An Exercise in Structural Criticism from the unlikliest source…

by Anna Blanch on October 19, 2009

An exercise in Structural Criticism, using the genre of Celebrity Break-up stories….
 
image: teamsugar
The units of the celebrity break-up story and/or dramatis personae of this genre
  • One or more celebrity spouses (in these stories they were heterosexual couples, though this is not an essential element of the genre)
  • One or more children (a dependent pet may appear in place of a child).
  • The anonymous source
  • The publicity agent/named friend
  • Damning photographic evidence (or visual images that are captioned)
  • Unrelated bystanders (members of the general public or fans)
The units of content of celebrity break-up stories
  • · Establish status as “celebrity” for one or both spouses
  • · Happily married (or expectation of perfect marriage)
  • · Younger female spouse (in these example stories)
  • · One Spouse is more successful than the other spouse
  • · Children have entered into the couple’s relationship
  • · Some unhappiness has entered into the relationship
  • · Male-spouse negative response to woman-spouse success speculated
  • · Children are impacted negatively by fighting/separating parents
  • · Contact with professional advisor (either economic or legal)
  • · Physical separation of celebrity spouse couple
  • · Disolutionment of marriage and dispersal of property and arrangement of custody for any children
  • · Possible romantic options for one or both spouses and/or potential for marital reconciliation and marital happiness

Rules of combination of units of character and content in the story?

  • · Previous happiness of marriage mentioned in conjunction with current break-up
  • · Comparative success levels of spouses mentioned in conjunction with any role the male-spouse has played in the female-spouse’s professional life; the opposite is rarely true and not true at all in the two sample stories.
  • · One spouse has significant career success, relative to lesser success for the other spouse (in the two example stories, this is the woman).
  • · Where there are children, all aspects of content relating to children in the list of units of content will be present in the story
  • · In the example stories the unhappiness in the marriage has been caused by a combination of a greater level of success on the part of the woman-spouse and some response of the male spouse (either cheating or resentment/anger)
  • · The anonymous source is almost always “close to the family”
  • · The responsibility for the breakup, in relation to speculation as to causes of unhappiness, are placed at the feet of the male-spouse in both example stories.
  • · In conjunction with content relating to one or both spouses seeking professional advice is content relating to the possibility of future happiness or possible romantic options alternative to the current relationship.
Types or levels of narrative in the celebrity break-up story
  • · Main body of story may include dialogue, cardinal functions as to the facts of the breakup (often in the form of speculation).
  • · Clichés and puns on television and movie projects or other culturally significant phrase related to the reason for celebrity.
  • · Photographic captions – used to links visual images to main body of story; refer to some fact in story, or provide additional catalysers.

The primary relationship between the levels of narrative is one of building momentum; the purpose of the captions on unflattering photographs, along with dialogue and quotes from the dramatis personae serve to heighten the antagonism inherent in the “break-up story.” There is a strong emphasis on the “celebrity” status of the story’s main dramatis personae.

Units of form and rules of combination in the celebrity break-up story (as to all stories in celebrity magazines)?
  • Large Font Headlines
  • Photographs (some unflattering) with captions
  • Double page magazine spread
  • Boxes with timelines or other background details

The relationship between the celebrity break-up story’ and some of the other sub-genres of the celebrity story
These sub-genres are related to one another in the general category, though this relationship is not chronologically fixed (ie: baby can precede marriage, and wedding can either come before or after all other stories).

The relationship story, weight-gain/loss story, baby story and wedding story, and break-up story include almost exactly the same elements of form; one difference relates to the tone of the captions – these will be used differently in each of these other sub-genres (positively in the baby, wedding, and relationship story, and both positively and negatively to aid narrative in the weight gain and weight loss stories).

Structuralist reading
A structuralist readings enables an understanding of the way each story relates to its broader narrative genre of ‘celebrity story’ if indeed, it meets the criteria for a celebrity break up story. Obliquely, the development of expectations as to form and content units gives rise to satisfaction of those expectations.

Criticism of Structuralist Criticism
Structuralist criticism fails to bring out the depth of emotion present in the writing; that is, this analysis will treat all celebrity break-up stories in the same way – this doesn’t account for aspects of style or content that will impact future news cycles (spin –off stories), affect sales and circulation figures, nor does it allow one to make a normative judgment between celebrity break up stories as to which is more significant. Structuralist criticism also does not bring out matters of writing style, nor the conversational tone of the writing in these stories.

It is very difficult also to make assessments about whether a story is a ‘celebrity breakup’ story without defining a corpus of already identified celebrity break-up stories which have been analysed for narrative units, spheres of action, and functions, so that one has a yard stick with which to compare a new possible ‘celebrity break-up story’.

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