographical status, for such reality television stars. Driessens pulls apart different cultures within celebrity culture. One of which is called (sub) national culture which represents nationally known celebrities, rather then globally known celebrities. This is the case for the celebrities I am analysing in both reality TV shows. This is another reason to show the personal connection of audiences to such stars. In part of his conclusion, Driessens indicates the difference between two types of celebrity cultures in regards to personal connections with audiences.
‘Them’ refers to international celebrity cultures, where as (sub)national cultures are given sense to through the ‘us and them’ binary. (p.124, 2014)
‘There is now a vast range of media sites through which modern celebrity can emerge. Mass, digital and narrowcast media outlets, often in a synergetic relationship, enable the famous to be pictured, photographed, broadcast, pod cast and filmed in a real-time, offering a 24/7 relay across the globe.’ (Redmond & Holmes, p. 6)
This shows that even when such reality shows are not currently airing there is always a way to access information on particular celebrities featured on the programmes. A constant presence generates the programme as part of your life and lifestyle. As I mentioned in my previous paragraph our emotional attachment with such celebrities featured is also portrayed on social media. Audiences come to sites such as Twitter, to voice their opinions on the matters that occur on the programme. They vent anger or express happiness about such individuals. Such celebrity culture, demonstrates the personal connection we feel with these celebrities.
Audiences look for the ‘authentic’ side to celebrities. This meaning they wish to seek there real identities, beyond the camera. It can be seen as different with such celebrities on these reality television shows. This is due to their open personalities they already portray to the audience on camera. ‘This claim to display ‘real selves’ here shifts, but does not fully challenge, the intertextual claim to disclose the ‘real person’ ‘behind’ the ‘performing’ presence on screen.’ (Holmes, p. 124-5, 2004)
Both reality shows feature sorely on these individuals lives. The typical storylines consist of relationships between friends and lovers. Not much in terms of profession is mentioned. We gain a perspective that these individuals are just spending money and not particularly making it, or if they are, aren’t undergoing hard work. It represents such celebrities as talentless. This is a typical remark made to reality television stars-
‘But to say that a celebrity is someone well-known for being well-known, though clever enough, is not, I think, sufficient. The first semantic problem our fetching subject presents is the need for a distinction between celebrity and fame—a distinction more easily required than produced.’ (Epstein, p. 8, 2003)
As Epstein states, in this day and age, celebrity and fame have two different meanings and we need to recognise this in order to understand talent. This reveals a problem with celebrity culture as it portrays an equal status to both skilled and talentless celebrities.
‘Phenomena, celebrities intersect with a remarkable array of political, cultural, and economic activities to a threshold point that it is worth identifying the operation of a celebrity culture embedded in national and transnational cultures.’ (Marshall, p.6; original emphasis)
‘The term “celebrity culture” does to celebrity what “materialism” does to shopping: dismisses the whole thing as banal and evil.’ (2014) This comes from an article featured in The Guardian, written by Alain de Botton, which states how we shouldn’t dismiss celebrity culture. By ignoring such an issue, will mean it’s left unattended and undeveloped, prone to latch onto inappropriate audiences. Botton uses an example of Angelina Jolie, whom is regularly in the papers for visiting Africa. Even if it is for her benefit, they state how it makes the situation ‘sexy’.
‘Something – a place or a cause – becomes “sexy” when we are given a sense that enthusiasm for it would be understood and liked by some very exciting people. By buying into it, we position ourselves as a little more attractive and glamorous. Jolie helps us to feel good about ourselves for caring about things that actually do deserve our concern, but which are at risk of seeming so miserable and intractable that we would otherwise simply tune out.’ (Botton, 2014)
Botton states how we need such encouragement from celebrities with various other issues too.
By suggesting such stars fall into this sub(national) culture, we can acknowledge they are not as significant as globally known celebrities. So by implying that such ‘amateur’ celebrities are being categorised within this celebrity culture, gives it an unauthentic meaning. In relation to this, I conclude how celebrity culture, even thought it can be viewed as an unauthentic, shouldn’t be a joke to society and we need to still acknowledge its presence. Aspiring to be like someone isn’t a negative trait to have, it gives an audience an outlet. In regards to the reality shows, the celebrity culture within carries more entertainment values. It is the pleasure the audience gain from watching such television shows. All elements of celebrity culture are explored, the wanting of a celebrities life, the personal connection one experiences with them and the need to know what they’re up to. Ultimately, these individuals are faces we come to recognise and remember more then we do with others. If all celebrities used their fame for democratic purposes, the world could benefit.
Botton, A. (2014, January 31st), Don’t Despise Celebrity Culture- the Impulse to Admire Can Be Precious. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/31/dont-despise-celebrity-culture-angelina-jolie
Driessens, O. (2014, June 1st) Theorizing Celebrity Cultures: Thickenings of Media Cultures and the Role of Cultural (working) Memory. Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research, 39(2). P.109-127, Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=5b3ba399-0eb6-4c27-a1f5-910ae5bb7c27%40sessionmgr4002&vid=0&hid=4208
Epstein, J. (2003). Celebrity Culture. The Hedgehog Review, 7(1), P.7-20.
Hetsroni, A. (February, 2011) Media and Communications- Technologies, Policies and Challenges: Reality Television: Merging the Global and the Local
Holmes, S., Jemyn, D. & Jemyn, D., (2004) Understanding Reality Television; ED. By Su Holmes. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, Inc.
Keel, A. & Nataraajan, R., (2012). Celebrity Endorsements and Beyond: New Avenues for Celebrity Branding. Psychology & Marketing, 29(9). P.690-703, Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=2a145759-2faf-4910-97e5-7f6ce31b0fc7%40sessionmgr114&vid=0&hid=113
Pereira, J. (2011) Made in Chelsea [Television Broadcast]. E4
Skeggs, B. & Wood, H., (2011). Reality Television and Class, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillian on behalf of the British Film Institute
Wood, T., & Wrigley, R. (2010) The Only Way Is Essex [Television Broadcast]. ITV2