Framing the Subversive: Journalism, Celebrity and the Web

Richard Berger (Bournemouth University, UK)

In 1999 an email list called Popbitch began in the UK, detailing the type of celebrity gossip not seen in mainstream news media. By 2001 Popbitch had over 36,000 subscribers. This paper will argue that Popbitch marked a new engagement with celebrity and significantly altered the relationship between celebrity and the fourth estate. From 2001, subversive and oppositional aspects of celebrity were more overtly public than ever. The perceived ‘back-region’ and closed world of celebrity had been breached by new media; a new media that was largely untouched by the restrictive content regulation of the PCC and government legislation. Popbitch - alongside sites such as Holy Moly and The Smoking Gun - is not just a ‘scandal sheet’ or an online version of a tabloid newspaper. Its particular brand of gossip and presentation has had a significant impact on mainstream journalism. Magazines such as OK, Heat, Now, Nuts and Zoo etc, the content of which is completely informed by celebrity narratives, all began post-Popbitch. This paper will propose that sites like Popbitch frame the subversive elements of the celebrity narrative and provide content for mainstream media. Such sites have been able to circumnavigate content regulation in a way not seen before, and subsequently the mainstream press has been able to bypass the same regulation by commenting on celebrity gossip websites. This paper will map how these subversive utterances can in turn be subverted to serve the needs of the mainstream media in a complex interplay of influence and exchange.

Timing - Saturday - Panel Session E1
Download the full paper - Richard Berger.doc

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