Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture

Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture

Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture

Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture


As an omnipresent figure of the media landscape, girls are spectacles. They are ubiquitous visual objects on display at which we are incessantly invited to look. Investigating our cultural obsession with both everyday and high-profile celebrity girls, Sarah Projanskyuses a queer, anti-racist feminist approach to explore the diversity of girlhoods in contemporary popular culture.The book addresses two key themes: simultaneous adoration and disdain for girls and the pervasiveness of whiteness and heteronormativity. While acknowledging this context, Projansky pushes past the dichotomy of the "can-do" girl who has the world at her feet and the troubled girl who needs protection and regulation to focus on the variety of alternative figures who appear in media culture, including queer girls, girls of color, feminist girls, active girls, and sexual girls, all of whom are present if we choose to look for them. Drawing on examples across film, television, mass-market magazines and newspapers, live sports TV, and the Internet, Projansky combines empirical analysis with careful, creative, feminist analysis intent on centering alternative girls. She undermines the pervasive "moral panic" argument that blames media itself for putting girls at risk by engaging multiple methodologies, including, for example, an ethnographic study of young girls who themselves critique media. Arguing that feminist media studies needs to understand the spectacularization of girlhood more fully, she places active, alternative girlhoods right in the heart of popular media culture. Sarah Projansky is Professor of Film and Media Arts and of Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She is author of Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture (also available from New York University Press) and co-editor of Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek.


As the 21st century picks up speed and settles into place,
childhood has become a spectacle—a site of accumulation
and commodification—in whose name much is done.

—Cindi Katz, “Childhood as Spectacle”

All girls are spectacular. I take this as a given. I consider it to be a feminist claim. Nevertheless, contemporary U.S. media tell us otherwise. Hence, I start with this assertion to remind myself and my readers that it is possible to believe this to be true. In media, some girls are fabulous, others are not; some girls’ stories are worth telling over and over again; others warrant telling only in passing or not at all. Girls who are large, differently abled, queer, of color, and/or poor; make “bad” or “dangerous” choices; feel depressed; or even just act silly (1) simply do not exist in media culture; or (2) appear in marginalized representations, on the periphery, with sidekick status; or (3) populate ubiquitous disparaging, disdainful, anxious, and/or protectionist depictions that shore up a narrow version of acceptable girlhood: the impossibly high-achieving heterosexual white girl who plays sports, loves science, is gorgeous but not hyper-sexual, is fit but not too thin, learns from her (minor) mistakes, and certainly will change the world someday.

This book is, in part, about the ways in which media produce some girls as spectacular while belittling others. Its primary investment, however, is in paying sustained analytical attention to the many girls who fall outside a narrow definition of conventional girlhood. Working as a feminist media scholar committed to fighting racism and affirming . . .

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