October 3, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 21  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

A look at celebs and their media empires

By Lori Mastronardi
Gazette Staff

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 hot'?"

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 celebs.

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."


 

 

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