Understanding media: The celebrity in the text
Understanding media: The celebrity in the text

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Understanding media: The celebrity in the text

3.4 As core or secondary texts

The final categorisation of texts is especially useful when looking at celebrity texts. It allows us to distinguish between:

  • the ‘core’ texts representing the work (the films, television shows, sound recordings, books, sporting performances) which provide the basis on which the individual's celebrity is founded; and

  • the secondary texts of several genres (including gossip ones) which promote the core works and/or the celebrity her- or himself.

This is an adaption of a three-part division developed by John Fiske (1987, pp. 84–5) which refers to primary (rather than ‘core’) texts and adds an extra ‘tertiary’ level to indicate texts constructed by the audience, which range from conversations about what we term the core texts, to the production of fan fiction.

So far we have talked of secondary texts as being generated to promote core texts, but since they are produced even when there are no core texts to promote, or when the celebrity is only a socialite, we have to expand their raison d'être a little. Certainly they work to maintain celebrities’ profiles between projects (though socialites do not have these), but this too is a production reason and I argued at the start of this course against seeing communication as a one-way flow. Lynn Barber (1998, p. ix), renowned celebrity interviewer, has said that she ‘can make a quasi-serious case for the value of newspaper interviews as a way of celebrating the individual and discussing aspects of personal life that would otherwise be dumped into the ghetto of the women's pages. But actually the only good reason for reading celebrity interviews (or writing them) is for entertainment.’ At least as much as core texts, then, secondary texts provide entertainment.

Looking at ways of categorising media texts provides us with ways of understanding how they make meanings and how they relate to one another. Some of the characteristics of particular texts derive from the medium in which they are found, while others relate to whether their function is to promote or to be the product promoted. Categorising texts by genre is a major way of handling uncertainty – enabling producers to try to meet consumers’ demands and consumers to navigate through the massive number of competing texts. Celebrities may also be seen as ‘navigational’ aids, but, as we have seen, they interact with genre quite substantially.


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