Power of me­dia celebri­ties

How in­flu­en­tial are me­dia celebri­ties?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - HAU BOON LAI bl­hau@ya­hoo.com In this col­umn, writer Hau Boon Lai pon­ders the lives, loves and lib­er­ties of celebri­ties.

ACELEBRITY, US tele­vi­sion host Jon Ste­wart is now the world’s most in­flu­en­tial man, beat­ing the world’s rich­est man Mi­crosoft chair­man Bill Gates into sec­ond place.

Al­though the claim is be­ing made by an on­line men’s life­style mag­a­zine, www.askmen.com, the main­stream me­dia are not far be­hind in recog­nis­ing the in­flu­ence that me­dia celebri­ties have on the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

The mag­a­zine, which polled 500,000 men for the sur­vey, said that Ste­wart’s The Daily Show, a toprated satir­i­cal show on TV, was “once dubbed the ‘ fake news’, but these days it has be­come our youths’ most trusted source of in­for­ma­tion and its host the most trusted man in Amer­ica”. Not bad for a show that pokes fun at politi­cians and news­mak­ers.

The mag­a­zine’s list of 49 of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial men fea­tured a large num­ber of en­ter­tain­ment and sports celebri­ties as well as en­trepreneurs and politi­cians.

As an in­di­ca­tion of the rise in in­flu­ence of me­dia celebri­ties, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama slipped from last year’s No.3 to a dis­tant No.21, be­low me­dia hot­shots like Co­nan O’Brien and Ge­orge Clooney.

In Ja­pan, mag­a­zines reg­u­larly find through sur­veys that many Ja­panese stu­dents are more fa­mil­iar with singer Namie Amuro than who the prime min­is­ter of the day is.

In writ­ing about celebri­ties and me­dia stars, one of the as­sump­tions made is that the for­mer are in­flu­en­tial peo­ple. We watch them on TV and at the movies, we lis­ten to them on ra­dio, we read about their loves, we mar­vel at their lives, we are shocked by their ex­cesses as well as their nor­mal­ity. Celebri­ties lead the way in fashion, looks and even opin­ions.

Some peo­ple love their celebri­ties so much that they not only copy the way they dress, but even want to copy the way they look.

A fan tweeted in July that she was get­ting head-to-toe plas­tic surgery to look like Kim Kar­dashian as her hus­band “wor­ships” the re­al­ity TV star.

Plas­tic sur­geons have said in in­ter­views that many of their clients visit their clin­ics with re­quests to look like the Hollywood star of their choice. A 2009 sur­vey of plas­tic sur­geons re­vealed that they most wished to look like An­gelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Jolie’s lips, eyes and cheeks were highly sought-af­ter among fe­male pa­tients while Pitt was pop­u­lar among male pa­tients for his abs, nose and var­i­ous other body parts.

This is more preva­lent than be­ing just about Hollywood and the US; South Korean stars are also widely sought af­ter as sam­ples in their coun­try­men’s quest to look good, as are other Asian stars.

A pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion show at­tracts mil­lions of view­ers in the United States alone. Once it is syndi­cated, the au­di­ence could dou­ble or even triple in size. The celebri­ties who star in these shows ex­ert con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence among their view­ers.

Take The Oprah Win­frey Show for in­stance. On air since 1986, its longterm suc­cess has not only made the talk show’s star Oprah Win­frey a bil­lion­aire, it has helped to cat­a­pult her into No.64 on the Forbes list of the world’s most pow­er­ful peo­ple.

The re­spected busi­ness mag­a­zine has Win­frey rub­bing shoul­ders with pres­i­dents, prime min­is­ters, roy­alty, multi-bil­lion­aire en­trepreneurs and the Catholic Pope.

If Win­frey likes a book, she fea­tures it on her book club, and the book is then in best­seller heaven. In some cases, sales went up by more than a mil­lion copies.

Even Win­frey’s guests have be­come celebri­ties in their own right. Dr Phil McGraw and Dr Mehmet Oz have gone on to host pop­u­lar med­i­cal-re­lated shows of their own – Dr Phil and Dr Oz – un­der the profitable aus­pices of Win­frey’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, of course.

Sports celebri­ties in pop­u­lar games like ten­nis, golf, foot­ball, Amer­i­can foot­ball and NBA bas­ket­ball are also in­flu­en­tial thanks to the high spec­ta­tor and live broad­cast TV au­di­ence fig­ures. The Amer­i­can foot­ball Su­per Bowl in 2009 was watched by over 100 mil­lion view­ers in the United States.

Celebri­ties are such trend­set­ters that hard-headed busi­ness­men are will­ing to pay them mil­lions of dol­lars to en­dorse their prod­ucts.

In 2000, golfer Tiger Woods signed a five-year en­dorse­ment deal with Nike that net­ted him US$100mil (RM312mil). Singer Madonna was paid more than USS$10mil (RM31mil) in 2005 for mod­el­ling Ver­sace’s new col­lec­tion.

These busi­ness­men who are so will­ing to pay big sums of money to celebri­ties for their en­dorse­ments would prob­a­bly have done their home­work and found that aca­demic re­search has shown that the gen­eral pop­u­lace are in­deed af­fected by what they read and watch.

In the 1940s and 50s, the Magic Bul­let the­ory of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion was pop­u­lar among re­searchers who be­lieved that a me­dia mes­sage would, like the bul­let from a gun, be shot straight into the au­di­ence’s head.

In the 1950s and 60s, other re­searchers found that many of the sub­jects in their stud­ies ac­tively search for in­for­ma­tion that tal­lies with what they al­ready be­lieve and are then re­in­forced in their views. Yet oth­ers have hy­poth­e­sised that me­dia mes­sages flow to the masses via opin­ion lead­ers.

What­ever the the­ory, they all agree that mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a pow­er­ful tool with great in­flu­ence on the peo­ple who are ex­posed to them. Celebri­ties are very ca­pa­ble wield­ers of the tool.

Be­com­ing a celebrity is fast be­com­ing a ca­reer op­tion or hope for the young (and even the old, some would say), spo­ken of in the same breath as be­com­ing a doc­tor or a lawyer. There is no greater trib­ute to the in­flu­ence of me­dia celebri­ties as this.

Call­ing the shots: Co­me­dian US tele­vi­sion host Jon Ste­wart is now the world’s most in­flu­en­tial man, ac­cord­ing to an on­line men’s life­style mag­a­zine.

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