The Lifestyle Press: Back to Tradition

12 март 2012, Автор: Silvia Petrova
Публикувана в 2011 Media Monitoring Report

If lifestyle media are indicative of the current social values, then Bulgarian society is becoming more and more patriarchal. The period under review (2011) saw a continuation of the earlier tendency for the Bulgarian lifestyle press to represent reality as divided into two distinct halves: female and male. Feminism and emancipation acquired increasingly negative connotations, contrary to virtues such as marriage and motherhood – this was the perspective from which the people setting the norms and serving as models of identification were described.

In 2011 the Bulgarian lifestyle media continued to follow western models in the genre, refracting them through the prism of local reality. The economic crisis led to the closure of some of the most popular Bulgarian lifestyle magazines (such as Maximum and Anna Klub), for reasons having less to do with a loss of readers than with a loss of major advertisers. Despite declining circulation numbers, however, the interest in and influence of the lifestyle media actually grew.

The desire of the Bulgarian lifestyle press to distinguish itself from the so-called yellow press was obvious. The dividing line ran between sensationalism and decorum. Whilst the so-called yellow newspapers and magazines described their subjects through sensational ‘facts’ and photos, the lifestyle press focused on traditional stereotypes of the role of men and women in society, building models of identification around them. This made the world look a little tidier, and the positions and roles in it clearer and easier to perform.

The earlier emphasis on emancipatory images, peppery language and loan-words was replaced by an emphasis on patriarchal norms and calm, smooth language. All this fits into the so-called post-feminist ideology: the people who serve as role models are represented by the lifestyle press as champions of family values. In this rhetoric it is no longer shameful for women to be mothers, wives, and housekeepers. On the contrary, it is regarded as an advantage. An ancient status quo has been restored, reviving traditional gender roles: women are passive and emotional, men active and rational. On the whole, the post-feminist movement is a reaction against the theses of feminism conceived of as an elitist project. Bulgarian post-feminism emerged later and differs significantly from that in the West because women’s emancipation in Bulgaria was not won after long struggles, it was given by the socialist regime. In this sense, the return to traditional norms and roles can be interpreted both as a protest against the socialist notion of the ‘superwoman’ who is expected to cope with thousands of duties and responsibilities at home and at work, and as a desire to connect to some stronger roots of the past.

The return to tradition calls for accelerated production of myths. In 2011 the Bulgarian lifestyle press told mythic stories whose invariants can be traced back in time (for example, to biblical or ancient archetypes). The life of celebrities serving as role models was presented in the form of dramatic vicissitudes in the quest for happiness. Unlike the yellow press, the ‘interesting’ details of someone’s life were not sought in racy gossip but in mawkish true-life stories or escalation of noble feelings. The private sphere was spoken of in a decorous, not sensationalistic, tone. The lifestyle press showed the other side of the private as conceived of in an idealized form modeled on ancient archetypes and norms. That is how the lifestyle media created a prestigious image for themselves which guarantees them greater influence in society. The revival of patriarchal ideals and the intensive production of myths can be interpreted also as a reaction against the invasion of new technologies. At the same time, the creation of new myths continued to serve the ideology of consumption, but this process was likewise refracted through the local situation: since consumption in the form of over-consumption is almost absent in Bulgaria, the lifestyle media produced quasi-consumers – users not of real goods, only of their images on their own glossy pages. In this way and in the context of the economic crisis, an impetus was given to a new type of construction of identity based on quasi-consumption.

Last year saw the emergence of a new trend in the Bulgarian lifestyle media – namely, their quite extensive inclusion in the election campaign. All leading contenders for the presidency deemed it necessary to include the lifestyle channels in their campaigns. The opposite process was also to be seen – the lifestyle media themselves claimed to be equal players in the election campaign, declaring that aspects such as appearance and behaviour were not less important than political ideas. It was characteristic of the lifestyle representation of the presidential candidates that they were depicted in a one-sided way (through the prism of traditional gender roles), and this made this ‘alternative’ campaign rather dull. On the other hand, this revealed its potential to continue after the elections as well, which means growing interest in the lifestyle sphere beyond its usual boundaries in Bulgaria (until now, mostly show business celebrities). It is noteworthy that the lifestyle election campaign proved to be more successful in television than in print lifestyle media. This probably indicates the fact that the lifestyle press is considered to be ‘women’s territory’ where male candidates fear they will fail to fit in, while the messages of television are perceived as being more universal. This is proved by the fact that the only presidential candidate to appear in a lifestyle magazine was a woman (Meglena Kuneva in Eva), while all main contenders for the presidency appeared on TV lifestyle shows.

A new function of this type of media became obvious: they no longer serve only as entertainment and as a reservoir of identities, they also participate very actively in political life by forming its ‘other’ side which is not less important than political messages (appearance, behaviour, private life of political figures). This has a twofold effect: it attracts audiences that are not interested in politics in its traditional sense, and it intensifies the process of the transformation of politics into a spectacle. The lifestyle media reflect but also cause a growing public disengagement from serious issues and a shift of focus on the playful, the spectacle, entertainment.

In the period under review, however, the Bulgarian lifestyle media failed to construct and promote full-fledged scenarios about the image of politicians. In the final count, the images of the presidential candidates promoted by the lifestyle media were as if cast from a single mould, lacking originality and distinctive features. As a result, they all looked identical, differing only by gender. The symbiosis with the political failed because of the incapacity to produce a new sign system signifying conceptual differences, and not simply a belonging to some traditional stereotypes (conceived of as decorum and reliability). There were no sufficiently diverse lifestyle models within which the political figures could inscribe their messages.

Still, despite their flaws in this respect, the Bulgarian lifestyle media are likely to become an increasingly attractive field for expression of politicians. Their growing influence is due both to their eclecticism (they easily combine different views and models of behaviour) and to the disengagement of a large part of the Bulgarian public from serious political debates. An additional advantage is the attempt at demonstrating that the lifestyle media are different from yellow media by returning to traditional values and virtues.

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