The star marriage is a recognizable entertainment industry entity; it can develop, distinguish, and destroy a celebrity. Sonny and Chér, one of the most popular star couples of American culture, defined a marriage blueprint for subsequent generations. Thirty years later, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey utilized this plan to equal success and the similarity between these two couples is striking. The Bono Plan will be thoroughly analyzed, establishing what components are necessary for a successful star couple and how a star couple functions in American society. Its perfect execution by the Newlyweds demonstrates how this plan works in a new millennium despite drastic changes in the media environment and social sentiment. This paper originated as a comparative star analysis of Chér and Jessica Simpson and this discussion will focus on the wife’s role in a star marriage.
When two celebrities meet and fall in love, they create a third media entity: the celebrity marriage. This marriage can then be used to develop and distinguish the individual star images of both parties. Simply put, these individuals have used their marriage as a celebrity vehicle by placing their relationship at the forefront of the oeuvre; they are famous for being in a couple. Such couples include Lucy & Desi, and Steve & Eydie. But, as Bogdanovich so eloquently put it in 1966, Sonny and Chér have “sewn up the married couple bag.” Their approach to marriage, television, fans, and each other took them from teen idols to pop culture icons.
The Bono plan has four major points:
- Use the relationship to individualize yourself from your contemporaries.
- Establish a husband/wife dynamic that simultaneously reinforces and challenges social norms.
- Maintain separate careers.
- Use media properly.
Because the final point ‘Use media properly’ is integral to the overall analysis of these couples, it will be addressed first.
4. Use media properly
Both of these women employ a delightful postmodern approach to their star images, displaying an acute awareness of the media’s role in their celebrity. Dyer offers three components of the star image: promotion (deliberate image making), publicity (unintentional image making e.g. candid moments and scandals), and filmic presentation (films, albums, studio produced content) (Dyer Stars 61). The celebrity marriage takes control of all three by integrating promotion and publicity in their filmic presentation.
A celebrity’s private life becomes public, and audiences devour it, therefore their publicized biographies must be compared. Both women begin their solo careers at the age of 16 with a series of failed projects (Early Career) until they are able to distinguish themselves from the rest of their cohort, leading into the first phase of stardom, or “Puppy Love,” age 19-21. During this phase, they both achieved fame as teen pop queens who used their relationships to stand out from their contemporaries. In the second phase of stardom, or “Embracing Womanhood,” both women return from a brief lull in their careers as transformed women, Chér by motherhood and Jessica by marriage and sex. It is during this phase that womanhood and the marriage becomes the center of her oeuvre and the analysis will focus on this period. Finally, in the third phase of stardom, “Independent Woman,” both have detached from their husbands in order to pursue a solo career.
A celebrity’s public image is carefully constructed and controlled in our media saturated environment; Chér and Jessica are no different. They maintained a consistent image through cross media promotion; both women concurrently debuted a television program with an album to jumpstart the second phase of their careers. The medium of television offers intertextuality that is not available through other outlets like film and music. These celebrities become intimate houseguests and their weekly displays negotiate any tension created by unwarranted publicity.
Television can also be used to appeal to multiple demographics, a characteristic of Chér and Jessica that helped propel them to a new level of stardom. Both women originated as bubble gum pop stars, a genre often derided for its simple rhythms, simple lyrics, and overwhelming underage fan base. By using television to reach out to a larger audience and focusing on the marriage as content, they transcended the constraints of this description and take their romance to an older public without alienating their earlier demographic. Both couples used the most popular contemporary format (variety and reality respectively) with very different results: Sonny and Chér entered their fans’ homes as weekly houseguests, while Nick and Jessica invite fans into their home. This edited version of reality further confuses the division between private and public spheres and audiences are led to believe that they are watching the personal lives of these celebrities.Although the term “Use Media Properly” seems like an obvious component of any star image, the celebrity marriage involves a multi-layered intertextuality and requires a deeper reading. All of these points (integrating the three components of star image, publicizing the appropriate image through cross promotion, and using television to ensure intertextuality and achieve a greater audience) will appear regularly throughout this analysis.
1. Use marriage to individualize yourself from your contemporaries (“Puppy Love”)
Real romance is a valued commodity in the entertainment industry; it allows the celebrity to reach out to the emotions of their fans with an honest and sincerity that cannot be replicated by song lyrics alone. The tabloid coverage of a romance allows the fan to believe that they are actually sharing an experience with their favorite celebrity. Both Chér and Jessica utilized their romance to distinguish themselves from their contemporaries, becoming pop stars in love.
Before hitting the pop charts, Sonny and Chér toured as folksingers “Caesar and Cleo,” looking to capitalize on the popularity of the 1963 film, Cleopatra. The duet received very little attention until their marriage and the release of their 1965 album Look at Us featuring “I Got You Babe.” They adopted the emerging “hippie” style, wearing outlandish clothing (usually jeans and fur vests) with long hair. Sonny liked to joke that they were the first ‘unisex couple’ (Rolling Stone 1973). Although popular in Europe, a bit of planned propaganda put them on the cover of all American teen beat magazines. In what is now recognized as a pseudoevent, the Bonos were thrown out of the London Hilton as reporters swarmed the building to get the story. Consequently, they were regularly asked to leave other hotels and restaurants and quickly developed a gimmick of rejection. This publicity synchronized perfectly with Sonny’s songs of rejection and love, two popular subjects in the world of American teenagers.
Sonny and Chér were competing against other pop folk singers including The Byrds, Nancy Sinatra, and Marianne Faithful. Their flamboyantly hippie style confirmed their membership in the counterculture, but their politics caused them to stand out from the group. Both Sonny and Chér were firmly apolitical and anti-drug, a radical idea in the new radicalism of the sixties. Sonny narrated the 1968 educational film, Marijuana, and warned teens that they were “more than likely run the risk of an unpredictable and unpleasant bummer.” In 1973, The Bonos were prominent figured in the Drug Abuse Council and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Although the sixties was a decade of sexual and psychedelic experimentation, the couple distanced themselves from controversy. Instead of embracing the drug culture, the Bonos used their sanctified sexual liberation to reach out to millions of teens looking for love. They seemed to be the perfect hippie couple, married and independent with the image of being “shacked up.”
Alternatively, Jessica Simpson returned home from a devastating failure at the Mickey Mouse Club auditions in 1992, where she first competed with Britney Spears and Christina Aguillera. According to various pop sources, Jessica was so intimidated after watching Christina sing, that she could not stop crying, nor could she properly perform. Her father, a Baptist minister, encouraged her singing career and at the age of 16, she began to tour the Christian music circuit, developing a small group of devout fans. In 1999 she released her debut album, Sweet Kisses, making a late entrance into an already fierce market; Britney and Christina released their debut albums earlier that year. Jessica hoped her voice and her message of abstinence would cause her to stand out from her blonde counterparts. She also had a different history: The Mickey Mouse Club vaulted Britney and Christina into their pop music careers, but Jessica was not afforded this opportunity. Instead, she worked for years before her ‘debut.’ For the most part, these distinctive qualities became lost in the pop culture factory of 1999 and, although Sweet Kisses went platinum in August of 2000, she was quickly absorbed into the flood of young, blonde pop singers, which expanded to include Mandy Moore, Willa Ford, and others.
Thirty years later, in a postmodern world of liberated sexual antics, Jessica Simpson appeared as another apparent oxymoron, the virtuous teen queen. While others utilized their sexuality to the fullest extent, often contradicting their words and actions, she maintained her religious upbringing and preserved her virginity until marriage. Whereas Britney’s virginity was often mocked, Jessica publicly pledged her abstinence through the organization, “True Love Waits,” and the lyrical content of her album professed her commitment to her body and herself. This unwavering pledge seemed to justify her provocative marketing techniques, which included photo spreads in the same men’s magazines that featured the hyper-sexualized Britney and Christina. She claimed, “I want people to fall in love with my voice before my image” (Grigoridias).
What did set Jessica apart during the battle of the blondes was her romance with Nick Lachey of 98 Degrees, another boy-band desperately trying to establish themselves in the shadow of The Backstreet Boys and N’SYNC. Jessica met Nick in 1999 while recording Sweet Kisses and touring with his band. The relationship became public with the release of their duet on her album, “Where You Are;” they starred in the music video and often appeared on MTV and other media outlets as a couple. Jessica became the teen queen in love, experiencing what the other girls were merely singing about. She stood out from her contemporaries: she was talented, beautiful and more importantly, true to herself, her faith and her boyfriend. Nick also used their relationship to differentiate himself from the boy-bands and begin a solo career.
In the first phase of stardom, a celebrity must individualize without isolating fans. Not only did these women manage to balance the desires of their audience (hippie counterculture, hyper-sexualized young adulthood) without denying their own morals, they also used their authenticated romance to distinguish their content and detach from their contemporaries. While other pop singers are merely talking about love, these women are living it, giving them the appearance of non-intentional publicity. Sonny and Chér employed their marriage to achieve pop stardom and Jessica used her relationship to separate from the other blonde teen queens. The use of seemingly unintentional publicity will be perfected during their second phase of stardom.
2. Establish a husband/wife dynamic that simultaneously reinforces and challenges social norms (“Embracing Womanhood”)
The process of establishing a husband/wife dynamic requires a wife that is deeply entrenched in the image of womanhood, including aspects of domesticity and dominance. Both women experience a brief lull in their careers after the first phase of stardom and each would return to the spotlight transformed. This newly discovered component of their personalities would then be marketed to the fullest extent.
After a four-year hiatus involving a series of failed movies and the birth of their daughter, Chastity, the Bonos decided to change their image. Sonny demanded that Chér buy a dress, saying, “its time for you to look like a woman.” They developed a lounge act featuring songs and playful banter between the couple, perfecting strategies that would define their relationship in the 1970s. Chér’s sharp wit was successful with their nightclub audiences, and Sonny willingly played her fool, submitting to his wife’s hilarious jabs. The couple performed songs and engaged in satirical dialogue on stage. The act was a success, The Sonny and Chér Show premiered on CBS in August 1971. That same year, Chér’s solo album, Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, produced by MCA Records, debuted a string of top ten hits.
Chér was transformed from a shy, playful teen with promising talent to a statuesque, beautiful woman with an intelligence and tongue to rival any man. The album’s content dealt with issues including social exclusion and extramarital affairs along with a cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” On television, she gained respect as a talented singer and a screwball comedienne. The couple ridiculed each other to the delight of millions of viewers as they embraced their flaws and their ethnicities, often referring to each other as ‘the little goombah’ or ‘the Indian.’ Similar to their first phase of stardom, Sonny and Chér avoided political controversy and embraced social satire. The show featured segments including the infamous “Vamp” sequences where Chér played classic femme fatale characters (Cleopatra, Eve) and used opera to poke fun at other television programming including “All in the Familius” and “The Cultural Spot.”
This new Chér became the perfect pin-up, and became one of the top ten best-dressed women in 1972. The following year, she was featured in a seventeen-page spread in Vogue. Bob Mackie, the contracted designer for the Carol Burnett Show, designed all of Chér’s dresses on The Sonny and Chér Show, establishing the program as an outlet of fashion and culture. Sonny’s demands were obeyed and helped usher in a new, more marketable Chér.
After her sophomore album barely touched the charts in 2001, Jessica Simpson returned to the spotlight in August 2003 with a new album, a new book and a new television show. As minor pop royalty, Nick and Jessica’s wedding in 2002 was the tabloid event of the year, but her first year of marriage became the source of her stardom. If Chér was transformed by motherhood, Jessica was transformed by marriage and sex, which was evident in her new projects. Her third album, In this Skin (Sony Records), was a drastic departure from her earlier work; her lyrics openly discussed marriage and sex. Although the album was very sexual, there was no moral question to her sexuality due to her marital status. Jessica increased her marketability by fully embracing this new womanhood and appeared in magazines including Vogue and Allure scantily clad and hypersexual. She could now perform as a proper pin-up as well.
The book I Do: Achieving Your Dream Wedding was also released in August, documenting the process and lead up to the wedding of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. Like a hardcover glossy bridal magazine, the book is a wedding planner for a young American princess with millions of dollars to spend; the first step: hire the best wedding coordinator money can buy. I Do features world famous designers and artists; Vera Wang designed Jessica’s dress and Harry Winston supplied the 11-carat diamond headband. The book is a perfect crossover between promotion and publicity. It is similar to the glossy magazines that covered the wedding a year before, but now the audience could become personally involved with Jessica’s personal photographs and notes. By selling an edited photo album, she integrated promotion and publicity in her oeuvre.
Finally, to complete their return to the public arena, Newlyweds debuted on August 19, 2003 (In This Skin was released on the same day). The show follows Nick and Jessica during their first year as a married couple. Viewers observe the couple as they move in and decorate their new home in Calabasas California, work on their respective albums, shop, and travel around the country. Like all reality programming featuring celebrities, it is an exercise in publicity and the audience is brought into the personal lives of their favorite stars from their petty squabbles to their extravagant birthday parties. Much like Sonny and Chér thirty years earlier, their marriage validated studio produced love songs while they lived the American dream, beautiful, rich and in love.
Despite being broadcast on MTV, a young adult network, Newlyweds reached an older audience without alienating their original demographic. They hosted Saturday Night Live and starred in three primetime ABC specials: The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour, Nick & Jessica’s Family Christmas, and Nick & Jessica’s Tour of Duty. These post-MTV projects were distinctly oriented towards and older demographic. The original variety hour, aired in April 2004, featured Kenny Rogers, Mr. T, Kermit and Miss Piggy, and Kit from Nightrider.
In order to establish a husband/wife dynamic, both characters must be easily understood and stereotypically perfect in order to parody this perfection. Marriage is an essential component of American society; taken out of its emotional context and reviewed solely from a media standpoint, it can be used to generate appropriate promotion, publicity, and filmic content while mediating a celebrity’s current image. The main difference between these two couples is their career timeline: Chér was married before the fame and must credit Sonny for much of her career, while Jessica established her own career prior to Nick. Nonetheless, both couples represent the idealized American marriage while embracing subversive ideologies to maintain the viewers’ interest. Although the normal marriage is somewhat difficult to define, the concepts of domesticity and dominance are pervasive through this reading.
An American wife is expected to be domestically capable, displaying a willingness to cook, keep house, raise children and take care of her husband. By placing the marriage at the front of their careers, both Chér and Jessica have created the image of domesticity that confirms their domestic potential without proving their domestic abilities. This domestic imagery ensures a star’s marketability to both men and women. There are three prevailing models for the feminine sex role: domesticity, career and glamour (Dyer Stars 30). Generally, one becomes primary, at the expense of the other two, but a star couple confirms that all three can exist simultaneously within one woman. This guarantees her sexual attractiveness to men and an overall appeal with women.
During the first phase of Chér’s career, the Bonos highlighted their romance to reach out to the teenage demographic. In her second phase, the public demanded to know Chér’s domestic character and fans were invited into the Bono home with a 1972 LIFE interview. Chér embodied every quality of womanhood during this new feminist movement; she was presented as intelligent, beautiful and talented, with the ability to balance a career and the duties of wife and mother. The article summarized her transition from a “shaggy-haired, barefooted, blue-jeaned hippie singer” to an “old-fashioned sex symbol” (LIFE). Ironically, the cover story, “Dropout Wife,” documented a new group of women walking out on their families. It chronicled a Seattle woman who did not believe marriage was rewarding or fulfilling (LIFE). In contrast, Chér was pictured at home, with Sonny and Chastity, looking very happy and content. She was a liberated woman of a different sort.
Three decades later, Newlyweds invited the MTV audience into their home and their marriage. Jessica’s hopeless skills as a domestic wife are mocked in every episode. Nick admits to thinking, “she’s never hung up a towel in her life.” One of the unforgettable images from the first season features a frustrated Jessica hurling loads of dirty laundry into the foyer. Although she claims to be a decent cook, the couple rarely eats at home, dining out regularly at various chain restaurants. Despite her poor housekeeping skills, Rolling Stone proclaimed her “Housewife of the Year” in November 2003. She posed for the cover in a pair of boy-cut panties, a tank top, and high heels pushing a Swiffer. Although she is a mediocre housewife at best, her celebrity status as the perfect American wife, from her Baptist upbringing to her virgin wedding night, disregards her inability to perform housewife duties.
In our postmodern society, it is recognized that women should be perceived as equal to men. However, a couple’s power dynamic is essential to marriage and this discrepancy can arise from differences in intelligence, monetary worth, or age, to name a few. Common to both of these couples is the term “child-wife;” the women are significantly younger than their husbands (Chér by twelve years, Jessica by seven) and look to them for financial and emotional support. Sonny was blessed with a young, smart, beautiful trophy wife and, by designing projects that featured Chér, he became her lover and her manager. Alternatively, many men admire Nick for his persistence, tolerating Jessica’s stupidity with her body as the reward.
Chér’s play on the power dynamic is her trademark. Every week she would stand on stage, the most stunning woman on television, and put down her husband repeatedly to the excitement of millions of viewers. The women’s liberation movement contextualized her remarks, which affected both liberated women and wives locked in marriages. On screen, Chér embodied a new American woman, intelligent and unafraid, but the story at home was very different. Sonny remained the dominant figure in the household, managing schedules and finances as well as regularly reprimanding his young wife. According to an 1973 issue of Photoplay, which featured Chér and Ann Margaret on the cover with the caption: “The Beautiful and the Bold: How they taunt and tease and test their men,” publicists for the Bonos claimed,
“The TV image is all a put on… the Bono marriage is the kind that dates back a hundred years, where the wife’s place was on her knees and the husband had his foot planted solidly on her neck.” (Valentine)
Chér agreed, “Sonny is the dominant one and I like it.” This confirmation of matrimonial dominance gives Chér the opportunity to be as excessive as possible on stage, mocking Sonny’s stature, talent, sex drive, and more.
The dynamic in the Newlyweds home is different: although Jessica may earn more money than her husband, she looks to him to approve her actions including career choices, small and large purchases, and minor daily decisions. One episode features Jessica calling Nick in a panic after purchasing two pairs of panties for $746. In a liberated, postmodern society, their power differential is remarkable conservative, and conforms to antiquated heterosexual norms. Jessica’s dependence on Nick does not arise from any external factors, but rather an internal need for male approval:
“Nick has had a huge influence on my self-confidence, because he doesn’t think there’s physically one thing wrong with me. Now I try to look through his eyes rather than my own.” (Grigoridais)
Despite her dependence on Nick, Jessica maintains a subversive dominance in the relationship. Like the great blondes before her, she manipulates her husband in a manner that we have come to expect from American sex symbols.
“Nick, baby?” says Simpson. “Will you iron mah new shirt?”
“No,” answers Lachey, in a typical knee-jerk bit of sarcasm, but just a minute later – whipped mofo that he is – he rises from the couch to retrieve the iron from a closet.” (Grigoridias)
Before moving onto the third step in the Bono Plan, which corresponds to the third phase in the biographies, the rationale behind the star marriage must be analyzed. This new celebrity entity is easily constructed but its success comes from certain social tropes that ensnare the emotions of the audience. These include the merging of public and private spheres, a guarantee of a woman’s chastity and the marriage of star types.
The star couple encourages the dissolution of public and private spheres, which is necessary for a celebrity’s public acceptance. Fans and critics alike are desperate to know more about celebrities and they turn to thousands of tabloids and millions of photo-hungry paparazzi in order to piece together a star’s image. Initially, celebrities are celebrated for their abilities or achievements, but once established, this becomes secondary to sensation and scandal (Whannel 148), and marriage is a perpetual scandal. By placing the marriage at the front of one’s career, filmic presentation offers the illusion of promotion and publicity. This combination of media texts provides sincerity and authenticity; revealing one’s private life validates studio-produced content, and weekly appearances moderate tensions between the star and her image. Even though Sonny and Chér used a scripted text presented as off-the cuff, many fans believed that this was honest representation of their relationship. On the other hand, Newlyweds utilize editing to alter onscreen interactions without disrupting the illusion of reality. In both cases, the filmic presentation coincides with promotional narratives under the guise of non-intentional publicity, creating a cohesive star image.
The celebrity marriage also provides a safe haven for a woman that eliminates any suspicion regarding her onscreen antics. Although female celebrities are expected to possess pin-up qualities, sex can carry a stigma of promiscuity that can potentially destroy a woman’s career. Marriage negotiates this negative connotation by confirming the morality and purity of a woman. It matters not that she appears on screen with multiple partners in shocking situations (see Chér’s performance in Chastity) if the public knows that she returns home to her husband. Jessica, although she has not appeared onscreen in any significantly compromising positions, has appeared in numerous men’s magazines known for their sexually provocative photo spreads and, in early 2005, was chastised by various religious organizations for her antics in the video “These Boots are Made for Walking” for her film, Dukes of Hazzard. The video featured a scantily clad Jessica cavorting in the laps of older men including Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds (co-stars in Dukes). Although heavily discussed in various blogs and Christian outlets, the incident passed without major effect. Compared to magazine spreads and videos by Britney and Christina, Jessica receives less disapproval due to her married status, and manages to maintain the wholesome persona that is essential to her overall image.
Within the protective cloak of marriage, a woman’s performance choices are not the only determinant of her image and their sexual antics go unquestioned especially with respect to parental approval. Generally, teen idols embody rebellious qualities and can increase their popularity by angering parents, but both Chér and Jessica navigated this challenge. Chér, although part of the hippie generation, was adamantly drug free and her sexual antics were justified through her marriage to Sonny. Jessica was also able to capture the approval of her fans’ parents by advocating abstinence until marriage. These seemingly oxymoronic personas (drug-free hippie, abstinent teen queen) proved successful with teens and their parents, thereby bridging the generational gap from the start.
Marriage can also transform a wholesome American woman into a seductive temptress aware of her own sexuality, thereby coupling social types within one celebrity. According to Klapp, a social type is ‘a collective norm of role behavior formed by and used by the group: an idealized concept of how people are expected to be or to act” (Dyer Stars 47). Here, the Good Joe, the Pin-up and the Independent Woman will be the center of focus. Both Sonny and Nick are presented as Good Joes, friendly, easygoing and well liked (Dyer Stars 48). This image is necessary in these star couples; other male social types involve deeper consideration, which draws public attention away from the wife.
Chér performed in a period of social upheaval, mediating an old worldview of a male-dominated marriage with a new demand from women for equal rights and treatment. In order to balance these factions of the audience, Chér embraced a duality of roles: a submissive homebody and a wisecracking liberated woman. On screen, she defined Klapp’s Independent Woman, using her intelligence and brazen commentary to respond to the patriarchal, hetero-normative society. However it is inevitable that the Independent Woman will subjugate her own desires and needs for love and marriage (Dyer Stars 56); this is evident in the aforementioned articles from LIFE and Photoplay. Although this alternative type must inevitably conform to patriarchal norms, Chér’s continued career post-Sonny underscores her disregard for these conventions and solidifies her character as the Independent Woman
Whereas Chér represented one of Dyer’s subversive social types, Jessica conforms to the classic Dumb Blonde, defined by American idols like Judy Holliday and Marilyn Monroe. Their popularity arises from the combination of sexuality and innocent stupidity, a delightful balance that is deemed attractive in a patriarchal society. Even though they appear to play into heterosexual expectations, the best Dumb Blondes exhibit a subversive dominance over men and this dynamic is repeated verbatim within Jessica’s marriage. An alternative reading of the Dumb Blonde led to feminist readings of Marilyn Monroe; she used her feminine charms and delightful stupidity to overturn the patriarchy and make it work in her favor (Dyer Heavenly Bodies 61). Jessica’s successful Dumb Blonde image prompts Grigoridias to ask, “Is America’s favorite blonde taking us all for a ride?” Like Sonny 30 years earlier, her father/manager has established his family as American pop royalty, turning both of his daughters into matching pop princesses.
These social types and their existence within a patriarchal culture lead to alternative, feminist readings of celebrities. Chér was a voice for millions of women across the country affected by the feminist movement; she appeared to dominate her husband while submitting herself to a ideal American marriage. Jessica’s feminist status is similar to that of Marilyn Monroe and her remarkable success prompts allure to define her as the “Smartest Dumb Blonde in the World” (Jacobs), but many feel that her onscreen antics set feminism back decades.
3. Maintain separate careers (“Independent Woman”)
The parallels between Chér and Jessica continue into the third phase of their careers: post separation. After using their marriage to its fullest potential, the Independent Woman component of their star images rises to the surface. Although Dyer claims that the Independent Woman must subjugate her own desires for her husband, both of these women have transcended this expectation by detaching from their husbands and pursing their own careers. This involves the third component in the Bono Plan: Maintain separate careers, a factor that the Bonos learned too late. Sonny served as Chér’s manager and with the separation, he was simultaneously dumped and fired. All of the effort placed into this celebrity marriage benefited Chér without accounting for Sonny’s future. However, Sonny’s intelligent approach to media and society led to a successful career in politics.
Alternatively, Nick and Jessica learned from this example and developed their own careers before entering marriage. They maintained joint and personal projects, a formula designed to insure the potential failure of their marriage. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, this plan spotlights the wife, and her husband is often used as a foil to develop her star image. In December of 2005, Jessica filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.” Nick never developed a solo career, moving from one celebrity entity (98 Degrees) to another (Newlyweds), and his post-separation career is cannot come close to Jessica’s.
Both of these women achieved a new level of stardom by embracing the medium of television. The audience shares common experiences with their television stars and often feels a closer connection than with film celebrities. In a 1973 issue of TV Guide, Sonny describes a recurring interaction: a fan will recognize him and experience instant familiarity, then succumbs to acute embarrassment, “[we] have been guests in their living rooms” (TV Guide 1973). Through this audience involvement, these couples have accomplished the impossible, appeal to multiple generations. Sonny and Chér, who began as teen pop sensations, recognized the need to expand their fan base and embraced network television to reach a family audience. The Sonny and Chér Show is a staple of American pop culture, reminiscent of a time when families gathered around the television and shows were designed with all ages in mind. Although sexually charged, The Sonny and Chér Show utilized double entendre, subversively connecting with adults without alienating teens. Nick and Jessica also began their career as teen idols and continued to embrace this fan base by signing their lives over to MTV, the epitome of niche marketing. Families no longer share time in front of the television, but the performances on Saturday Night Live and The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour placed the Newlyweds squarely in the sight of grown-up audiences, without neglecting their original fans.
The similarity between these couples is striking, but the differences are rather simple. Over the past 30 years, America’s social and media landscapes have changed drastically and both women have succeeded using the same formula despite these changes. In 1972, the Bonos used cross media promotion and integrated image making to access the largest possible audience, but in a new millennium, new media entities including MTV and the Internet have extended the global reach of promotion. Jessica’s intimate relationship with this international network helped deliver a prepackaged image to prepackaged audiences through Canada, England, Poland, and Sweden. Although Sonny and Chér sewed up the “married couple bag” in 1966 (Bogdanovich), the star marriage still functions today.
In a culture where marketing equals success, the star marriage creates its own marketing by its mere existence. Audiences, intrigued by single celebrities, are ecstatic at the prospect of celebrities in love and their subsequent break-ups. Even though the star marriage may be a publicity stunt on its own, certain attributes must be present and utilized in order to achieve maximum returns. These include a strong husband-wife dynamic, a willingness to expose one’s personal affairs, and a stable, regular medium through which the public may observe their idols. Once these are in place, the potential of a star marriage is infinite; it can range from an American dream to a counseling nightmare and both situations speak to a large audience. Overall, the star marriage is a win-win situation if its members can maintain it properly, but its inevitable dissolution also guarantees commercial success.
“I believe that Nick and I are going to last forever… and if we don’t, it’ll make a good reality show.” –Jessica Simpson [Rolling Stone 2003]
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