Fan Response to the Soiling of
Martha Stewart's Spotless Image
Melissa A. Click
In 2002, I set out to study Martha Stewart fans in hopes of understanding Stewart's popularity in the United States at a time when women seemed to have more choices outside the home than ever before. My public calls for focus group participants drew fans I could not easily recognize as such. For me, this raised the question, What is a fan? The insider trading scandal Martha Stewart was involved in during the time period in which I conducted my interviews, October 2002 to October 2005, added a layer of complexity to my study of Stewart's fans. The scandal drew immense media attention that impacted both her celebrity and her media texts, many of which were amended to extract her presence or canceled outright.
Interestingly, the interviews I conducted with audience members of Martha Stewart Living revealed that fans were drawn to at least two distinct aspects of this text: Martha Stewart the celebrity, and the ideas created by Martha Stewart. As I argue below, an important component of the criticism of Stewart, and the positions her fans took as a result of this criticism, is the tension between femininity and feminism in U. S. culture; Stewart's text and persona raise questions about what an American woman can or should be. Thus, the ways in which Stewart's audiences respond to her and her media texts reveal the ways in which Stewart's blending of traditional and contemporary ways of being a woman provoked both praise and condemnation.
There is much to be learned from studying fans who do not fit traditional descriptions. Indeed, in doing so we move closer to creating a fuller