09 Feb 2016

Staging a Life: Portraying Femininities in the Auto/biographies of Indonesian Female Celebrities

Aquarini Priyatna Prabasmoro, March 2011
Monash University

Abstract
This thesis examines the life writings of female celebrities in Indonesia. It analyses six book-length biographies and six life narratives from women’s magazines and argues these published accounts not only represent new forms of autobiographical writing, but offer a space from within which to negotiate appropriate performances of local femininities in a rapidly globalizing cultural context.

Women’s autobiographical writings have been recognized as different from traditional autobiographical narratives (Cosslett et al., 2000). Conventional autobiographies focus on the lives of men and their public achievements; in this context women’s lives and activities have often been considered as less worthy of attention. Conventional autobiographies also tend to be rigid in narrative structure, where the authorial voice is identical to the voice of the narrated subject. Using an interdisciplinary approach that draws upon feminist theories, cultural studies and literary criticism, I argue that these celebrity auto/biographies represent new forms of autobiographical practice that challenge and extend conceptions of autobiography.

The celebrity auto/biographies under discussion display complex narrative structures, where co-writers and the voices of family and friends become part of the authorial voice. They take celebrity and fame as key life achievements and draw on popular cultural media forms such as magazine articles, photographic shoots and news reports to create auto/biographies that simultaneously report celebrity lives and secure celebrity status. These auto/biographies offer challenges to conventional/orthodox narrative authority in conventional autobiography and reposition the ephemera of celebrity as a form of autobiographical practice. Further, by examining how these celebrity auto/biographies utilize different points of view, fragmented narrative structures, the integration of the everyday, and the inclusion of fashion photography I argue that these works extend the meanings conventionally attached to this category of life writing. The more flexible and fragmented structure of these book-length celebrity auto/biographies and alternate auto/biographical practices appearing in women’s magazines suggest that more embracing critical accounts of contemporary auto/biographies are necessary.

This thesis also finds that through their auto/biographical writing Indonesian female celebrities present femininities that are both global and local, revealing complex negotiations of local imperatives of modesty, maternity and normality and global imperatives towards sexuality, celebrity and universality. Femininity is performed both as normative and disruptive, extending and altering the space of what it means “to be a woman”, within the intersecting contexts of local Indonesian culture, celebrity culture and globalization. This thesis contributes then to understandings of globalization and its gendered processes, effects and impacts through the particular phenomenon of the auto/biographies of Indonesian female celebrities.

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