Laura Mulvey says that “cinema promotes narcissism and scopopholia.” Scopopholia can be defined as the love of looking. It has a direct relationship to stardom as “being looked at” is what stars do best. Voyeurism plays a huge role in star consumption. If there are no spectators, there is no arena and there are no stars. We see with Valentino, Marilyn, and Madonna how voyeurism can utilize, and be utilized by, a person in the limelight.
All three personas were marketed and consumed as heartthrobs. Valentino was marketed to the public as the sexy Latin, produced as a product for female consumption. Historically, objects of the female gaze (however few) have been men of color, although there are of course exceptions such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was publicized as a self-made man – a man who built himself up, a personification of the American dream (on a very personal level, for building one’s body affects just that person). In relation the camera, Schwarzenegger, generally looking at rather than being looked at. Men of color and women (whether white or of color) are looked at by the camera.
Elvis and Marilyn were considered sex icons and commanded attention by their winks and hip thrusts. Voyeurism is largely linked to sexuality. Pornography, an industry that took off alongside the film industry, relies heavily on a male spectator; the camera is a tool for looking, and sex sells.
To familiarize audiences with Marilyn before she became a household name, studios circulated sexualized images of her, similar to those in Playboy and other “girlie” magazines. In each of Marilyn’s films, she is the object of the male gaze; however much she may work this objectification to her advantage, she is made a spectacle for voyeuristic consumption. As males, Elvis and Valentino were not as explicitly objectified, however, the cameras gazed on them more than they did Marlon Brando or James Dean or other macho-man figures. Studios negotiated these stars’ sexuality by keeping it within the constraints they set up. If Marilyn was to be sexual, she had to be so within the boundaries of a patriarchal narrative. If Elvis were to shake his hips and sing about sex, he had to do so as an object for people to consume. If Valentino was to star in films as a Latino male, he had to do so with the camera gazing upon him. I would argue that none of these three stars commanded the attention they garnered as much as they reacted to the limelight being shined onto them.