Suzanne Paul: Scandal, celebrity and the selling of an infomercial queen
AbstractInfomercial queen, recording artist, bankrupt, dancing victor; Suzanne Paul was a fixture on New Zealand television for more than 15 years and has been celebrated, valorised, critiqued and embraced. Yet, perhaps because of her ‘low-end’ appeal, Paul’s place on our screens has not been rigorously investigated. In this article, we argue that Paul’s importance lies in three main areas. First, during the 1990s, she was responsible for the paradigmatic televisual form—the infomercial. Second, she can be understood as a liminal figure, and one who encapsulates the dilemma of cultural production as a ‘new New Zealander’. Third, her story offers a case study of how the nominally famous can move from using themselves to sell products to selling themselves as a product—the ultimate selling (of) celebrity. Further, we argue that Paul cannot be understood without reference to the centrality of scandal to her persona and, indeed, narrative as a celebrity. The first ‘act’ of her career saw the television (and advertising) industry scandalised by her undercutting their standards with cheap, almost deliberately unironic infomercial marketing; the second saw her attempt a transition to the mainstream before a spectacular business failure and bankruptcy; in the third she embraced her disgrace, remodelled her persona and won a reality television dancing programme. Ultimately, we contend that Paul’s career depended on a constant interplay between the carefully constructed appeal she projected and her responsibility for, and responses to, a semi-permanent state of scandal.
Copyright (c) 2013 Nemane Bieldt, Rosser Johnson
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