Impact of Celebrity on Entertainemnt as a Form of Communication

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Websites Dedicated to Stardom: A Critique of The Leaky Cauldron

An obsession with celebrity has swept America, and this "Celebrity Worship Syndrome" has permeated every form of media and communication. As celebrity news has become more prevalent in the media, it has also become a very popular topic of discussion. Celebrity infatuation has both positive and negative aspects. For many young adults celebrity interest provides common grounds for discussion as well as friendships. It is hard to decipher when celebrity interest becomes too much, but it is important to keep in mind whether or not this infatuation is beneficial to ones life. For example, obsession with celebrities or characters that act as positive role models for young adults, and enrich the mind and social aspect of life can actually be quite important in personal and societal development. On the other hand, infatuation with celebrity gossip and lifestyles while entertaining does not enhance ones life in a consistent manner and can lead to psychological problems. While celebrity infatuation has increased so have the outlets that accommodate these obsessions. The internet provides a perfect platform to cater to celebrity interest. Often times sites are just detailed accounts of celebrity’s lives, and lack integrity, but some can actually promote stardom in a beneficial and healthy manner. One website in particular is an excellent tribute to celebrity in a healthy and informative way, this website is The Leaky Cauldron awarded the People' s Voice Award, in the Celebrity/ Fan category, at the 2006 Webby Awards. The website is targeted to Harry Potter fans and is a positive manifestation of celebrity worship because it provides fans access to responsible role models as well as nurtures ones imagination. While the Leaky Cauldron does provide its audience with many beneficial outlets for star worship it is not without its faults.

Most celebrity enthusiasts tend to be experts on their favorite stars and characters. This can present a problem for websites that look to give an audience beneficial information about the topic they are presenting. The Leaky Cauldron is loaded with information for Harry Potter fans that is both fascinating and innovative. It publishes Harry Potter News Updates, information about the books and films, access to exclusive interviews with the stars of the films and JK Rowling herself, as well as additional links to other websites dedicated to Harry Potter. The content is not only abundant, but it also is relevant to the audience the website is trying to reach. Children and young adults are the target audience for The Leaky Cauldron and the information on the website is directed towards this age group. The featured articles range from updates about the most recent books and film to information about Harry Potter charity events. At the end of each article a visitor is also given the opportunity to post a comment. The Leaky Cauldron is a superior tribute to celebrity because it provides its audience with the opportunity to speak up about what they believe in, as well as gives a platform for young adults to articulate themselves and be heard. For example in the article Georgia Woman Continues Fight to Ban Potter Books, more than 120 fans posted comments in regards to the news articles. One comment in particular caught my eye, a young woman wrote “I mean magic is making possible something otherwise impossible right? Well then, similar to miracles... Ironically, what other book portrays miracles, evil, death/murder, greed and more lots more adult (as in sexual) subject matter.... erm... the Bible? By generalizing so much, following her reasoning to its logical conclusion she would have to ban the values of the very book she is supposedly trying to uphold!!!” This comment adressed the idea that Harry Potter was an abomination of the bible and its teachings. The comment is a perfect example of how the Leaky Cauldron is providing a stage for intellectual debate and commentary. The Harry Potter infatuation has sparked a young woman’s ability to confront an issue that she feels strongly about in an intellectual and appropriate manner.

The Leaky Cauldron audience mostly consists of a younger fan base, and in order to be advantageous to the audiences needs it is important for The Leaky to appeal to their logical thought process in terms of organization of information and site design. The navigation of The Leaky Cauldron website is quite easy. On the left hand side of the home page and all other subsequent pages of the website there is a navigation bar. This divides the information on the website into topics and sub topics. Each subtopic is hyperlinked to and from their specific pages back to the home page as well as other pages throughout the site. According to the Web Style Guide, which explains the proper techniques needed to create an effective website, it states that "search facilities are a necessity for large sites." The Web Style Guide also stresses that it is important for visitors to know what content is being searched. The leaky Cauldron has a few different types of search options, they have a comprehensive website search titled the "Leaky Search" as well as a more specific search option in their News section called "News Archives Search." This is a helpful and important feature to the website since there is such a large breadth of information that is offered. The logical organization of information on the website enhances the visitor’s experience by providing them with an efficient channel to gain information on their specific interests. When visitors can easily steer throughout the site they are more likely to retain the subject matter they are learning about. This not only makes the visitor a knowledgeable Harry Potter fanatic it also provides them with an important learning tool that they can apply to other parts of their life.

The structure of the website while very visually appealing has a few problems with the flow of information. The Leaky Cauldron seems to use a "Weblike Structure." The Web Style Guide says that a weblike structures main goal is "to mimic associative thought and the free flow of ideas, allowing users to follow their interests in a unique, heuristic, idiosyncratic pattern. Although the goal of this organization is to exploit the Web's power of linkage and association to the fullest, weblike structures can just as easily propagate confusion." The Leaky Cauldron is a little hard to follow when moving from page to page. The weblike format causes some uncertainty with where exactly the visitor is within the website of where they found some of the information. For young users this can be a problem because they may not have the cognitive ability to remember how to get from one source of information to the next. Weblike structures also create problems for fans who are not overly versed in the subject matter. As a first time user the weblike structure did cause confusion because I had a difficult time orienting myself within the website. This problem could be combated by using an information heiarchy structure instead. This web structure is best when there are large quantities of information that can be linked to the homepage. Since the Leaky Cauldron has such a large breadth of inforamtion it would appeal more to the visitors logos or logic skills if they used a heiarchy information organization structure. The Leaky Cauldron does try to eliminate any confusion by explaining the different web pages in an area called "Welcome to the New Leaky. " This page explains the purpose of each new section on the website and briefs the visitor on what type of information can be found there.

The Leaky Cauldron’s visual design makes the website appear very credible. According to the Webby Award criteria, Visual Design deals with the overall appearance of the website. Furthermore "good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting." Aesthetically the Leaky Cauldron is very appealing. The graphics are appropriate and not overly bold. They draw the reader's eyes to the page as well as direct the visitor to other content on the page. The creators of the Leaky Cauldron have paid specific attention to detail while fashioning their web page. The attention to detail appeals to visitors and establishes credibility amongst Harry Potter fans. All of the permanent links to related websites resemble pieces of parchment with the names of the link printed on them in the same font that is used in the original Harry Potter books. The pieces of parchment also appear to be tacked up on some type of bulletin board. When a user rolls their mouse over the parchment it unrolls revealing even more information. All of these links appear on every page throughout the site. The Leaky Cauldron website does this to make their site more memorable, and consistent throughout the readers visit. The Web Style Guide says that this consistency in graphic layout "builds rhythm and unity across the pages," leading to a more organized and effective site. In a picture frame in the top left hand corner of the page, there is a photograph of Harry Potter. This photo is not only a wonderful representation, but Harry's eyes actually follow the mouse around the page as you click on different links. The more you click on links the more Harry's expression changes.

Accoding to the Web Style Guide, "A successful site requires real, sustained engagement, and you get that only by offering both sophisticated visual stimuli and a site that is structured to meet the needs of its audience quickly and effectively." The Leaky Cauldron works within these guidelines all of the graphics are visually stimulating but they also are consistent through out the website. The graphics work to visually enhance what would have been lackluster hyperlinks as well as create credibility of the site amongst its readers. Credibility is very important with celebrity fanatics. Most people who worship celebrities know very detailed information about the person/character they are interested in. By establishing credibility through detailed information and appropriate layouts The Leaky Cauldron effectively adresses the interests of its fan base. This intrigues fans and also lets them become loyal visitors because they know the information they are being provided with is acurate and interesting.

Celebrity fanatics are not just concerned with what is happening in their favorite stars lives they also want to feel that they are a part of their celebrity’s world. An interactive and effective website allows fanatics access to the celebrity universe. Interactivity is in my opinion the most advanced and interesting part of the Leaky Cauldron website. The webby awards state that good interactivity “is more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it allows you, as a user, to give and receive. It insists that you participate, not spectate.” The Leaky has so many features that allow its visitors to be a part of the website. Some of the newest features allow each visitor to customize their own homepage. Readers can change the size of the font as well as which character greets them on their homepage and follows them while they click on different links. No longer will a visitors only have the option of Harry following them with his eyes, they can have Hedwig, Hermione, or Ron. Along with interacting with the layout, Visitors also have the option of customizing how they would like to receive their favorite types of Harry Potter news. Readers can sign up for the online news letter, have news come to your cell phone by Leaky Mobile, as well as subscribe to only specific types of news notifications so you can have specialized information you are interested in. Along with signing up for specialized news feeds readers can also vote on the website about what types of news they would like to have reported. The leaky Cauldron not only allows its readers to have up to date news delivered to them it also provides its visitors a platform on which to post their very own essays about Harry Potter called Scribbulus.

Scribbulus provides Harry Potter fanatics with an opportunity to be imaginative and creative. The scribbulus essays discuss theories about the Harry Potter books, make predictions about the up and coming Harry Potter stories and even have literary comparisons. By giving visitors the chance to hone their writing skills the Leaky Cauldron is making the Harry Potter obsession beneficial to a fans ability to communicate their thoughts efficiently and creatively. The interest in Harry Potter enhances a fans life by introducing them to a subject that they feel passionately enough about to write about.

The discussion forum called The Leaky Lounge provides fans with a place to make friends and discuss topics of similar interest. Fans can interact with each other in online chat rooms and have discussions related to Harry Potter. The common interest of Harry Potter brings people together and allows them to foster relationships with others by discussing common interests. When visitors participate they become part of the Harry Potter world. This participation allows fans to develop their imagination, creative writting skills and social interactions.

While the Leaky Cauldron is a well rounded and interesting site it does have some shortcomings. One of those short comings is the lack of information and activities for an older fan base. Harry Potter may have originally started as childrens novel, but it has reached an adult audience as well. The Leaky Cauldron seems to focus its content on a younger audience and by doing so eliminates an entire population of Harry Potter fans. This problem could be combated by providing adult discussion forums similar to the Leaky Lounge. The forum could host topics that discuss how parents can realte to their children through Harry Potter and provide a more serious place for Harry Potter discussion. The adult section of the website could also include information on how to make sure that children do not develop unhealthy obsessions with Harry Potter. An adult section of the website could also create a platform for camaraderie based on common interests and insights.

Psychologists have discussed how celebrity obsessions can often lead to depression and social anxieties, because fans become too enthralled with the stars they worship and loose sight of their own lives and accomplishments. Websites such as the Leaky Cauldron combat this detrimental effect of celebrity worship by providing their audience members with interactive activites that showcase their own accomplishments and skills. James Houran, a clinical psychologist with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine discusses how celebrity admiration is normal in human development. He says "Celebrities can inspire people off all ages to be better than they are." The Leaky Cauldron uses the Harry Potter infatuation to encourage its visitors to be better than they are by giving them access to a platform where they can nurture their mind and foster new relationships. Harry Potter fanatics will love the Leaky Cauldron website because it is creative, fun, informative and professional. It is a positive manifestation of celebrity worship and interest because it allows users to get involved in the Harry Potter Universe. Instead of just being obsessed with Harry Potter fans can expand their own accomplishments by contributing to intellectual debates and conversations dealing with Harry Potter. The extensive use of fun technology helps the experience at the website become exciting and all enthralling. The website captures the visitor’s attention and draws them in with the multidimensional graphics and interesting topics. As a first time viewer and a Harry Potter enthusiast, I was prompted to explore the website and interested to see all it had to offer. I not only learned new information I also got to be an active member in the Harry Potter community. This activity helps fanatics to regulate thir interest in Harry Potter and still lead a healthy interactive lifestyle.

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