Within language study, discourse means a stretch of language used in a particular context. Discourse is a way of looking at the way language is actually used in real situations and social settings. Hence, a conversation between scientists, a chat between manager and worker, teacher and student, doctor and patient, and so on all constitute different kinds of discourse that will have particular features worthy of study.
We all have the linguistic ability to create discourses. We do this by combining phonemes and morphemes into words, words into phrases, phrases into clauses, clauses into sentences, and sentences into a text or discourse. The ability to make such combinations of words derives from our ability to connect them logically by following the rules of syntax as well as our knowledge of the conditions that apply to that particular discourse.
Media discourse comprises the set of all media texts, together with the practices involved in producing them. This discourse also has a special function in that its primary job is to mediate between one social domain and another. In general terms, mediation occurs when one party acts between two others, bringing them into a relationship. The compendium of discourses which make up the media (print journalism, magazines, televisions, film, radio, Internet) involves a huge array of institutional values and embodied practices. In this essay, I will examine the linguistic performance of several celebrity articles which have been published during late 2001 and 2002 in some Australian woman’s magazines, in terms of important aspects of the creation and interpretation of these texts.
The three texts that I have chosen to analyse are all media representation of an Australian celebrity, Nicole Kidman, from Who Weekly and Woman’s Day, which appeared in the aftermath of legal divorce between Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, an American film star. Language is always contextualised. Hence, in order to form an appropriate hypothesis that is relevant, there is a need to consider the social-historical context in which Nicole Kidman is situated in these texts/articles.
This “background information” will be included and explained as part of my analysis. Production of celebrity stories in magazines, like the very first stage of the production of other hard news stories, an interaction with the news actor(s) such as an interview is the main situation from which journalists get their information. Bell (1991) indicates, “The pattern by which the interview unfolds is story-driven – the journalist is already turning an interview into a story even before it has started.” Notwithstanding that Bell’s opinion is to some extend too extreme or may not apply to all productions of news stories, it is the ways in which an interview becomes a story that initiates my analysis.
The social-historical context in which Nicole Kidman is situated offers me clues to anticipating (hypothesise) how she will most likely be represented in the three chosen texts/articles. Having a successful (showbiz) performance history during the last decade in Australia and Hollywood, Kidman deserves access to the media and the reverse is also true. Additionally, Kidman’s social identities as a female and an actress and her effort and care to her two children, have provided mass media an opportunity to create celebrity new stories about a “female hero”.
In constructing such a character and in order for the media to report the changes in Kidman’s life as a more newsworthy topic within the celebrity industry, I hypothesise that media representations will first victimise Kidman in the divorce matter, and then, by contrast, portray her as an adaptable, responsible, strong and successful woman. In the rest of this essay, I will test the hypothesis by examining the linguistic performance and overall organisation of the three chosen texts. Due to limited space here, I will only raise a few examples from each text for discussion.
Text 1 appeared in Woman’s Day six months after Kidman and Cruise’s divorce. The only way for ‘ordinary’ people to access to Nicole Kidman’s personal life is through the mass media. Media representations (television programs, newspaper articles, magazines, etc), which are made up by journalists, are the only source of this information. Hence, the way in which journalists organise and present the text, and how language is used in the text have significant influence on readers’ interpretation on the issue addressed.
The ‘truth’ of how Nicole Kidman feels about the divorce, how she actually cope with the situation and her actual personality are not important and are beyond the scope of my analysis. Instead, I am interested in how Kidman is being represented by the ‘linguistic features’ in the three chosen magazine articles. In text 1, Kidman is victimised. This is observed to be done by word choice and nominalisation. For example in the header of Text 1:
“Nicole Kidman talks candidly about Tom’s betrayal, finding inner strength and new love.” The separation of Kidman and Cruise is portrayed by “Tom’s betrayal”. This negative other-presentation (of Cruise) victimises Kidman. Also, nominalisation of the verb betray has an effect of gaining readers’ acceptance on the ‘fact’ of “Tom’s betrayal”. Readers are more easily to challenge assuming if the header is written like this, “After Tom betrayed Nicole, Nicole finds her inner strength and new love”. The sentence Tom betrays Nicole is more argumentative than the noun phrase Tom’s betrayal since the noun form hides the sharpness and sensitivity of the action betray. Another example of linguistic feature that victimise Kidman in text 1 are as follow:
“But upsetting Tom is the small-time compared with the trauma Nicole now admits he made her endure. The part of the sentence “the trauma Nicole now admits he made her endure” has its effects to again victimise Kidman and to also portray her as virtuous. Here, instead of using moderate words such as unhappiness and experience, the writer uses the words trauma and endure to symbolised their marriage.
And the full burden or responsibility of ‘creating’ and ‘imposing’ this trauma onto Kidman is shifted to Cruise as “Nicole now admits he made her endure”. The performative verb “admit” raises the authenticity of what Cruise ‘had done to’ Kidman since one can not admit to something while that something remains a fact. In other words, if the sentence is rewritten as “…compared with the trauma Nicole says he made her endure”, readers are more likely to doubt the believability of the same issue since one can tell lies. Finally, insertion of the word “now” in front of “admits” simply but subtly constructs a virtuous Kidman by implying that she has been keeping the ‘suffering’ secret to herself until the very last moment – divorcement.