Monstrification : celebrity self-othering as alternative narratives of empowerment
Most women, including celebrities, experience one form of othering or another at some point in their lifetime. Othering is a rhetorical process used to single out individuals or groups perceived as not fitting into a dominant group’s cultural categories like gender, class, race, religion, nationality, etc. Othering is often carried out through monster rhetoric, which is both literal and idiomatic language, imagery, and actions relating to monstrosity in order to denote someone as criminal, perverse, disgusting, or unworthy of love. Sometimes, a celebrity appropriates monster rhetoric to other herself for political reasons with the intention of changing certain narratives. This study examines how two female celebrities use monstrosity to rhetorically manage their otherness within their media narratives. In this study, I ask how and under what conditions a celebrity self-others using monster rhetoric and aim to determine what additional rhetorics celebrities use to support their monster rhetoric and self-othering narratives. My research is concerned with understanding the ways a celebrity maintains or regains control of an othering narrative, as well as the rhetorical strategies she uses to legitimize her preferred narrative. With these goals in mind, I combine theories of monstrosity with the star image, glamour and parody in order to more clearly delineate the celebrity practice of self-othering using monster rhetoric. I call this phenomenon monstrification. In this project, I argue that monstrification works by exposing the conventions, clichés, and structures that power traditional monster rhetorics, and redirects that power toward the rhetor’s alternative narrative of empowered otherness. I use an historical and narrative understanding of monster rhetoric to contextualize how two celebrities, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, opt to depict themselves in two of their music videos. Through rhetorical analysis, I show how they are able to monstrify themselves to create monster rhetoric that builds narratives of empowered otherness. Based on the analysis of both case studies, I theorize monstrification as a collection of rhetorical strategies for combatting traditional otherness and legitimizing the celebrities’ alternative cultural narratives. This project argues that thinking about monstrification is a useful tool for analyzing the ways celebrities choose to othering themselves using monster rhetoric. This project suggests additional productive ways of thinking about pop culture narratives as purposeful sites for change.