Prominent women have been characterized by both the media and society as “women we love to hate”. These women who are pinpointed by the media must negotiate the negative publicity that follows them and turn it into positive publicity that they can benefit from. Two women who have taken advantage of the spotlight the media has put on them and used it to their advantage is Princess Diana and Bristol Palin.
The media is a medium with many different uses. It is used as a form of entertainment, lucrative industry, and social forum (Kearney, 2012). Media has become a social system where individuals are being brought to the attention of the masses for various things. These individuals do not ask to be the center of a media event but when it happens it is very hard to get out of the public eye. In the case of Princess Diana and Bristol Palin, they were being framed by the media in an unfavorable light. This constant coverage of them transformed into a media event due to agenda setting.
Media framing and agenda setting are “two major theoretical models for media message construction” (Wachs, Cooks, Messner, and Dworkin, 2012, pg. 426). They are common tools used by the media to garner viewership. Framing is a way for a media outlet to tell the story using their specific narrative. There are overlapping and contradicting frames of the same topic throughout the media. Agenda setting highlights the correlation between the time media spend on a certain issue and how important it is to the audience (Wachs, Cooks, Messner, and Dworkin, 2012).
One social media event that illustrated the use of agenda setting and framing well was the OJ Simpson trial. OJ Simpson was put on trial for murdering his wife. The whole event, from the slow speed car chase to the 8 month long trial was televised for the public to see. There were also different frames used. Some news stations framed OJ Simpson as the innocent all american hero who achieved the american dream by making it to the NFL.
Before she married Prince Charles and became a princess Diana Spencer was a media nobody. Once the engagement was announced the media covered Diana constantly leading up to the day of the royal wedding. The marriage did not go without scandal. There were rumors that Charles still held feelings for his ex Camilla Bowles but, despite the media frenzy that stirred up the wedding still went on as planned. During their marriage rumors started that Charles was having an affair with Camilla. The scandal surrounding the marriage was great fodder for the tabloids. She used her new found fame as a springboard to publicize her charitable efforts (Stanovsky, 1999).
Princess Diana was able to do all of this charitable work because she married into one of the richest families in the world. Media followed her wherever she went which brought
public attention to a specific charity. After her divorce in 1996, Diana toured an Angolan minefield. She was photographed in a ballistic helmet and flak jacket. Her interest in landmines related to the injuries they create long after the war is over. She partnered with the Red Cross to promote their landmines campaign. Other charitable endeavors include AIDS outreach and leprosy.
Diana is now known as one of the icons of the idealized vision of a virtuous women (Stanovsky, 1999). Diana could have been known for her rocky marriage with Charles but she did not let that happen. She took the media attention she was given and utilized it to make a positive impact on her the world and her image.
Bristol Palin is the oldest child of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Sarah ran under the republican ticket with John McCain in 2008. Rumors started circulating that Sarah’s latest child Trig was not Sarah’s but rather her daughter Bristol’s. This cause the media firestorm because the whole situation was so ironic. Sarah Palin was chosen to be McCain’s running mate because she could attract the energize the conservative base and yet her daughter is pregnant out of wedlock something that went against their campaign platform. The mystery about who was Trig’s real mother was never really investigated but Palin did public say that her daughter Bristol was pregnant during the campaign. In order to protect their campaign Palin said that Levi Johnston, the father of the baby, and Bristol were engaged which was false (Perel, 2008).
Bristol was not painted in the best light when the public knew she was pregnant out of
wedlock. She used the publicity to become a spokesperson for teen pregnancy prevention and used herself as an example for other young women. She later began a reality television star in her own right and appeared on season 15 of Dancing With The Stars. Bristol evolved from daughter of Sarah Palin to notable public figure in her own right thanks to her ability to take advantage of an unsavory media spotlight.
Both Princess and Diana and Bristol Palin were catapulted into a media firestorm and they used that fame to establish their own identity rather than the initial identity that the media gave them. Both cases help to show how media takes hold of a topic the audience finds interesting in order to make a profit and how media can be a social forum for the subject to promote their own ideals.
Kearney, M. C. (2012) The gender and media reader. New York: Routledge.
Perel, D. (2008, September 11) Everything about politicians is fair game. The wall street journal, A15. Retrieved on November 4, 2008 from Factiva.
Stanovsky, D. (1999) Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and the value of women’s work. NWSA journal, 11(2), 146-51.
Wachs, L., Cooky, C. Messner, M., Dworkin, S.L. (2012) Media frames and displacement of blame in the Don Imus/Rutgers women’s basketball team incident: sincere fictions and frenetic inactivity. Critical studies in media communication, 29 (5), 421-438.