The Representation of Celebrities in Media. The Example of two Articles from Cosmopolitan Magazine

Term Paper, 2021

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 Origin of the Concept “Celebrity”
2.2 Celebrity in Print Media
2.3 Cosmopolitan Magazine

3 Methodology

4 Analysis
4.1 Marginal Information
4.2 Illustration and Formal Structure of the Articles
4.3 Content of the Articles
4.4 Summary of the Analysis Results

5 Conclusion and Outlook

Works Cited

1 Introduction

“We've all seen the media endlessly focus on the personal lives of celebrities. Most of it is gossip and tabloid fodder.”

(Alana Stewart1 )

The preceding statement of Alana Stewart represents the supposed portrayal of celebrities in the media and the end to which such depiction is used. Celebrity is highly relevant throughout a long period, and we encounter it in almost all life situations nowadays. In the individual types of media, we meet famous personalities who reveal their path to notable superstardom. Whether the media relate to television, radio, print, or the internet, they all generate their viewer and reader quotas with top stories of famous stars and starlets. In particular, the magazine market uses the celebrity of well-known personalities, to encourage purchases and often conveys the latest trends about prominent persons on several pages. In all industrial nations, the media market presumably plays a decisive role, and celebrity is of equal importance. Nevertheless, how exactly are famous personalities portrayed in print media? Can differences from culture to culture be detected in the appearance? This paper addresses the following research question:

How are celebrities portrayed in Cosmopolitan magazine, and to what extent can cultural differences2 be identified in their portrayal?

In order to answer this question, the first step is to define the commonly used term celebrity and explain the current state of research on it.In this case, the relevance of this topic in today's age is examined more closely. In a next step, the industry of print media is briefly discussed and the women's magazine Cosmopolitan is introduced in its basic features. The portrayal of celebrities is subsequently compared based on two similar articles from an American and a German issue of the previously introduced magazine and analyzed with the theoretical basis. The articles are initially presented in form and structure, and then their content is consequently explained and evaluated. As a final step, the results of the analysis are summarized to revisit and ultimately answer the research question of this thesis.

2 Theoretical Framework

2.1 Origin of the Concept “Celebrity”

The word “celebrity” describes someone who is famous in the entertainment industry (cf. Cambridge Dictionary). The term is derived from the Old French celebrité and from the Latin celibritatem, meaning “celebration” and “fame” (Etymology Dictionary). In addition, “in the nineteenth century [that] the term ‘celebrity' emerged” (Douglas/McDonnell 28). During this era, a remarkable social change transpired and industrialization occured. With more extensive opportunities, free time expanded and interest in public entertainment intensified. Theaters, vaudevilles, and other performances were met with considerable enthusiasm. In the period from about 1840 to 1920, the phenomenon of celebrity began to take root as opportunities for public life and self-expression increasingly became available (Douglas/McDonnell 29). Furthermore, “nearly every country on earth can boast of someone whose image is recognized instantly around the globe” (Faber 3). In ancient times, people already dealt with the antagonists of honor and shame, jealousy and fame, and reputation and disgrace; these concepts control societies and constitute social interaction to some extent (Faber 7). Additionally, these opposing pairs seem to come into being only through the behavior of celebrities, which sets an example for many people to emulate. Nick Couldry explains below the scope of celebrity in societal structures:

Wherever we live, we are probably now familiar with the stories about celebrities and their social function, whether as role models for young people, or as leaders of public debate, or as new actors who can redeem trust in a discredited political system. Such stories often bring with them claims that the phenomenon we call ‘celebrity' compensates for failings elsewhere in the functioning of the social system, and perhaps even that celebrities represent ‘us', ‘the people'. (Couldry 98)

Famous personalities seem to create social constructs with their appearance and schedule a direction to which many turn. Thus, being prominent seems to have implications not only for the aforesaid people but also for those individuals who talk about, learn from, or benefit from celebrities.

2.2 Celebrity in Print Media

Predictably, celebrity stories are fundamental to the entertainment and gossip magazines, accounting for an average 46% of their content. They are most suited to that part of celebrity coverage that displays the 'authentic' person who exists behind the performance, and the least influenced by conventional news values. (Bonner et al. 62)

The preceding quote clearly illustrates the position of celebrities in the print media. In most cases, celebrities are to be portrayed as realistically as possible so that readers can identify with them and feel addressed.

The connection between celebrities and their fans is a two-way relationship that satisfies mutual needs and benefits (Douglas/McDonnell 22). Prominent figures need to know how to present themselves in the best possible way to allow them to gain external recognition and possibly enhance their profile; the public sphere represents a stage of constant self-presentation. In the course of this portrayal, Erving Goffman introduces the concepts of the “front” and the “back” to illustrate a performance (13). On the one hand, the front demands the perfect realization of the role that an individual occupies. This situation requires acting the way a person wants to be seen, and the performance has to display a “dramatic realization” (Goffman 19). On the other hand, the back offers the opportunity to drop the veneer and to do and not to do what does not correspond to the role that one intends to slip into in front of the public. However, the trick behind this behavior is to avoid getting caught under any circumstances (Goffman 20). For famous personalities, this restraint of one's own privacy represents a balancing act, as “many celebrities understand that their fans want access to the back stage” (Douglas/McDonnell 27). Nonetheless, a key step is to ascertain how much can be admitted and what could possibly even put oneself at a risk. After all, the audience gives the celebrities and decides who should be assigned to the world of stars and rising stars (Peters 21; author's translation). However, once a person becomes well-known, which is easily given by the presentation in print media, the chance to become a celebrity first emerges as well. According to Schierl, celebrity is unintentionally created through the reporting of people (99). In addition, Schierl emphasizes that recipients usually prefer personalized messages, as people and information related to them are of particular importance to humans (100). Readers experience the feeling that they are on the same level as the celebrities and therefore identify with them. Philip David Marshall adds the following insight into the position of celebrities:

Because of celebrity's centrality in what can be defined as self-production, the elaborate celebrity gossip can be seen as providing a continuity of discourse around the presentation of the self for public consumption. The pedagogy of the celebrity in the twentieth century can be read as a very elaborate morality tale that mapped a private world into a public world. (Marshall 37)

The preceding quotation expresses the fact that the portrayal of celebrity is merely and simply for the consumption and entertainment of the recipients. Private events are brought into the public eye and placed in the world of “normal citizens”.

2.3 Cosmopolitan Magazine

Cosmopolitan (often called Cosmo for short) describes itself as the “biggest young women's media brand in the world” (Cosmopolitan), with the intention to generate “fresh, funny and fundamental intel about what millennials truly care about” (Cosmopolitan). In 2017, the American press sold around 227,000 copies (Morrison), whereas the German version sold roughly 251,000 printed versions (Hauke-Steller) in the same year. Readership figures have declined sharply in recent years; nevertheless, Cosmopolitan remains one of the best-known and most far-reaching magazines in its field, especially in Germany. In particular, despite the decreasing number of printed editions sold, the presence of Cosmopolitan on any social media channels and on its own website is stronger than ever before. Consequently, the diminishing number of magazine readers does not mean that Cosmopolitan itself no longer has as many followers as the magazine did before.3

3 Methodology

For the subsequent analysis, the focus was on Cosmopolitan, as this magazine represents an optimal analytical instrument for the intended investigation of the representation of celebrities. The research question introduced earlier necessitates a qualitative approach.

For a qualitative analysis, secondary texts were consulted, which provide information on how celebrities can be classified in media. For the actual analysis of the representation of celebrities, two different issues of Cosmopolitan were selected; one from the German era and another from the American era. The selection of two issues from different cultures allows for the evaluation of the representation of stars in various regions and the acquisition of a differentiated result. The work is therefore limited to quantitative guidelines; it is theory-driven and deductive in design.

4 Analysis

As previously mentioned, part of the analysis is a German edition (refer to Appendix A) of Cosmopolitan and an American issue (refer to Appendix B) of the introduced magazine. Two articles from both issues are analyzed with regard to the portrayal of prominence. The self­interest of Cosmopolitan in the portrayal of the two celebrities is certainly not to be denied.4 Neither advantages nor disadvantages are illuminated in this analysis, which refer to the interest of the publisher, but the depiction of the celebrities is the subject in its entirety. The main reference is to the underlying theory, which pertains to the role that the performance of the celebrity plays to the reader and how this can be interpreted.

4.1 Marginal Information

Before the analysis of the content and form of the two articles is conducted, the two issues of Cosmopolitan at hand are first presented in their broad outlines and how the chapters in the issue can be integrated is explained. On the one hand, the present issues dating from February 2021, comprise 104 pages in the American version; on the other hand, the German edition extends to 146 pages. Both covers feature two singers; the German cover is represented by Alicia Keys,5 whereas the American cover features singer SZA.6 In this discussion, however, the focus is not on the covers but on the articles that report on the two famous personalities shown on the front page. The German issue places the story about the celebrity relatively far at the beginning. The interview conducted by Melanie Jassner entitled “ICH HABE AUFGEHÖRT ZU NETT ZU SEIN [capitalization in original]” or: “I have stopped being so nice” (author's translation), starts on page 18 and ends on page 21; hence, the story about Alicia Keys can be read on four pages. The article on SZA is titled “EASY DOES IT [capitalization in original]”, and it was written by Julee Wilson. Compared to the German article, this one is located relatively far at the end of the magazine, and it extends over eight pages; the article can be read from pages 76 to 83. Both articles are presented in the form of an interview.

4.2 Illustration and Formal Structure of the Articles

Two-thirds of the first double page of the German-language article feature a realistic-size portrait of Alicia Keys. The recipient's attention is directly drawn to the fact that this piece is an article by a celebrity; this aspect is indeed difficult to miss, owing to the large portrait of Alicia Keys. A small-area quote from the celebrity is situated right next to her head. The title of the article extends over the upper half of the right page; under the heading of the article is a subheading, and the reading time is noted underneath it. Approximately the right half of the right page is highlighted in white; the actual article only begins in the half of this section. On the first double-page spread, the article itself thus covers over only one-eighth. On the subsequent page, the next part of the article extends relatively longer than compared to the two previously described pages. Page 20 consists of three quarters of the interview with Alicia Keys. In the center of the page, the text flow is interrupted by a highlighted large-area quote in color from the famous singer. On the right section of the said page is a blue bar that extends from top to bottom, indicating and promoting merchandising products from Alicia Keys. The next page, meaning the right side of the second double page, is provided with another picture of the celebrity. Her whole body is shown in this picture. At the top right of the said picture, a small and brief quote that obviously refers to the photograph is located. The text of the article initially runs to the left of the picture and then continues under the image. The continuous text is again interrupted by a quote from Alicia Keys, which is situated directly below the photograph of her and is highlighted in color as well as size. At the bottom right is a small black speech bubble that provides information about the singer's point of view. The small part on the left side of the first double page serves as a minor introduction to the interview until the structure of an ordinary interview is reproduced; that is, the interviewer Melanie Jassner asks 16 questions, to which Alicia Keys repeatedly provides an answer. With this type of article, the reader experiences the feeling of being directly involved in the event and being able to hear the celebrity answer the questions directly, so to speak, without the people responsible for the article paraphrasing and writing about the celebrity from their viewpoint. As underscored in the previous part (refer to page 3), the fans themselves make a person a celebrity and decide who becomes famous or has the qualities to become a superstar. With the realistic representation in the form of the interview, the readers are enabled to form a direct opinion, without the influence of another person.


1 American actress, author, producer and former model

2 The difference in representation in various regions is identified by analyzing the portrayal of the celebrities themselves, but not at the historical level, as this aspect would exceed the scope of this paper.

3 The reference to the appearance in social media and on digital platforms in general represents a separate and important topic, which cannot be addressed in more detail given the scope of this work. The focus is therefore only on the print versions of the magazine.

4 Due to the scope of this paper, this issue cannot be discussed further, even though this topic is of critical relevance in the consideration of celebrities.

5 American singer and songwriter

6 American singer and songwriter

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Representation of Celebrities in Media. The Example of two Articles from Cosmopolitan Magazine
University of Duisburg-Essen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
representation, celebrities, media, example, articles, cosmopolitan, magazine
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2021, The Representation of Celebrities in Media. The Example of two Articles from Cosmopolitan Magazine, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Representation of Celebrities in Media. The Example of two Articles from Cosmopolitan Magazine

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free