Who is a media figures whose image has shifted up and down and back and forth during their public careers?
One example could be John Travolta, who has gone from popular young sitcom actor and teenage sex symbol (Welcome Back, Kotter, 1975–1979); to TV actor (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, 1976); to major Hollywood star (Saturday Night Fever, 1977; Urban Cowboy, 1980) and recording artist (Top 10 hit “Let Her In” in 1976 and two hits with Olivia Newton-John from Grease, 1978); to washed-up Hollywood star (the mid-1980s); to comeback star (Look Who’s Talking, 1989), cult star (Pulp Fiction, 1994), romantic leading man (Phenomenon, 1996), and top box-office action star (Broken Arrow, 1996; Face/Off, 1997); to yet another film star led astray by his own hubris (Battlefield Earth, 2000); and to risk-taking throwback in Hairspray (2007), where Travolta plays a woman in a genre he is most known for, the musical.
Consider the different ways we think about people who garner the most media attention, from the conventional, recognizable, stable, and comforting to the innovative, unfamiliar, unstable, and challenging. Include the following:
- How has this person with a mass mediated career changed to improve their public image? When did they change, and what was the change in response to?
- Are there other public figures who make a successful career out of maintaining the same image or meaning for long periods of their public life?
- How important is it for public figures to change or maintain their image to succeed in different public arenas (e.g., the movies, television, sports, politics)? Is there a recipe for success?
- Is it easier to think of these public figures and their meanings in terms of a high-low cultural hierarchy or as part of a cultural map of varying dimensions?