On 25th March, actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced on her website goop.com that she and musician husband Chris Martin were separating after 10 years of marriage. The couple have long had their detractors and many were quite happy to hear of the couple’s demise. However, there appears to be a sense of empathy towards Paltrow that is not often present in stories of celebrity break-ups. In this guest post, Tamara Heaney explores whether social class plays a part in how the story was reported.
While struggling to write a paper about how technology entrepreneurs came up as celebrities in our data, I’ve become fascinated by coding. Coding, or computer programming, is currently being pushed by a range of national and transnational bodies and corporations. The UK has declared 2014 The Year of Code and introduced coding into the primary and secondary school curriculum. In 2013, The European Commission set up an annual Europe Code Week with events across the continent. US-based code.org presents itself as a global campaign with its website proclaiming that it has led to over 1.5 billion lines of coding by students. Within these campaigns coding is presented as a vital skill both for individual and national competitiveness. However, while many, if not most, of the early programmers were female, computing has since become a male-dominated field. Indeed as research shows, media representations of technological workers, like those who work with science and mathematics, predominantly feature white, middle-class, geeky men. This raises questions about who has access to these powerful coding knowledges and who can identify with the technological futures invoked by these campaigns and initiatives. In this blogpost I begin the task of addressing these questions by identifying a key tension in the calls to coding: coding as a challenging and elite skill vs coding as easy and accessible to all.
We’ve been struck by news this week that Pharrell Williams – successful music producer, singer and collaborator – has asserted his belief in ‘the New Black’. In an interview with US chat show host Oprah Winfrey, Williams stated that he represented a different kind of black identity:
The “new black” doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The “new black” dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re gonna be on.
In this post Kim troubles Pharrell’s move, arguing that it denies the ongoing realities of racism.
Neoliberalism, the marketisation of everything, including ourselves, runs through our data. Indeed we’ve encountered several of examples of ‘extreme neoliberalism’ where celebrities find ever more excessive and expressive ways to convince us that their wealth and success derive not from luck or privilege but from superhuman levels of hard work and self-transformation. In a recent example, US actor Matthew McConaughey used his Oscars speech to tell us that his hero is himself in ten years, writing his success as the result of endless striving. However, it is the actor, musician and celebrity dad Will Smith who continues to provide the most compelling examples of extreme neoliberalism. Memorably, he once assured us that his commitment to sickening hard work is such that he would rather die than get off a treadmill before someone else. In this post Heather focuses on her favourite example from Will Smith in which he claims that he can choose the answer to two plus two.
Aisha is an avid footballer and has been capped three times for the British Muslim women’s football team. Aisha is CEO and founder of an inter-faith sports charity All Sports Women. The charity was established to encourage cross-cultural dialogue through sports participation, with the hope of using sport as a means to bridge the gap between different faith groups and cultures. Aisha continues to challenge stereotypical notions of the ‘Asian woman’ through her academic research and community involvement. In this post Aisha tells us a little bit more about her research.
Awards ceremonies are fascinating sites of analysis for those studying celebrity. While increasingly staged and manipulated, these ceremonies continue to offer the public the chance to catch a glimpse of famous people ‘being themselves’, promising us a rare insight into who they ‘really are’ behind their star image – from the red carpet interviews or falls (see Jennifer Lawrence) to candid shots of after party revelry. In this post Kim and Heather focus on one of the more rehearsed aspects of Awards shows – the acceptance speech. Here celebrities get a chance to represent themselves – as generous in acknowledging the co-workers, as family men and women, as political – as when Marlon Brando refused to attend the Academy Awards and sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American civil rights activist to speak in his place as a protest against the treatment of American Indians by the film industry. Here we focus on a neglected gem of a speech from this year’s Academy Awards, that by Matthew McConaughey, which contained the remarkable revelation that he is his own role model.
This week, the Telegraph newspaper – often referred to as ‘Torygraph’ – published a highly provocative article, entitled “Working class children must learn to be middle class to get on in life, government advisor says” which reported on recent comments made by Peter Brant, head of policy at the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Leaving aside for a moment that this is not exactly what Brant said, this piece is oozing with symbolic violence and provides another example of the narrow and problematic notions of aspiration, class and social mobility held by our politicians, policymakers and the right-wing media. In this guest blog post, Jessie Abrahams – a ‘working class’ student who attended an elite university and has researched social class and belonging – offers an alternative perspective.
No question, celebrity culture is fascinated with mothers and motherhood, from bad mums, good mums, reformed bad girl mums, out-of-control mothers, to the domineering ‘mumager’ and so on. Oftentimes, these images of celebrity mothers are shaped by gender, race and class ideologies; that makes some kinds of mothers more desirable or respectable than others, typically white, heterosexual, middle-class mothers. Celebrity motherhood has become big business too, as many women have created lifestyle brands using their mothering style as a selling feature (see Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling, just to name a few). For some of these women, pregnancy became their ticket to public reformation; allowing them to transition from “bad girl” to “happy, fulfilled, doting mother”. However, many are also very critical of this celebration of celebrity motherhood for creating even more unrealistic standards/ideals for the average woman who does not have the privilege of being helped by a staff of nannies, cooks and trainers. In this guest post, Natasha Patterson explores what a new Canadian campaign to support single mothers, has to say about debates on celebrity motherhood and about parodying celebrity culture to promote women’s issues.
This is the third of a series of posts exploring what the young people in our group interviews had to say about key global celebrities. Here Heather looks at the talk about singer and actor Beyoncé. Elsewhere on the website you can read what our participants had to say about Bill Gates and about Will Smith. If you’re interested in how we analysed our data to arrive at this account then follow this link, here I focus on how and why it appeared to be compulsory to like, even love, Beyoncé.
We are now coming to the end of the reality TV series Tough Young Teachers. This show, screened by UK publicly-funded youth channel BBC Three, focuses on the lives of six beginning teachers in ‘challenging’ London schools. We see these new teachers taking their first lessons. We hear their frustrations and their triumphs. We follow their progress through the ups and downs of the year. This makes good television, as the number of excited tweets each week using #ToughYoungTeachers indicates. However, among the enthusiasm is a strand of critique and concern coordinated by TeacherROAR, for the show focuses not on any first year teachers but on those who enter teaching through a relatively small but rapidly expanding route into teaching: Teach First. Politically popular with both the Labour party and the Conservatives, Teach First brings many fantastic – mostly young – people into teaching. So why the resistance? While Michael Gove may see this as yet more evidence that many teachers are leftie ‘enemies of promise’ more interested in ideology than in supporting young people, in this post Heather shows why we really should be concerned about Teach First and its celebrity teachers.