THE HUMANIZATION OF AMERICAN ROYALTY
The absence of a royal class in American society has generated a false aristocracy consisting, for the most part, of television and motion picture celebrities and to a lesser degree, a small group of elite politicians.
Since the United States was conceived as a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, the existence of a so-called ruling class was inconsistent with American principles from the first, leaving our society with the definite lack of a tangible source of adoration existent in most Americans’ countries of origin. The need to replace the ruling class with a suitable substitute has existed from the advent of the democratic system and has progressed (or degenerated, depending on point of view) in recent years, due to the universality and continuous onslaught of the visual medium, to encompass those personalities easily accessible to the public on both the motion picture and television screens. Those individuals who watch television frequently (and we must believe them to be in the majority) see the same celebrities at the same time and hold these personalities in varying degrees of awe. New meaning has been given to the word "personality" in recent years. There have been celebrities since the beginning of time; there have been actors since the advent of theater, but the "television personality" did not exist until the 1950's and this relatively unique character in American culture has found a position in "American royalty" due to his availability and the frequency of his public appearances.
It appears that one of the functions of the various tabloids and popular "grocery-store magazines" is to provide information on these individuals in order that the public can become more familiar and claim a false kinship with their objects of attention.
Rather than providing simple biographical material on these celebrities (a concept which would prove both boring and incapable of generating sequels), the tabloids have sought to humanize them, to make them appear more available to the general public by scrutinizing their personal lives in sensational stories, most of which contain material gained through questionable means and of questionable validity. While providing these insights into the lives or the stars, the tabloids keep one message loud and clear for the American public: Life in the fast lane of public notoriety is not all it is cracked up to be; for all the wealth and fame, it is no better or worse than the average American life. The tabloids focus on everyday occurrences of bad fortune befalling celebrities, bringing these characters "down" to the level of the common man. Even the celebrities have their crippling moments of pain and anguish--and they have so much more to lose.
The National Enquirer reports that even though "Liz [Taylor] had been due to go to Paris for the French government's Commander of Arts and Letters award" (5), she was forced to postpone her trip because she collapsed in worry over Rock Hudson's illness. She could not accept this prestigious award because of her "agony after literally worrying herself sick over Rock Hudson" (5). The National Enquirer attempts to give its readers a look into the fame and fortune surrounding celebrities but at the same time it tells them, "So, America, you may not be getting an award in Paris today, but at least one of your closest friends is not dying of AIDS." Bob Newhart was recently hospitalized for treatment of polycythemia, a frightening-sounding disease linked to stress and diet and is not deemed
life-threatening; however, the National Enquirer reports that Mr.
Newhart has escaped the jaws of death thanks to his loving wife and the fact that he "is a fighter" (24). The message: Bob Newhart is just like you and me, America. His life has its ups and downs, but he doesn't want to die and his wife loves him.
Also common in the tabloids are excuses from celebrities for not being as personally wholesome as the public has come to expect. If a television or movie star does not conform to what the public has deemed proper behavior for a member of the "American royalty”, then there is usually a reason and the logic behind that reason is usually as flawed as any typical excuse. The Star reports, "Bouncy Nell Carter” almost ruined her career on a half-hour situation comedy because of cocaine addiction (9), and that Philip Michael Thomas worked terribly hard and is entitled to be an egomaniac (29). TV Guide explains that Kristy McNichol's "chemical imbalance" (13) is the reason she is such a dyed-in-the-wool bitch. Again, the common theme
is that these celebrities are just ordinary people, human, like the readers of the tabloids.
There are instances of other, less obvious, methods of humanizing the "American royalty" in the tabloids, but the most prevalent appears to be the inclusion of "advice from the stars." The advice given in the tabloids is much the same as could be obtained from questioning a neighbor. It is not deep, soul-searching comment, but light, trite, and general. The Star reports that Victoria Principal and her husband have “opened [their] honeymoon home to [Principal’s] unhappy sister" (10) because she wanted her sister to see "what it is like when the right two live together" (11). Englebert Humperdink is quoted by the National Enquirer as having lost 28 pounds in 30 days thanks to the "positive attitude [he has] toward [his] career and personal life" (62), and Cybill Sheperd gives a delightful insight into her vast knowledge of literature when she tells TV Guide readers “The Hamlet isn't even the best of Faulkner ••• I found it unreadable" (41). Ms. Sheperd's statement is a summation of the quintessential advice offered by tabloids to their readers: Watch television, go to the movies, and buy this magazine to find out what's going on behind the scenes. Forget reading Faulkner; you wouldn't understand it anyway.
The tabloids would have us believe that mediocrity of thought is the American way. The celebrities are depicted as ordinary, accessible individuals without a serious thought among them; they fit in well with the mainstream of American culture. Simple circulation figures alone are evidence that there is a market for the tabloids and consequently, a market for material that de-frocks famous persons and removes the mystique of "untouchable" from their persona. The magazines fill a need. They reflect the fantasies of ordinary, everyday people, they give insight into the private trauma of the "American royalty,” and they offer advice, albeit unprofessional, from those celebrities in whom mainstream America has placed interest for the present.
The message of the tabloids is salve for the doldrums of ordinary American life, and those who choose to accept this remedy are relying on escapism in the form of entertainment to soothe their wounds. For their readers, the tabloids bring the kings, queens, princes, and princesses of the “American royalty" within touching distance of their loyal subjects and offer the common man a glimpse into the good life.
Ardmore, Jane. “Victoria Principal: Why I Opened my Honeymoon
Home to Unhappy Sister." Star. Vol 12. Issue 40. 1985: 10
Brenna, Tony and Taylor, Richard. "Bob Newhart's Wife: Show Biz
Took I's Toll on Bob--But He'll Be Back." National
Enquirer. 1 October 1985: 24.
Fury, Kathleen. “’The Long Hot Summer’ of Don, Cybill and
Company," TV Guide. Vol 33. Number 40. 1985. 36-4l.
Humperdink, Englebert. "My Dynamite Diet Works Like Magic—I Lost
28 Pounds in Only 30 Days!" National Enquirer. Vol 60.
Number 9. 1985. 62.
Lavin, Audrey. "Bouncy Nell Carter Stuns Fans with Tearful
Cocaine Confession," Star. Vol 12. Issue 40. 1985. 9.
Leahy, Michael. “’I Wasn't on Drugs',” TV Guide. Vol 33. Number
40. 1985. 12-16.
Manning, Fiona and Ryan, Ann. “Millionaire Moguls of Miami
Vice,”” Star. Vol 12. Issue 40. 1985. 28-29.
Newcott, William. "Liz Collapses in Worry Over Rock," National
Enquirer. Vol 60. Number 9. 1985. 5.