Application of Circuit of Culture theory in Oprah Winfreys Social Cause Essay Example

Application of Circuit of Culture theory in Oprah Winfrey’s Social Cause

Lecturer:

Table of Contents

2Introduction

2The role of celebrity in promoting social cause

3Oprah Winfrey and her involvement in social cause

5Theoretical Review of Oprah using Circuit of Culture model

6Analysis of Social activism based on Circuit of Culture model

7i) Production

8ii) Representation

11iii) Regulation

13iv) Identities

14v) Consumption

16Conclusion

17References

Introduction

In the current scholarly debates regarding the rising prominence of celebrity influence in societal and cultural movements, some scholars have adopted the term “celebrification” to denote a meta-process that seizes the transformational nature, in addition to the societal and cultural influence of celebrities that is observed through their roles in attaining certain social issues (Driessens 2013). Clearly, celebrities from across the globe have the privilege of limitless attention from the media. Certain celebrities have, therefore, leveraged such privileges to influence the society positively (Turner 2006). They direct public attention towards policy, environmental, social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Among the prominent celebrities of the 21st century who has been actively involved in charity work, particularly in developing countries, is Oprah Winfrey. Based on the Circuit of Culture theory, this paper examines Oprah Winfrey to illustrate the dynamics of the five moments (representation, construction, consumption, identity, and regulation) in relation to her publicity efforts in encouraging social cause.

It is argued that celebrities’ can effectively use their popularity using the Circuit of Culture theory to participate in initiatives that promote the awareness of issues that affect the underprivileged sections of the society.

The role of celebrity in promoting social cause

A broad body of empirical studies have recently attempted to explain the significance of celebrity as ambassadors of global and local non-profit organizations, and their significance in promoting social activism (du Gay P 1997; Jiand 2011). Current studies have brought plenty of evidence suggesting the role of celebrities in influencing public discourses and social activism. As Driessens (2013) explains, the trend has been encouraged by the current prevalence of activism globally to promote human rights and climate change awareness. Modern-day sociologists like Turner (2006) believe that the amplified and ubiquitous voices of the celebrities have a great potential to contribute significantly to positive social change, as well as energise public cooperation to resolve prevailing social problems.

According to Turner (2004), the concept of ‘celebrity’ is indeed a complex cultural variable. In their view, celebrity can be a cultural phenomenon or a “representation,” of something that can be traded through publicity, marketing promotions or the media in order to generate a “representation” or “discursive effect.” If this conception is taken into perspective, then it could be reasoned that the concept of celebrity is in essence a cultural formation that has significant social functions. Indeed, some researchers like Turner (2004) and Turner (2006) have applied such a hypothesis to point out three fundamental academic descriptions of celebrity. The first one describes the way through which individuals are discussed and represented. The second includes the processes based on which individuals can be discussed or represented or even commoditised. The third includes a component of culture that is uncreasingly reformulated and rewritten. Historically, celebrities have been engaged in shaping public opinion or causing behaviour change. One of the prominent Hollywood celebrities of the 21st century is Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah Winfrey and her involvement in social cause

As a cultural institution, Hollywood is inherently linked to social activism and the contemporary era where celebrity engagement with Charity work continues to intensify. Undeniably, during the past decade, the involvement of Hollywood celebrities’ interest in charity work has been apparent. It is based on this perspective that celebrities like Oprah Winfrey have advantage of their high profile celebrity.

Oprah Gail Winfrey (born 1954) is an African-American Hollywood actress, talk show host, and philanthropist. Although famous for her talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” she has acted in several Hollywood films, including “The Color Purple” (1985), Beloved (1998), and The Butler (2013). Oprah Winfrey is one of the leading celebrities who have made donations worth of millions of US dollars to many non-profit organizations globally (Looktothestars.org, 2015).

Much of her donations have been channelled to three major US foundations, namely the Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and the Angel Network. Other non-profit organisations that she runs include Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (Looktothestars.org, 2015). Through the non-profit organizations, she has managed to establish herself as a philanthropic person, and extended her arm and influence far and wide throughout the world. Other activities that have seen Oprah participate in Charities include signing a wooden dog bone for an auction to raise funds for the Mississippi Animal Rescue League. She has also fostered charity work by donating to 300 members of her TV audience US$1000 each and asking them to make donations to charities of their interests. She also supports various other courses including ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, and climate-change campaigns. Annually, she makes the highest donations to Project Cuddle initiative, whose role is to rescue hundreds of abandoned babies annually. She also supports the Free The Children initiative, which is committed to construction of schools for children in the developing nations. In 2006, she also donated US$1 million to the Green Belt Movement International to promote planting of trees and community development projects across Africa (Insidephilanthropy.com 2014).

According to Turner (2004; 2006), the outcome of celebrities’ popularity is their participation in initiatives that promote the awareness of issues that affect the underprivileged sections of the society, including in the developing countries. By reviewing Oprah’s role in social activism, it is reasonable to argue that the issues she promotes, such as education of underprivileged children in the developing nations, ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, and climate-change campaigns have gained significant popularity, while at the same time celebrity stardom is becoming politicised. This surely signifies a shift in events where celebrity participation in advocacy activities through charity work has intensified. Indeed, a review of the media indicates Oprah has showed unwavering dedication to serving humanitarian causes globally. She is hugely recognised and famed by the global media. (Friedman 2007).

In reaction to these, Oprah’s celebrity stardom, her charitable activities, and the role of the media can be analysed based on the Circuit of Culture theory. As argued by Baykoff and Goodman (2009), the Circuit of Culture theory directs the analysis of the relationship of several constructs, such as the celebrity, regulators and the public. It also offers a framework for analysing their modes or performances, as well as the roles in promoting the social course.

Theoretical Review of Oprah using Circuit of Culture model

The origin of the “circuit of culture” model can be traced back to du Gay et al. (1997) in their 1997 publication called “Doing Cultural Studies: The Story Of The Sony Walkman.” du Gay et al. (1997) examined the Sony Walkman gadget based on five constructs they called “moments.” The five comprise regulations, representation, production, identity, and consumption. The researchers conceived the idea that the model could be used to show the interconnection of the five ‘moments’ to illustrate the potential to articulate them at the same time. Curtin & Gaithe (2005), who examined the model much later, concluded that the “circuit of culture” model is particularly designed for constructing or providing explanations on how to determine meanings and significance of cultural phenomenon, as well as how they can be maintained or altered.

When it comes to seeking an insight into how the model applies to celebrities, the five moments are instrumental in creating and
exchanging meanings in respect to a celebrity’s publicity efforts in fostering social activism. By participating in issues of social concern, celebrities have demonstrated how consumption, representation and regulation interrelate. As Harrington and Bielby (2001) show, the “circuit of culture” model relies on the idea of communicating the stages of practice needed to exemplify cultural meaning that is created and permeated at all dimensions of the cultural circuit. The model’s five interrelated dimensions create an important frame for evaluating the cultural meanings derived from celebrity participation in social activism. For this reason, the model is applicable to the analysis ofOprah Winfrey’scelebrity status, as well as her role in promoting education of children in developing nations, ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, as well as climate-change campaigns, which have gained significant popularity while at the same time celebrity stardom is becoming politicised (Haggerty 2011).

Analysis of Social activism based on Circuit of Culture model

i) Production

Within the model of “circuit of culture,” the moments of production depict the processes based on which cultural products generate meanings. The process is also referred to as encoding. When it comes to celebrity involvement in charity work, the concept of production depicts the planning processes creating a media campaign to promote the celebrity’s image before executing with message that promotes social change.

Indeed, du Gay (1997) states that to generate economically triumphant products, the anticipated cultural meanings, and values they will have must be put into consideration. Once accepted that the culture creates a model for understanding the manner in which the target audience should think, it is also important to consider that in the process of management of such cultural processes, the ultimate outcomes may range from satisfaction, and supportive meanings. While attempting to address the vital theoretical aims concerning generation of meaning, the Circuit of Culture model stipulates that meanings should be generated at varied sites before their circulation using varied processes.

At this level, technological limitation is instrumental in distributing the message or meanings. In fact, Keats (2013) argues that the message generated is partially dependent on the accessible technology. All together, national cultures or cultures within organisations present settings based on how the production happens. Examples include public attitudes and expectations. In the case of Oprah, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation prominently relies on communication campaigns, including TV shows, such as The Oprah Winfrey Shows, to place Oprah on high societal pedestal and at the forefront of providing opinions regarding issues of societal concerns. This has determined the placement of the celebrity in high admiration in the society. Hence, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation is prompted to undertake ‘production’ of meanings and values comprehensibly. In turn, the Foundation get an opportunity to change public attitudes regarding the values of girl-child education in the developing nations, ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, and climate-change campaigns.

Baykoff and Goodman (2009) explains that the media construct shape the quality and quantity of media exposure the celebrities must get in regards to the climate change or girl-child education, ovarian cancer research and awareness, and HIV and AIDS research. Within the same context, Oprah has relied on the media to create her image as the “most philanthropic celebrity in the world.” Such productions have added strength to level of how authentic her statements can be made regarding climate-change awareness, gender equality, poverty and helping the less fortunate. Indeed, the various media, such as AceSHowBiz has portrayed Oprah as the most charitable celebrity. The Giving Back Fund, a non-profit that ranks the most charitable celebrities, placed Oprah at the top of the list after she donated more than US$41 million through the Oprah Winfrey Foundation in 2010. The funds were intended to help promote education access for women and children (AceSHowBiz 2010).

ii) Representation

Within the model of “circuit of culture,” the moment of representation explains the shape or appearance that an object should assume, as well as the meaning that has to be permeated in the object. According to some theorists like Keats (2013), the meaning does not have to be socially constructed. As a result, those producing meanings place the meanings into cultural artefacts for certain target audience. This is to pass a certain meaning once the artefacts are presented to the audience using various dimensions. Ultimately, the content, format, as well as the techniques used in distribution of the artefact articulate the preset meaning. According to Leve (2012), representation describes a phenomenon that imbues something else. Carvalho and Burgess (2005) also argue that it may signify something else other than its own aspects. Leve (2012) also views them to be descriptive of the signs, which are either real or unreal, or that embody similar certain images to diverse audiences.

According to Leve (2012), three framework of representation exist namely reflective, constructionist, and intentional. The Reflective model depicts the use of language to represent a meaning that already exists. The intentional model perceives the use of language to express the intentioned meanings of the producers. The constructionist model, on the other hand, refers to the creation of meaning using the language to pass the message.

The three models apply fitting in evaluating the role of the phenomenon of celebrity as something that can be commoditised since each has importance in the practice of those devoted to creating and upholding the value of the commodity.

In respect to the phenomenon of celebrity, the concept of representation seeks to derive the meanings portrayed in campaign materials. It also outlines certain target audience, embeds the key messages, and selects definite communication channels. In respect to Oprah Winfrey, she started The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which seeks to promote education among the women and girls from the underprivileged families. The foundation is available in many countries, while its website is translatable into several languages, including French and English. This shows that Oprah, in her social cause, seeks to reach diverse audiences past the United States. The messages are also passed through various channels, including The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation website, television and charity magazines.

The homepage of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation website has updates representing facts on the charitable activities aimed at helping the girls and women in Africa through education and leadership. This passes a message on the significance of the Oprah Winfrey initiatives. The intention is clearly to stimulate people to have an insight into the plights facing women in African because of gender inequality, and to trigger action to promote women’s prosperity in developing nations, including South Africa (Haggerty 2011).

Indeed, Curtin and Gaither (2007) explain that the concept of representations can inspire efficient communication depending on whether there is a common understanding on the role of the celebrity’s efforts by diverse groups of people. The idea is shared by Leve (2012). In fact, he called such shared understandings ‘conceptual maps’. In his view, ‘conceptual maps’ suggest that in the event that the general public shares the same ‘conceptual map’, then they become likely to construct shared meanings. This is the same case with Oprah. Reading the homepage of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation website sends similar stimuli to diverse audience. Therefore, it creates a social world that allows people to share the same attitudes, as well as approach the issue of gender inequality more soberly and realistically. It is in the same breath that Curtin and Gaither (2007) argued that the conceptual map makes certain connections between the ideas and issues, which collaboratively form mental representations that represent certain images visible in the world.

When it comes to representation, Baykoff and Goodman (2009) articulate that consideration is given to the media technology employed in creating celebrity identities and performances, including the internet, website, televisions, and magazines. For Oprah, it is how she performs the social causes, as well as how she is constructed, and represented in the media that relates to the concept of representation. A particular instance is her leading role in promoting girl-child education in South Africa has been relied on by the media to construct Oprah Winfrey’s image as a social redeemer, as well as the trends by celebrities to put social causes on international map. An additional critical image represented is that of the first black person to be a leading philanthropist.

iii) Regulation

Keats (2013) explains that the regulation moment is made up of tools essential for controlling cultural activities. The tool may range from the legal and formal tools, including regulations, laws or formal institutions used in controlling the cultural expectations that generate and set down a culture. According to du Gay (1997), the concept of regulation is a developing practice of re-regulation and de-regulation. It changes responsibilities and consequences on the public. The concept of regulation could as well be derived to mean a process required for mutual determination of meaning given the interconnections between cultures, economy, and the state. Usually, restrictions have to be set.

Keats (2013)
also pointed out that regulation points to the need to fashion out new regulatory bodies, which set up and put regulations into effect in order to support the consumers. In such scenarios, meanings are conceived that govern what the public should perceive to be right or up to standard. Here, the regulations moment is significant, as it creates the context for occurrence of public relations (Schoenberger‐Orgad n.d.). Construction of meanings, changing meanings, and challenging meanings occur. Again, the celebrities construct, change, and challenge what meanings should be viewed to be acceptable within the societal cultures (Hall1997).

The regulation moment is, therefore, made up of organisational or formalised policies and regulations that apply to how the media endorses celebrities, or even the international regulations that lay out how non-profit organisations should participate in charity work. Put differently, regulations should be viewed to be targeted at creating order concerning the manner in which the moments of productions, representations, identity and consumption, should be carried out (Carvalho & Burgess 2005). Hence, the celebrities may define the terms and policies that regulate promotions of their public image or how their involvement in charity work should be carried out.

In the case of Oprah Winfrey, she has used his celebrity status to influence how international policies regulate how other celebrities should promote education in the developing nations, ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, and climate-change campaigns. Indeed, she had used herfame to draw attention to the humanitarian issues and encourage more philanthropic activities to happen globally. For instance, she is famed for fostering charity work by donating to 300 members of her TV audience US$1000 each and asking them to make donations to charities of their interests.

This perspective was once shared by Wheeler and Kapoor (2012) regarding their argument that celebrity activism represents a means for democratising foreign policy processes using various diplomatic practices, including public diplomacy. For instance, by seeking operations within the model globalisation, Oprah has promoted girl-child education in South Africa. This is, in fact, an issue of international affair. In addition, her support for charities outside the United States, such as in Africa has placed international focus on the humanitarian issues, including poor education of the girl-child in developing nations, and significant gender inequities (Haggerty 2011).

iv) Identities

Within the model of “circuit of culture,” the moments of identities refers to the meanings generated regarding the entire social network, such as a network of societies, the non-profit organisations, and the state and non-state actors (Leve 2012). While seeking to raise social awareness, the concept of identification refers to the manner in which a phenomenon manages to construct meanings and how the actions by a celebrity are understood. In Schoenberger‐Orgad’s (n.d.) view, identity consists of the discursive elements generated as a perception of particular attributes. They happen to create certain behaviours at particular historical moments. For this reason, the celebrities create and impose them as resources for promoting desired change.

The Oprah Winfrey Foundation plays the role of a public relations institution that serves to establish and maintain her identity as a promoter of girl-child education and empowerment. In the production stage, the Oprah Winfrey Foundations construct the identity they seek to disseminate, as well as which they seek to structure out the likely discourses and attitudes towards Oprah Winfrey. In addition to seeking to maintain particular organisational identities, the Foundation’s public relations professionals usually start to initiate campaigns by segmenting their target audience before creating identities for certain segments since Oprah is involved in various types of philanthropy work, including promoting education of underprivileged children in the developing nations, ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, and climate-change campaigns

Essentially, the audiences are seen as active creators of meaning. In addition, the consumers generate own perceptions of identities that is often conflicting or agreeing. In the end, the diverse different segments created allocate own identities to the celebrity. For instance, the audience targeted with the messages on girl child education get to identify her with her faith in women power. Conversely, her target audience targeted with the messages on ovarian cancer research and awareness, and HIV and AIDS research, treatment and ovarian cancer research and awareness will mostly identify her with her love for humanity.

v) Consumption

Within the model of “circuit of culture,” the moments of consumption consist of the processes based on which media messages are encoded by the audience (Leve 2012). Some scholars like Harrington and Bielby (2001) have, however, viewed consumption as consisting of the processes of acquiring and applying information content derived from the media. Leve (2012) sees consumption as representing a process where elements, such as ideology and power flow can influence a person. According to Jiang (2011), the concept of consumption is interested in definite representational formats, or even rituals that mark a certain product’s social life. For that reason, consumption of the cultural objects potentially enlightens, empowers or inspires the consumers.

According to Curtin and Gaither (2007), the consumers are viewed as having a decisive creative power. Indeed, the
circuit of culture model is of the assumption that although production creates a series of possibilities, such possibilities tend to only become activated during the consumption. Hence, the concept of consumption has a significant role in setting out the meaning. In fact, Yang and Peterson (2004) consumption could be perceived as a form of production, as new meanings are potentially generated from the artefact during consumption. The activities related to producing openly indicate the value of consumer and consumption.

When it comes to Oprah’s role in the creation of awareness on climate change or girl-child education, ovarian cancer research and awareness, and HIV and AIDS research, the concept of ‘consumer’ extends to include also the public who ultimately interpret her actions, in addition to the philanthropists who well support and understand the activities of her Foundation. Indeed, Baykoff and Goodman (2009) argue that the consumers are critical in preservation of the power of celebrity representation. They further conceive that celebrities are essentially representative of particular social issues that the consumers or media audience have to consume while creating social identities.

Indeed, Oprah represents a complex message of feminism, girl power, women leadership, women education and womanpower, as well as eradication of poverty and ovarian cancer. This is, in fact, the message she carries to consumers on grounds of her charity work.

Through her charity work, Oprah has been at the forefront of bridging the gap between the tragedies affecting the girl-child in Africa, as well as informing her Western audiences by relying on her fame to publicise issues affecting the girl-child in Africa. By doing these, Oprah has balanced the works of non-profit organisations and the non-state actors by relying on her charismatic influence to promote gender equality discourse across the globe. The Oprah Winfrey Foundation is an example of platforms she has used to promote gender equality.

Conclusion

Celebrities’ can effectively use their popularity using the Circuit of Culture theory to participate in initiatives that promote the awareness of issues that affect the underprivileged sections of the society. By reviewing Oprah’s role in social activism, it is seen that the issues she promotes, such as education of underprivileged children in the developing nations, ovarian cancer research and awareness, HIV and AIDS research, treatment and awareness, and climate-change campaigns have gained significant popularity.

The regulation moment outlines the organisational or formalised policies and regulations that determine how the media endorses Oprah Winfrey, or even the international regulations that lay out how she participates in charity work internationally. The production moment present settings based on how The Oprah Winfrey Foundation prominently relies on communication campaigns, including TV shows, such as The Oprah Winfrey Shows, to place Oprah on high societal pedestal and at the forefront of providing opinions regarding issues of societal concerns.

The Representation moment seeks to derive the meanings portrayed in Oprah Winfrey’s campaign materials. It also outlines certain target audience, embeds the key messages, and selects definite communication channels. The consumption moment outlines how Oprah represents a complex message of feminism, girl power, women leadership, women education and womanpower, as well as eradication of poverty and ovarian cancer. This is, in fact, the message she carries to consumers on grounds of her charity work. The identity moment outlines how The Oprah Winfrey Foundation plays the role of a public relations institution that serves to establish and maintain her identity as a promoter of girl-child education and empowerment.

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