Whether or not you subscribe to a tabloid (or a number of tabloids), read them occasionally or only skim the covers as you make your way through the check-out stand (even Whole Foods carries a select few, such as Us Magazine), tabloids matter. They matter because they comprise a component of our pop culture environment, like it or not.
You may scoff at the rags, belittle them, feel disgust and/or frustration, you may have boycotted them entirely (good for you!), but (you know this was coming, right?) plenty of other people read them. They do inform a large segment of the population. Don’t you want to know what messages are being constructed and disseminated?
When I attended Z Media Institute in 1997, I was in a full-on boycott of the mass media. I’d shut the cable off, stopped buying tabloids and I even stopped flipping through them when I got my nails done. I was done. I felt great. In fact, I felt smug about my choice and my intellectual elitism. Mass media? Pop culture? Nope. I’d moved on and I was above it. And then Michael Albert started talking about the NBA.
I think he could tell how surprised some of us were by his intricate knowledge of professional basketball and his affinity for Michael Jordan. Michael Albert was my favorite teacher at the institute (besides the workshop I attended with Noam Chomsky). He taught all sorts of cool media theory classes and I was heavy into theory those days. I respected him and was sorta oogley-eyed. His status as an out-and-out NBA fan didn’t match up with his intellectual, activist and anti-mainstream persona. Without any prompting on the part of his surprised and speechless students, he went on to explain that as an alternative media activist he couldn’t just turn a blind eye to the mass media. He could examine it critically, limit his level of mediation and even enjoy parts of it. Why would he want to completely distance himself from and consider himself superior to mass culture, pop culture? How could he expect to relate to the rest of the population? How could he speak the same language and create change if people perceived him as an intellectual snob in an ivory tower that viewed their hankering for some end-of-the day programming?
Of all the invaluable things I learned during my time in Woodshole, MA, this conversation has remained with me in incredible clarity. My time at ZMI changed me and Michael Albert’s talk on activism and the NBA changed my approach to activism, my understanding of pop culture and my to relate to and resonate with the “average” mediated individual in immeasurable ways. And, it allowed me to have a little more fun.
So, unlike a lot of you reading this, I do read tabloids. It’s part of my job as a media critic and an educator. I need to know what my students are subjected to. What are they reading? What are they watching. In essence, what are they consuming? It allows me to speak the same language and use examples that are relevant to them. This allows me to connect with them and create a shift in consciousness.
Aside from creating more interesting, often entertaining, and relatable lectures, *I* want to know what messages and images are being constructed. These messages and images shape our social values. I’ve been a student of media literacy for 15 years, I consider myself a conscious media consumer and I limit my level of mediation but most people I interact with don’t fall into that category. I’m talking about my neighbors, the people at the market, the gym, the drivers next to me on the 405.
In the end, whether or not you read the tabloids, tabloid messages help frame our culture. With that said, I have decided that beginning with last week’s tabs, I am going to examine the covers of at least 2 tabloids and find out what they’re saying. It may seem trivial or superficial but tabloid talk matters. Aren’t you curious to see what they’re telling thousands of people each week?
Well, lets take a look:
“Tabloid talk” was inspired specifically by these two covers from last week. Interestingly enough, both covers featured women exclusively. But that’s nothing to get too excited about. The dominant themes are: weight and body image (you’re either too thin, a plastic surgery freak or a body project success), relationships with men (endings and beginnings) and the girl-on-girl feud. Oh, and there’s a brief mention of Kate Gosselin and it’s not good. For more on all the “Kate-hate,” check out this article at CNN with commentary by WIMN director, Jennifer Pozner.
How does this compare to older cover stories? Again, lets take a look at this 2004 tabloid cover from my personal archive:
Hmm, not much has changed, has it? I always find the examination of tabloid covers and advertisements more powerful when viewed as part of a larger spectrum of images. The seemingly mundane or superficial focal points become more powerful when viewed collectively.
So, let tabloid talk begin. It will be my weekly online content analysis. Complete results will be tallied and posted in 56 weeks.