17 May 2023 Blogs, Academic, Faculty

How print publications shaped celebrity culture

From ink to icon: the foundations of this cultural phenomenon were laid by print publications, particularly popular newspapers and magazines

From red carpet events to viral social media moments, celebrity culture has become an integral part of modern society, influencing attitudes towards success, beauty, fashion, and more. Exploring historical print media shows how the obsession with celebrity news and gossip got its start.

Early days of print publications and celebrity culture

From the turn of the 20th century, publications like The Sketch, The Bystander and The Tatler offered extensive coverage of high society events, providing readers with glimpses into the lives of the elite. The Tatler, first published in 1901, showcased the lavish lifestyles of the British aristocracy, reporting on affluent events and celebrities like Lady Diana Cooper, Lady Randolph Churchill and Lord Curzon. It showcased the grand estates, glamorous parties and fashionable clothing that defined the social lives of the wealthy and privileged. The magazine's coverage of the social season in London, which included balls, galas and dinners as well as horse racing and shooting parties, further fueled the public's interest in celebrity culture. Through its detailed coverage of these events, The Tatler created a sense of fascination and intrigue with the lives of the elite.

As the century progressed, these publications began to print personal profiles and interviews with celebrities, providing readers with an inside look into the lives of famous people. The use of photographs and illustrations added a sense of familiarity and intimacy with these figures, making them seem more accessible and relatable. Candid shots of famous people doing everyday things, such as walking their dogs or getting coffee, added a new dimension to the coverage of celebrities, creating a sense of voyeurism for readers. The coverage of celebrities, from King Edward VII and Rudyard Kipling to Coco Chanel, Amelia Earhart and Charlie Chaplin, was nothing short of captivating to readers.

Salacious reporting of scandals and controversies

The explosion of celebrity culture owes much to the salacious reporting that graced the pages of popular print publications. They reported on the intimate details of celebrity lives, including scandals and controversies, which captured the public's attention and helped to increase the visibility and reach of celebrities, enhancing their status as cultural icons. The columns Society Gossip from The Sketch and the Way of the World from The Bystander often covered scandals and gossip related to high society and were highly popular with readers who relished every juicy tidbit.

Even American magazine House Beautiful, a publication primarily focused on interior design and architecture, recognized the public's thirst for celebrity culture and used it to infuse their publication with a little glitz and allure. By spotlighting famous figures like Babe Paley, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, the magazine tapped into readers' fascination with the glamorous lives of celebrities. These profiles provided readers with a tantalizing look into the private lives of these stars, while also lending an air of sophistication to the magazine's content.

Use of celebrities as spokespeople for products

Print publications served as pivotal forces in shaping the landscape of modern celebrity culture by leveraging star power as product brand ambassadors. It was within this context that key concepts and values defining modern celebrity culture took root, such as the significance of beauty and success. The Bystander, a British society magazine that was published from 1903 to 1940, frequently harnessed the influential power of well-known personalities such as actress and dancer Irene Castle, who lent her endorsement to a popular cigarette brand. Over the decades marketing campaigns adapted to resonate with a younger, aspirational audience. In the 1960s, Teen featured rising star Sally Field in an advertisement for Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, while FLiP magazine featured teen heartthrob David Cassidy promoting Brut aftershave, both appealing to young people who wanted to emulate the celebrity styles.

Celebrity culture in the digital age

Many of the key ideas and values that define celebrity culture today, such as the significance of beauty and success, were originally introduced and popularized through print publications. These values have become deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, shaping the way we consume and interpret celebrity culture, and persisting in the digital age.

Studying the history of celebrity culture and its origins in print publications can provide valuable insights into how media and popular culture have evolved over time; researchers can better understand the historical context in which this phenomenon emerged and how it is changing. Analyzing the content and tone of print publications reveals the values and beliefs associated with celebrity culture in the past and how they have impacted society and culture more broadly. Finally, studying the rise of celebrity culture in print publications can also help researchers understand how media and technology have shaped public perceptions of fame and celebrity, including the strategies and tactics used to create and promote celebrity culture.

Fortunately, delving into the rich print history of celebrity culture no longer needs to be done solely through analog sources. The digitization of these publications not only provides access to the historical foundations of celebrity culture but also significantly enhances the ease of searching and finding relevant information. With an extensive range of digitized historical periodicals and magazines from ProQuest, students, researchers and celebrity enthusiasts now have an efficient way to explore the historical foundations of this culture. By combining the convenience of digital searching with the authenticity of original publications, ProQuest empowers users to delve into this fascinating subject with ease, whether studying its societal impact, uncovering media evolution or simply satisfying curiosity about the allure of fame.

Explore the fascinating history of celebrity culture through the periodicals that shaped this phenomenon. Learn more.

Jodi Johnson

Jodi Johnson

Product Marketing Manager for History and Social Change, Social Science and Performing Arts portfolios. With a profound appreciation for history and a background steeped in the arts, she fuses creativity and scholarly insight to offer compelling narratives and to delve into the historical significance behind them.

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