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Douglas ties celebrity journalism to narcissism and conservatism

Susan J. Douglas spoke on the phenomenon of celebrity journalism as the School of Communication’s 28th Annual Van Zelst Lecturer in Communication April 13.

Douglas is the Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies at The University of Michigan and Chair of the Department and the author of Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done and The Mommy Myth:  The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Undermines Women, among others.

The lecture is funded through a gift from the late Theodore Van Zelst and Lou Ann Van Zelst, who attended this year’s lecture with her daughters, Anne Orvieto and Jean Bierner.

In her talk, Douglas encouraged “wariness with a capital W,” especially for women consumers of the “utterly banal” but narcissistic industry of celebrity journalism. “We are meant to measure our worth against them,” Douglas said. Even cynical celebrity coverage, such as by Perez Hilton, is dangerous, because it allows celebrity tracking while feeling superior, creating “an imagined community where everything we are matters.” In the end, Douglas said, the industry’s “bump patrol” for guessing women’s reproductive futures and “Who wore it better?” photo comarisons train its users to practice “body surveillance” of women and “retrograde stereotypes”—a renewed conservatism where we are encouraged to police women’s roles and decisions in ourselves and each other.