ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
A look at celebs and their media empires
By Lori Mastronardi
Would you like to hear Gwyneth Paltrow sing? Wear lingerie
designed by Kylie Minogue? Read Ethan Hawke's novel?
Celebrities are increasingly tapping into various realms of
the media, making their presence in the industry that much
more apparent. Crossover commercial interests have seemingly
exploded in recent years, particularly with the advent of clothing
lines for nearly every celebrity name.
However, before Britney opened a restaurant (which lasted
about as long as her relationship with Fred Durst) and 50 Cent
proposed his G-Unit clothing line (so wittily priced in accordance
with his name, ex. $29.50 for a T-shirt), musicians, actors
and athletes had already attacked additional pursuits in business.
The one and only Cher actually momentarily strayed from her
musical career with a role in the film Mermaids and who could
possibly forget Michael Jordan's short-lived baseball career
and signature Air Jordans?
Clearly celebrities are eager to explore other avenues, but
when is enough enough? Despite the fact stars like J.Lo have
used their fame to pervade all realms of media, are celebrities
really as multi-talented as they appear?
English professor Allan Gedalof wonders who is really behind
such usually profit-driven projects. "Most of these celebrities
have agents, publicists, business managers, and it's hard to
know where these ideas come from. Does a publicist say that
such and such a venture will get your name around or does a
business manager say 'cash in on your celebrity while you're
Wherever the initial idea spawns, it can be very lucrative.
David Estok, adjunct professor of information and media studies,
explains how Oprah gained notoreity and essentially created
a massive empire through what he labels convergence strategy. "Oprah
develops herself as a brand. The books, book list, magazine
- where the concept is, 'I'm going to put myself on the cover
every month'... [it] creates overnight one of the most successful
magazines that's ever been launched, partly because of the
power of television to market her as a brand."
Estok questions the feasibility of a celebrity's long-term
success. "You have to wonder if there's a saturation point.
If a person does too many things, do they lose their impact?
People will see through that after awhile. Keeping the quality
is a key thing."
Some celebrities have morphed into different areas based on
talent and motivation, while others have relied solely on their
fame. Gedalof reveals how some people will endorse any product,
simply to make a quick and dirty buck. "[Michael Jordan] has
signature lines with Nike, despite Nike's horrible record of
exploitation and child labour in third world countries."
Many celebrities aren't concerned with the quality of their
products or high standards. Rather, according to Gedalof, "they're
almost entirely about obscene greed." He does, however, find
exceptional cases, such as actor Paul Newman's line of salad
dressings, where all profits are used for charitable purposes.
An actor may approach another business idea for more reasons
than generating cash flow.
"Perhaps if their celebrity popularity is flagging a bit -
in jeopardy - a new venture may feed the name and reputation,
keep them in circulation and before the fans and public eye," suggests
media, information and technoculture professor Carole Farber.
A major downfall of trying to morph into expanding interests
is, simply, failure.
"Suddenly you are the brand and your brand is attacked by
some negative publicity," Estok says. "Then, for example, the
interest is centred around the issue of Martha Stewart's insider
trading and her business suffers tremendously."
"Some people are multi-talented; some people turn out real
trash when they try to switch fields. Some people were turning
out trash in their first field," Gedalof adds.
Occasionally, celebrities will put a slightly different spin
on things, thereby distinguishing themselves from the crowd,
while others just seem to blend into the endless list of profit-seeking
Gedalof isn't very optimistic about the state of celebrity
worship. "As long as we continue to believe that the fact of
celebrity is proof of merit, of some kind of superior worth,
which it really isn't, this will likely continue and we'll
continue to believe that the Terminator will make a good governor
and that Ronald Reagan really was smarter than some of the
chimpanzees that were his co-stars. It's madness, and the fact
that this is a mad world isn't sufficient excuse for me."