The Legend of Ledger: The role of the media in reporting and remembering

When a celebrity dies it becomes both news and gossip. People want to know how? Why? Where? Who was there? What happened? However, a decade or two after their death, they are often forgotten. Their fans have moved on and the media is focused on the next big celebrity rise, fall or death. Yet, some do become iconic like Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, whose memories will live on for many more decades. This article questions whether Heath Ledger’s legacy will live on, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of his death.

In 2016, it is was hard to mourn just one particular celebrity, as so many were lost that year including David Bowie, George Michael, Gene Wilder, Alan Thicke, Doris Roberts, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Florence Henderson, Mohamed Ali, and Debbie Reyolds. Many of these are either iconic people or played iconic characters, which will be remembered for years to come. However, it is difficult to know who will truly stand the test of time. And what role does the media play in the mourning and remembering of celebrities?

When River Phoenix died in 1993, the phone call made by his brother Joaquin was released to the media. Decades since his death, LA tour buses still point out the spot outside the building where he died. The Viper Room was previously owned by Johnny Depp, which adds to the intrigue of this devastating story. However, it is not simply a story. It is people’s real lives. So why is it talked about in the media as if it is a film? How is it ok, that a private call for help became public and discussed in the media? Is a celebrity’s public appearance meant to make it ok? Society’s morbid fascination has led to the media losing their ethics to some extent when it comes to celebrities, perhaps under the argument of public interest. But is that fair?

While River Phoenix is still remembered by many, I am certain many of my students do not know who he is. In fact, most of my students recognise Marilyn Monroe without having seen any of her films. Their associations with Monroe are solely based on her as a sex symbol. There is no knowledge of her talents or life. Thus, even if a celebrity lives on, it is often only a symbolic representation of their iconic brand. So what will the legend of Ledger be?

Reporting Ledger’s Death

Heath Ledger died in his New York apartment from an accidental drug overdose on January 22, 2008. Instantly, rumours began about his level of happiness, whether it was suicide, his drug dependence, why the masseuse who found him did not call the ambulance or police immediately, how Mary-Kate Olsen was involved and how his dark portrayal of The Joker may have contributed to his death. However, since then, his father Kim Ledger has openly spoken about his son’s death, stating the tragedy was the actor’s own fault and a horrible accident.

Perhaps rather than spreading rumours, the media should have been finding out the facts before reporting to the public. Instead, a sad situation was made worse by sensationalism. People often claim to not care about celebrities, yet there is clearly a fascination. We cannot blame the media completely, as the consumers themselves are the ones requesting immediate information. This immediacy has grown since Ledger’s death with social media demanding constant updates.

Twitter began to grow in popularity in 2009 and since then we have Instagram, Snapchat and other largely successful social media platforms. While celebrities use these apps to brand themselves today, it is also impacting the number of rumours that spread, as there is no longer control over media. For example, Paul Walker’s death was announced online a day before it actually happened, due to a hoax. This led to many rumours rotating on the day of his actual death, which were only put to rest when Walker’s representatives posted through his social media accounts a statement clarifying he was in fact killed in a car crash on November 30, 2013. Social media was used as a way for fans to mourn around the world. It is also used today to keep Walker’s memory alive. His Twitter account remains active, with his publicity team posting quotes and images of Walker. Therefore, while the media is responsible for the lack of facts and ethics, it is also depended on to help maintain a celebrity’s identity.

Celebrating Ledger

Now almost 10 years since Ledger’s death, his life and career are being celebrated, as they should. At the age of just 28, Ledger had managed to make a large influence on the world. Playing a controversial role in a homosexual romantic drama attracted a lot of positive and negative attention. For some, he was seen as a hero, while others hated him. Brokeback Mountain was a pivotal point in his career. As too was The Dark Knight, which lead to his posthumous Oscar win.

Ledger was more than just a talented actor. He helped form and promote Australia’s national identity to the world and put Perth on the map for certain people. Now, fans can join in celebrating his life and career through various means. Earlier this year, I Am Heath Ledger was released, not focusing on his death but sharing insight into his creativity and many skills. In October this year, there will be an exhibition opening in his honour titled, Heath Ledger: A Life In Pictures. Photographs, artworks, costumes, props and much more will be displayed. This exhibition will take place in his hometown of Perth – http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/offsite/heath-ledger-life-pictures.

I am also chairing a conference in December in Perth, titled Bridging Gaps: National Identity in Persona, Branding and Activism – http://cmc-centre.com/conferences/2017perth/ At this conference we will have a panel discussing Heath Ledger’s iconic status and how he helped form Australia’s national identity.

Ledger’s memory is also kept alive in Perth through a monument at Heathcote Reserve, a theatre named after him in Northbridge and an acting scholarship offered to young creatives – http://www.australiansinfilm.org/HeathLedgerScholarship These initiatives are important in maintaining his brand identity and keeping future generations informed. Today, he is represented as a friendly, hard-working, passionate person. The documentary focused largely on his photography and directing skills, as well as his passion for chess. To most fans, he will probably be remembered for his role as The Joker. However, to keep his image alive globally, there is a reliance on media.

Remembering Ledger

When celebrities die, the media mourns them for a day or maybe a week. After the truth behind their death is revealed they become old news. Thus, to maintain media interest and nurture a celebrity’s brand posthumously, their image must still be circulated, yet protected. As soon as a family member or friend says something about a deceased celebrity, this gives the media a chance to circulate a new story. Somehow, 20 years since Princess Diana’s death the media still finds new information to share. This helps to reconnect audiences. Thus, while the media is often seen as an enemy to the celebrities at the time of death, they are reliant on them long-term. The media also has the power to depict the celebrity in a particular way. Whether they celebrate the celebrity’s success or focus on negative rumours. Michael Jackson certainly had two sides to his brand, yet is remembered fondly by most for being an innovative singer and dancer. Ledger’s memory is relatively untarnished. His death was tragic and his persona is intact.

Whenever a celebrity dies young they are compared to James Dean, who died at the age of 24 in a car crash in 1955 having only starred in three films but remains the ultimate ‘rebel’. While it is doubtful that Heath Ledger would reach the same iconic status as Dean, there are varying levels of iconicity. Like Dean, Ledger is celebrated in his hometown but also remembered around the world. I personally hope Ledger’s image lives on for many more decades to come. He was an amazing talent, who proved that someone born in the most isolated city in the world could become a global name.

 

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True bromance: the authenticity behind the Stewart/McKellen relationship

I am pleased to announce that the paper Dr. Celia Lam and I wrote together for the Celebrity Studies Conference in Amsterdam in 2016 has been published.

Dr. Lam and I have been working on a book about bromances being used as a promotional tool for the past few years. This is a sneak peek of what is to come.

I hope you enjoy reading this paper on how Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart have used their bromance to promote their films and theatre shows through social media.

True bromance: the authenticity behind the Stewart/McKellen relationship
http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/gVMrMzrJeZPQ7mjaWni9/full

Thank you Celebrity Studies and Routledge for the wonderful opportunity.

Perth CMCS Conference – National Identity

I am very pleased to announce that we are holding our first Australian CMCS Conference in Perth, WA!

I have organised and Chaired CMCS conferences in New York and Barcelona, so it is exciting to bring it home! I would like to thank the Perth Convention Bureau and Tourism WA for their support.

Click below to read the full Call for Papers:

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I look forward to seeing you there!

New Book! – Becoming Brands

My new book, Becoming Brands: Celebrity, Activism and Politics, is now available for purchase here.

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I would like to thank my co-editor Dr. Celia Lam and P. David Marshall for writing the foreword. I would also like to thank all the authors for contributing their chapters and Waterhill for publishing. This book was inspired by the presentations at the CMCS conference in Barcelona in 2016. The key theme was exploring celebrity activism and how activists become celebrities.

 

My own chapter in the book examines how Paul Newman established a posthumous brand that helps charities around the world.

 
I hope you enjoy reading it.

Bridging Gaps: Where is the film scholar in Hollywood filmmaking?

CMCS has a new conference coming up. Where better to discuss film and media than Hollywood? Check out the CFP…

 

CALL FOR PAPERS

Bridging Gaps: Where is the film scholar in Hollywood filmmaking?

Performance Café, University of South California

Los Angeles, USA

March 18-19, 2017

There have been significant debates on gaps between filmmakers and film scholars. Film scholars have been critical of dominant representations that tend to overlook classist, sexist, speciesist and ethnocentric trends in the production of films and star-studded images in Hollywood. Yet, scholarly views in academic writing are not adequately addressed in film production and in journalism. Scholars can address the issues through journalism and moving image practices in which filmmakers are trained. CMCS sponsored Celebrity Chat is an example of this trend. Can a new form of film ‘critic’ be situated in journalistic and scholarly discussions and screenings? Can the critiques become a new form of ‘activism’ that is different yet supports ideals of celebrity activism in Hollywood and beyond?

The Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) Bridging Gaps conference, in association with sponsors Centre for Ecological, Social, and Informatics Cognitive Research (ESI.CORE) and WaterHill Publishing, invites papers and audiovisual material that explore the relationship among four key themes related to Hollywood – theory, production, criticism, and activism. We invite academics, filmmakers, journalists, publicists, and guests to present and connect cutting-edge research areas from a range of interdisciplinary fields and address social justice issues in moving image practices.

We also invite people to send in videos for the Celebrity Chat Award. The best video/documentary will be selected based on its ability to draw attention to a significant matter, be relevant to the conference theme and inspire change. Extended versions of selected papers will be invited for publication.

Registration includes: Your printed conference package, coffee / tea breaks, access to evening receptions, evening drinks, professional development workshop, and consideration for the CMCS $100 best paper and $100 screen awards.

Submission guidelines:

  • 250-word abstract or workshop / roundtable proposal
  • Include a title, your name, e-mail address, and affiliation if applicable
  • Submit to conference Chair Dr Samita Nandy at email address:celeb.studies2017@gmail.com
  • Deadline for abstract submission: October 31, 2016
  • Notification of acceptance: December 2, 2016
  • Full text due: February 18, 2017
  • Conference presentation and reception: March 18-19, 2017

Celebrity Chat Video Submissions:

  • Video length should be 10-20 minutes
  • Include a title, your name, e-mail address, and affiliation if applicable
  • Submit to Celebrity Chat producer Dr Jackie Raphael at email address: celeb.studies2017@gmail.com
  • Deadline for submission: October 31, 2016
  • Notification of acceptance: December 2, 2016
  • Conference screening: March 18-19, 2017

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Hollywood and non-Hollywood stardom
  • Entertainment industry
  • Film, video, and television
  • Cinematic adaptations of novels
  • Photography
  • Glamour and beauty
  • Mass media and social media
  • Journalism
  • Interviews
  • Public relations
  • Persona and branding
  • Endorsements
  • Social advocacy
  • Celebrity activism
  • Activists as celebrities
  • Human rights and animal rights
  • Environment and climate change
  • Audiences and fandom
  • Laws and Policies
  • Theory and Methods
  • Research Agenda
  • Business Models
  • Ethics and Morality
  • Cognition and Memory
  • Media Literacy
  • Social Innovation and Change
  • Education and Advocacy
  • Community Building
  • Business and Community Partnerships

Conference Chairs: Dr Samita Nandy

Committee Members: Dr Jackie Raphael, Dr Nicole Bojko and Kiera Obbard

Conference URLwww.cmc-centre.com/losangeles

Australian Fandom – downloading, Netflix, spoilers, Anime, Bollywood, local productions…

We are delighted by the many wonderful abstracts we have received, and thank all prospective authors for their proposals.


To complete the various themes of the book we are now specifically requesting abstracts exploring the following themes:

  • Downloading and Streaming in Australia (the impact of Netflix on Australian viewing; immediate access to series such as Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead; avoiding spoilers etc.)
  • Australian fandom and the Asia Pacific (Anime, KPop, JPop, Bollywood etc.)
  • Investigating fandom of Australian film and Television productions (Kath and Kim, Underbelly, Offspring, Summer Heights High etc.)
The extended deadline for submissions is September 17 2016.
Please see the original CFP (below) for submission instructions.


CALL FOR CHAPTERS

Online, offline and transcultural spaces in Australian Fandom

Australian fans have access to a wide array of popular culture content from around the world, developing relationships with these products that are as rich as fans from other parts of the globe. Until recently access to media products is limited by temporal and spatial distance from countries of origin. Yet, at the same time practices from diaspora communities to preserve cultural identity introduces a multitude of global media content to a wider Australian audience. Australian fans thus engage with a mixture of ‘conventional’ and ‘niche’ media products that places them both within the margins and in the mainstream.  While there may be parallels between Australia and other nations with multicultural communities, the geographical location, history and cultural mix of Australian society give rise to unique contexts shaping the consumption and practices of Australian fans.
 
We thus ask the question: What makes the Australian fan experience unique? What influence does geo-political location have on the consumption and appropriation of popular culture in the Australian context? What impact does Australian multicultural society have on exposure and access to popular culture? What drives Australian fan interaction with global popular culture, and how does this interaction intersect with narratives of ‘Australian-ness’ in local and globalised contexts?
 
This book seeks to explore the specific and unique experience of being fans living and Australia.
 
We seek authors to contribute critical chapters for an edited volume to be submitted to University of Iowa Press. Topics include but are not limited to:

 

  • Online fandom
  • Offline fandom (including convention attendance, fan-celebrity interaction etc)
  • Fan perceptions of celebrity brands/identities/public persona
  • Fan fiction
  • Cosplay culture
  • Anime culture
  • Manga culture
  • Subcultures of fandom
  • Transcultural fan practices (e.g. fan Subbers)
  • World cinema fandom
  • Cult cinema fandom
  • Comic book fandom
  • Distribution practices including Fast tracked television, Streaming services and Netflix
  • Fandom and national identity

 

Please email 300 word abstracts and your CV to both Celia Lam and Jackie Raphael by September 17 2016. Proposals should be for original chapters that have not been previously published (including conference proceedings), and are not under consideration from other journals or edited collections.
 
Dr. Celia Lam is Lecturer in Media and Communications, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney (celia.lam@nd.edu.au)
 
Dr. Jackie Raphael is Lecturer in Design, School of Design and Art, Curtin University (J.Raphael@curtin.edu.au)