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Gossip Goes Mainstream: People Magazine, the National Enquirer, and the Rise of Personality Journalism

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Abstract

The fifth issue of People Magazine, published on April 1, 1974, featured then-president Gerald Ford on its cover. Ford was neither hobnobbing with heads of state nor sitting dignified in the Oval Office—he was in a swimming pool, with beads of water still streaming down his face. Naked from the waist up, he grins at the camera. “Gerry” Ford is referred to as “the front-runner who refused to run,” while his bare chest conveys a nakedness and willingness to reveal his informal side. The cover domesticates Ford, suggesting him as the reader’s intimate. This now-familiar strategy is one that People has repeated time and again, discursively and visually, as it has spun large and complex issues into narratives about “personalities.” Only a few years before People debuted, Generoso Pope Jr. switched the focus of his National Enquirer, transforming the publication from a gore-and-guts rag into a quasi-respectable tabloid in the late 1960s. Like People, The National Enquirer attracted its audience by cultivating narratives based on people—some bizarre, some remarkable, some famous—and coupling them with advice columns, letters from senators, investigative health pieces, and offhand bits on psychics and famous dogs.

Keywords

Public Figure Picture Personality Liminal Space Mass Audience Saturday Evening 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    For the history of the fan magazine, see, for example, Anthony Slide, Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers (Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, At the Picture Show: Small-Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Charles L. Ponce de Leon, Self-Exposure: Human-Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 41.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See Richard Decordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (new York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 19–28.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    See Leo Lowenthal, Literature, Popular Culture, and Society (englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1961), 109–140.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    See Michael Schudson, Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers (new York: Basic Books, 1978)Google Scholar
  8. and John Tulloch, “The Eternal Recurrence of New Journalism,” in Tabloid Tales: Global Debates Over Media Standards, ed. Colin Sparks and Tulloch, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2000), 131–146Google Scholar
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  10. 14.
    John Keane, The Media and Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Polity, 1991)Google Scholar
  11. Anthony Sampson, “The Crisis at the Heart of Our Media,” British Journalism Review 7.3 (1996): 42–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 20.
    See Anthony Lewis, Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment (new York: Random House, 1991).Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    See Jack Vitek, The Godfather of Tabloid: Generoso Pope Jr. and The National Enquirer (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008). aau]24._Robert Elson, Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Empire (new York: Atheneum, 1986), 436.Google Scholar
  14. 26.
    See Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965).Google Scholar
  15. 32.
    Martin Rossman, “The Nation’s Favorite Gossip Turns 5,” Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1979, p. D13.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Barry Siegel, “People Prying into Private Lives,” Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1976, p. E1.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    Tom Shales, “People on TV: Melts in the Mind,” Washington Post, August 28, 1976, p. C1Google Scholar
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  19. 40.
    Paula Morton, Tabloid Valley: Supermarket News and American Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009), 33.Google Scholar
  20. 41.
    David Lamb, “From Gore to Riches.” Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1972, p. A1.Google Scholar
  21. 42.
    The Enquirer was not the first to cultivate reader participation. Early fan magazines encouraged reader interactivity: The Enquirer took interactivity a step further. A reader’s opinion about celebrities was important, but so too were his/her pets, personal musings, and opinions on political issues. See Marsha Orgeron. ““You Are Invited to Participate: Interactive Fandom in the Age of the Movie Magazine,” Journal of Film and Video 61.3 (2009): 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 46.
    See Jostein Gripsrud, “The Aesthetics and Politics of Melodrama,” in Journalism and Popular Culture, ed. Peter Dahlgren and Colin Sparks (london: Sage, 1992), 84–95.Google Scholar
  23. 71.
    Philip H. Dougherty, “Advertising: The National Star,” New York Times, February 4, 1974, p. 42.Google Scholar
  24. 79.
    Peter Goldman, “To Lift a Nation’s Spirit,” Newsweek, July 23, 1979, 20.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

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