- The Ordinary Mystique And US Weekly's Heyday
These days, it seems almost quaint to imagine that there was a time before smartphones and social media, when consumers would purchase celebrity magazines just so they could peek behind the glamorous curtain into a celebrity's seemingly nonmediated life. But during the first decade of the twenty-first century, Us Weekly's print issues served exactly that purpose. The magazine, which dominated the celebrity-magazine market, was known for an editorial style and tone that mixed ordinary and extraordinary discourses and perpetuated a new type of star—reality-television performers.
In Extraordinarily Ordinary: Us Weekly and the Rise of Reality Television Celebrity, Erin A. Meyers takes a critical approach in placing the magazine's content within American cultural contexts. The introduction establishes relevant tie-ins with today's use of social media for public performance, and the book's core concepts link pre-social media celebrity-magazine foci to the current proliferation of personal branding vis-à-vis Instagram and other social platforms. Perhaps drawing on her perspective as coeditor of Celebrity Studies, Meyers keenly outlines the parallels between reality television, celebrity magazines, and Instagram posts—each successfully using the guise of authenticity to distribute mediated presentational performances of everyday life, crafted to gain optimal cultural attention and value.
The data source is a ten-year corpus, starting in 2000, of Us Weekly print issues—archived, organized, and inductively coded. Using qualitative [End Page 113] research soft ware, Meyers establishes thematic shifts that recast certain reality-show cast members as reality celebrities and, ultimately, extraordinarily ordinary celebrities. The book charts this progression against the backdrop of some unwavering constants in the coverage, such as support for patriarchal norms and consumerist lifestyles, which do not preclude the shattering of traditional notions of fame.
The book's structure is relatively uncomplicated: four building-block chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 1 establishes the notions of ordinary or private self and extraordinary or public self within conventional stardom scholarship. The chapter also introduces its analysis framework, which includes three forms of labor: creative labor, labor of ordinariness, and celebrity-lifestyle labor. This triad forms a lens to study the construction of celebrity status, the mythologization of meritocracy, and the reinforcement of normative identities in the magazine's coverage. Chapter 2 examines how Us Weekly used the labor of ordinariness to achieve goals crucial to its profitability—such as the "growing" of celebrities through coverage of "ordinary" reality-television cast members. Chapter 3 discusses the celebrity-lifestyle labor needed to establish the transition from an ordinary to an extraordinary celebrity. To that end, the magazine might feature photos of an "ordinary" cast member doing "extraordinary" things, such as walking down a red carpet or showcasing their home. As such coverage is usually relegated to celebrities, its use converts the ordinary to the extraordinary. Chapter 4 illustrates this labor in a case study of reality-television star Lauren Conrad's transformation, offering insights into the below-the-surface dynamics that established Conrad as a bona fide celebrity and, now, a lifestyle brand.
But it is the concluding chapter that drives home the true relevance of this book, by positioning Us Weekly within the annals of contemporary popular culture. It correctly recognizes its influence on today's social media celebrities (or rather, microcelebrities) and explicates the oft enblurred lines negotiated in today's perpetually selfie- loving, public- facing behavior. The conclusion also spotlights the centrality of industry shifts—including Us Weekly's sale to media mogul and Trump supporter David Pecker in 2017—to the magazine's ideological objectives.
This text, while relatively slim in page count compared to other books about celebrity culture, is outstandingly dense with academic splendor. The author's previous research about the relationship between Us Weekly and gossip blogs clearly informs the book, as she confidently and competently [End Page 114] weaves together interdisciplinary arguments that allow readers a nuanced and contextual understanding. Its intended audience includes scholars and students in fields such...