Tabloid Fodder

Last week in a tutorial we were discussing the role of the tabloid media, and how ultimately, if the public are so willing to pay to read about the private lives of celebrities, then who are the public to condemn the tabloid press for invading the private lives of celebrities? The gist of the argument went that before society blames the media for Princess Diana’s death, society should take a long, hard look at itself for encouraging the media to, quite literally, hound her to death.

This is a value I’ve always held as a would-be journalist, but since then, I’ve been thinking it over and two things occurred to me.

1. The majority of tabloid readers are women, as illustrated by the fact they have titles such as Woman’s Day and features articles about How To Make The Ultimate Roast and How To Knit The Ultimate Jumper between articles about Kirstie Alley’s weight loss and Katie Holmes’s stupidity over Tom Cruise.

2. The majority of subject matters are women, with articles about Kirstie Alley’s weight loss, Katie Holmes’s stupidity over Tom Cruise, and Simone Warne/Denise Richards/Whoever crying about their husband’s infidelities.

To me, this says that women – or at least a particularly sub-group of women – enjoy bringing down other women, especially women they perceive as more successful than they are. The last tabloid I bought was a couple of years ago, where a reader wrote in to say Gwenyth Paltrow had no right to mourn the death of her father because she was so rich, famous and had Ben Affleck. I was so disgusted I never bought another tabloid again. I really hope this person was an extreme example of the indifference the public has to the grief and privacy of celebrities, but it seemed to me like the status quo of what amounted to tall poppy syndrome; that flower is taller/prettier/gets more attention than me, I’ll cut her down”¦

Didn’t your mother ever tell you that when you cut down the tall poppies, all that’s left are the weeds?

What this amounts to is that women are cutting each other down, collectively full of jealousy that someone else might succeed over them. Specifically, it’s “˜ordinary’ women getting their kicks out of criticising the crap out of female celebrities to make themselves feel better. Kirstie Alley is fat (from women insecure about their weight). Tom Cruise is using Katie Holmes (from women being used by their men). Denise Richards is less than a woman if she can’t hold onto Charlie (from women who know their men are screwing around). I honestly don’t feel the need to read a tabloid to feel better about myself, and I wonder what it says about people that need their daily fix of celebrity gossip/poppy-cutting.

On a wider level, I think the greatest problem with feminism is that women can’t bear for other women to succeed, so they hold each other down. I’m Australian; I feel a deep sense of shame that we were the country that culturally excommunicated one of second-wave feminism’s greatest writers, Germaine Greer, largely, I suspect, because women got together and said “˜we’re not the least bit like her; she’s an anomaly’, for fear that men might read Greer’s quite revolutionary ideas and lump all women in with her. The result; let’s tear this bitch down.

(And anyone who doesn’t believe Greer was revolutionary, read The Female Eunuch. Remind yourself periodically that the book was written thirty years ago.)

I think our attitudes towards female celebrities are symptomatic of our attitudes towards feminism; we want others to succeed, but only so far, because we don’t want to be eclipsed. One columnist, upon Princess Mary’s* marriage, commented that the Australian media hunt would go like this:

  1. isn’t that beautiful, local girl marries Danish royalty;
  2. nonstop coverage of the multi-million-dollar fairytale wedding that every woman would give a vital organ for (or so the stereotype goes);
  3. nonstop coverage is-she-or-isn’t-she pregnant;
  4. nonstop coverage on her pregnancy
  5. lots of photos of the new Danish prince/ess and the proud new parents;
  6. stories about how Frederick is being a less-than-model father, womanising, being irresponsible, Mary’s unhappiness, etc. – you know, the whole Charles-and-Diana model on replay.

Except it stopped being so amusing when the Australian media hunt went exactly like that. And it went like that because that was what got the magazines bought. And that got the magazines bought because that was what people wanted to read; build them up, tear them down.

The tabloid media is interesting because it focuses on bringing down women and is largely read by women. My tutor quoted that those bottom-of-the-barrel tabloid publications (the ones that are a few runs lower the supermarkets’ rags) have a circulation of four million in Australia alone; that’s one if five of us. One in five of us have such small minds that we enjoy bringing down someone – anyone – else. I don’t have the knowledge to comment on such publications, but I know that supermarket rags are primarily ready by women, so I can only assume that all tabloid publications are.

What bothers me, in addition to this pettiness, is that the majority of the subjects of tabloids are women. No-one gives a damn that Colin Farrel will sleep with anything in a skirt, or that Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Warren Beatty have serious trouble comprehending the word “˜fidelity’, or that Matt Damon is a good ten kilograms heavier these days than he was in Good Will Hunting. Why the hell are we criticising our female celebrities and not our male ones for the same behaviour? Are we so jealous of any woman who eclipses us that we’ll cut them down by whatever petty means necessary?

Our attitude towards celebrities is just one symptom of an ultra-competitive spirit towards other women, and a resentment towards women more successful. I’m not saying all woman are like this, but plenty enough that men have no need to undermine women in society; women are doing a perfectly good job of that themselves, thankyouverymuch. Women’s equality is not going to go anywhere until women learn to let go of their petty jealousies and rivalries.

*Mary Donaldson was a Tasmianian (that little island at the bottom of Australia; no, not New Zealand, the other one) who married the crown prince of Denmark. Australians are collectively crazy about her, and media commentators have had a field day comparing the Fred-and-Mary circus to the Charles-and-Diana circus.


  1. Firebird says

    I find it fascinating that people wish to build up famous people before tearing them down. In the example of Princess Mary (quite the fairy tale, eh?), people loved apparently to read about her fairy tale story and wedding, but they weren’t content to hope she lived happily ever after. This seems odd to me, even with the explanation of wanting to cut other people down. How sick do you have to be to want someone to be deliriously happy only in order to have them disappointed and brought down low? It’s like our collective cliché, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” being played out on our chosen world stage of celebrities – like maybe, women having been taught not to reach for what they want but hope that life will bring it close, they seek to see someone reaching above her station for what she wanted, and succeeding – as they wished they could – but it not working out in the end, to justify themselves not reaching for their own desires. Not in real life. Just in fantasy.

  2. scarlett says

    Well, I think these people do have really low self-esteem. I, for one, don’t read tabloid mags and the entertainment publications that I do read are actually entertinamnet-based – news, reviews etc on the latest films, music etc. As I said, the laid tabloid I read I put down in disgust because someone had written in saying Paltrow had no right to grieve for her father.
    And I’ve overheard conversations where people have this bitchy conversations about how Katie Holmes is being played and she deserves it for, well, I don’t know exactly – being rich, famous and beautiful, I suppose. Yeah, I do think a big part of it is low self-esteem – I’m not as pretty/talented/rich/famous as her, so I’ll bitch about her. I see it as an extension of the bitching those people do about regular people in the street, co-workers, so-called friends etc.And it’s really disheartening to be part of it. SO I don’t read tabloids, and have as little as possible to do with those who do.
    But I still find it fascinating the the majority of tabloid readers are women.

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