Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We Hates Them, Duckie

Yes, we do. We hates the woman celebrities, at least in the U.K.:

In a survey this week, by Marketing magazine the respondents' top five most loved celebrities were men - Paul McCartney, Lewis Hamilton, Gary Lineker, Simon Cowell and David Beckham. Of the five most hated, the top four were women - Heather Mills, Amy Winehouse, Victoria Beckham and Kerry Katona.

Heather Mills is probably the easiest dealt with. Many people's main gripe with celebrity is that it offers those without talents a chance to find material wealth through manipulation. For the tabloid media at least, Mills fits the bill.

But it's a bit harder to fathom the rest of the list. Why are these women seen to be so loathsome?

1. Heather Mills - 28.3%
2. Amy Winehouse - 11.4%
3. Victoria Beckham - 10.2%
4. Kerry Katona - 10%
5. Simon Cowell - 4.6%

1. Paul McCartney - 14.9%
2. Lewis Hamilton - 11.2%
3. Gary Lineker - 11.2%
4. Simon Cowell - 9.7%
5. David Beckham - 9.4%
Source: Brands We Love and Brands We Hate, Marketing magazine

The phenomenon is to be tackled in an upcoming gathering of academics entitled Going Cheap?: Female Celebrity in the Tabloid, Reality and Scandal Genres, organised by Prof Diane Negra at the University of East Anglia on 25 June.

Why do I want to write this whole post in the Gollum voice (from the Lord of The Rings)? Perhaps because there is something Gollum-like about the way Britney Spears has been gobbled up, spat out and gobbled up so many times in the American popular media. It's as if she (and Paris Hilton) are here on earth so that other people have a legitimate object for their hatred. We loves to hate 'em, my precious, yes, we does.

A Gandalf voice would be better when trying to understand why it is mostly women who are the objects of hatred, both by men and by women, and why the married couples on that list split so oddly by gender into two different camps. But my inner Gandalf is scared of women altogether and thus would be quiet on this topic of no importance.

If he weren't such a wimp he might ask how celebrities are manufactured. What makes Heather Mills into a celebrity? She has never worked in the performing arts. She just happened to have been married to Paul McCartney, one of the Beatles. Her "celebrity" is completely situational, completely dependent on her connection to him and his celebrity. Add to that a very unpleasant divorce, and there you have it! A woman we all can hate because we love him.

I'm bringing that up as an example of the impact of the media itself on this hating and loving business. The way stories describe a celebrity surely affects how many people hate him or her, and the stories about people like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton usually offer zero compassion or empathy. Is this true of hateful stories about male celebrities? I don't know, but that topic might be worth studying.

The article I linked to above suggests that the hatred of female celebrities might still have to do with the desire for traditional gender roles:

Ms Negra thinks we do hold female celebrities to different standards than their male counterparts.

Ambitious women

"There has been a conspicuous trend in the last five years towards the production of negatively-valued women in the public sphere. People respond to the pleasures of hating these kinds of figures.

"There is incredible ambivalence in a post-feminist culture towards women in the public sphere."

In a nutshell, despite years of equal opportunities, the media - and the people who watch and read - prefer the stay-at-home mother over a woman who lives her life in public, particularly one who is overtly ambitious or successful in making money. There is great satisfaction among many people in seeing them humbled, Ms Negra suggests.

Perhaps. But Heather Mills surely is a stay-at-home mother, and she leads that list of hated women.