How Celebrities Frame Their Public Image Through Fake Paparazzi Journalism

The public’s obsession with celebrities seems to know no bounds.

Magazines such as the National Enquirer and Star, television and cable programs such as Access Hollywood and E! Entertainment, and the seemingly infinite number of celebrity-focused blogs, keep churning out the latest and greatest about the hottest celebrities around.

The Economist (premium content, subscription required) describes the coverage this way:

Half-a-dozen publications now use exclamation marks on their covers to describe the divorces, pregnancies, affairs, eating disorders and assorted depravities of the same small group of celebrities — notably Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, …Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Jennifer Aniston and, most important, Angelina Jolie and her “bump”.

The formula for filling out the rest of these publications has been standardised: spotting cellulite, tracking breast augmentation and all around liposuction; a smattering of scoops bought from gossipy make-up artists and bouncers, etc; and a bit of slavish grovelling in the “exclusive interview.”

What’s generally not known is that celebrities are starting to take back control of their public image. As reported today in The Wall Street Journal (Caught in the Act! subscription required):

It has always been a relationship built upon animosity and mutual need. But tensions have grown with the explosion of media running paparazzi photos of stars canoodling and emerging from coffee shops in frumpy track suits.

Now stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Jessica Simpson are fighting back. They are hiring their own photographers to capture supposedly private rendezvous, tipping off reporters to their whereabouts and developing relationships of mutual back-scratching with magazine editors.

The result is the flowering of a genre: fake paparazzi journalism, or the staging of “unstaged” moments….

Stars get to participate in the framing of their image and magazines appear to give readers a glimpse of the real celebrity untouched by public-relations varnish….

A new generation of “stalkarazzi” has specialized in capturing awkward moments….

The photographers’ onslaught has put stars in a tough spot. If they ignore the magazines, they let such pictures define their public image. But sitting down for formulaic interviews and staged publicity shots won’t necessarily satisfy the magazines’ lust for juicy stories.

The answer is manipulation so subtle it’s hard to say if there’s any manipulation at all….

“I would say at least 50% of what you see in terms of Hollywood coverage is something that was not necessarily born organically, ” says Janice Min, editor in chief of US Weekly. “This is a totally symbiotic relationship. This is how celebrities survive.”

According to the Journal, examples of such images include the picture of Gwyneth Paltrow emerging from a London hospital after giving birth to daughter Apple, the photograph taken in Haiti of Angelina Jolie’s expanding belly, and Tom Cruise arriving at the Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills with previously unknown girlfriend Katie Holmes.

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