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19 August 2013
Australians need to look beyond the celebrity hype and demand more substantive public debate on political issues, argued Australia’s leading expert on celebrity, Professor Graeme Turner, at Deakin University recently.
Professor Turner was delivering a special seminar to Deakin University academics which looked at his soon to be launched revised edition of Understanding Celebrity which evaluates how far the academic field of Celebrity Studies has come.
“One of the inevitable consequences of undertaking academic work on celebrity is being asked repeatedly by journalists, colleagues and taxi drivers why you would do such a thing,” he said.
“Celebrity, despite the exorbitant presence it has in our lives is widely dismissed as fundamentally trivial, ephemeral or inconsequential.
“Yet as my book demonstrates it is a serious endeavour mainly because the manufacture of celebrity has permeated beyond the entertainment industry and shapes the media and political landscape.”
Professor Turner said where once the media might have seen themselves as operating across the entertainment, information, business and public sectors they were now definitely positioned around the creation of entertainment based content.
“News gathering is different now,” he said.
“Increasingly, it is publicists who manage the flow of news, and activities that were once on the periphery of newsgathering, such as the paparazzi have become corporate sites that are not integral to the production of news.
Professor Turner said there was public concern when the techniques publicists used to produce celebrity were employed to manage news and public debate and in particular the representation of political figures.
“Politics is now about the management of the media image of the individual, of specific areas of debate or the party’s message of the moment,” he said.
“The strategies used are overwhelmingly derived from public relations techniques and the celebrity industry’s methods for building the public identity of a celebrity commodity.
“Their motivations are about protecting the interests of specific political identities.”
Professor Turner said at the moment we were witnessing this in action in the presentation of Kevin Rudd.
“Rather than seeking to secure political support, what he is doing is more about creating a fan base, which can then be converted to a political base,” he said.
Professor Turner said management of the image however was not about restricting access.
Professor Turner said the changes in the way politics was treated in news and current affairs formats on television as well as the mainstream print media reflected an increasing trend to focussing on the personal, to the detriment of issues. It was also increasingly the case that people were seeking political news via entertainment shows or through online news sites and blogs.
“People now filter and aggregate a personal selection of news and share preferred items and invite comment, essentially they create their own narrow news diets or what one academic referred to the ‘Daily Me’.”
“Engagement with politics is now more strongly driven by personal preferences, and this sets up a distance between the citizen and the public policy agenda.”
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Professor Graeme Turner, Professor of Cultural Studies at University of Queensland. Photo: UQ