Six overexposed celebrities in ESL/EFL coursebooks

First came my magazine cover, dare I dream of being in an ESL/EFL Coursebook?

 Ahhh, the coursebook celebrity. Whether it’s John Travolta with his plane parked in his garage, or the English football celebrity who fell on hard times, or the Hollywood kids, or Johnny Depp as a pirate, many EFL/ESL coursebooks just love a celebrity. Actually, I’m pretty darn fed up with celebrities in coursebooks now (even though, gulp, as a coursebook writer I’ve used them myself on one or two occasions). But for all those who haven’t noticed, here are my top six celebrities who are just too overexposed in the world of language teaching materials.

1. “The Queen of Pop” Madonna – number one with a bullet of coursebook celebrities; I personally think that English teachers, coursebook authors and publishers should get a cut of Madonna’s royalties for all the free publicity she has got off EFL over the past twenty years. Madonna’s constant reinventing of herself means that she is a good vehicle for present perfect. She almost always has a song somewhere in the top 40 which can be trotted out and used in class. She’s collecting marriages and divorces too now, which means she could be used in a text next to Liz Taylor to teach relationship vocabulary.

2.“The English Chef”  Jamie Oliver – The English celebrity chef who launched a programme of healthy school lunches. Attractive to English coursebook writers who want to bust the myth that all English cooking is basically awful. Fortunately for us Jamie is still churning out stuff and hasn’t overdosed on drugs or anything like that. He is becoming fat though.

3.”The Nice Scot who travels”  Ewan McGregor – When the new Star Wars trilogy came out and was due to last a few years we started seeing images of Ewan in coursebooks as Obi Wan Kenobi. It was the trips across the world in motorcycle (Long Way Round) though that caught the eye of more than one coursebook writer and meant he warranted a whole reading passage of his own complete with glossy photos of him and his mate on bikes. Ewan seems a nice enough guy too, and serves as the token Scot.

4.”The Beau” Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise/George Clooney. OK, I collapsed these three guys into one category. Any of these men can be used to liven up a page or appear in a unit on films. Plus the majority of teachers and students of language classes are women so these three are an obvious draw. I expect that Tom Cruise will be more and more absent as his scientology stuff and childish antics might not sit so well with coursebook authors and editors now. The BIG problem with these guys is that you just can’t depend on them to keep the same relationship for the length of time it takes a coursebook to get published. That’s why you might still see old books with Cruise and Kidman or Pitt and Aniston. Coursebook authors that have featured Clooney as the hottest single Hollywood star are still fevertently hoping he stays that way. A big mea culpa here, I’ve included Clooney in a text once.

5. “The sports celebrity” Tiger Woods/Maria Sharapova The sports celebrity often pops up to decorate a unit on sports or be the subject of a life story text. Tiger Woods because he’s black and can even out the racial balance in a book (people in coursebooks tend to be too white) and Maria Sharapova is Russian and Russia is a big market for international coursebooks. She also gets in because she’s good-looking, I guess. And both are talented sportspeople. Of course.

6. “The blonde” Nicole Kidman/Naomi Watts/Cate Blanchette The token Australian good-looking blonde, so useful to balance out a unit on nationalities. Meant to keep the Australian teachers happy. Finally, each of these actresses have starred in films that coursebook authors probably like. Nicole Kidman’s star is on the wane I think, I’d be looking out for Watts to take her place as the resident Australian film star in books now.

Just like the celebrities themselves, this list is ephemeral and ever-changing. I expect to see the following celebrities appearing in 2009-11 titles: Lewis Hamilton F1 driver (to replace Tiger Woods); Spanish sports figures (Fernando Torres or Rafa Nadal) as Spain has had a bumper year in Sport and is a big market for ELT; Hugh Jackman and Craig Daniels as the new beautiful men in photos; and Kylie Minogue (who will run stiff competition with Madonna but Kylie had cancer which is more text-worthy than Madonna’s divorce). Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and their huge brood of children might become the new favourite choice to use for family, possessive s and nationalities all in one unit. I seriously hope there is no author out there who would dare make a text about Paris Hilton but anything is possible in this business. Remember, you read it here first!

Are there any celebrities that you feel are overdone in books? Post a comment.

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 9:18 am  Comments (20)  
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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My God, just who IS that ugly bugger on the mag above? Has he passed his CRB check, I wonder?

    Actually, you’re right about all this celebrity nonsense. I’m thinking of writing a coursebook based around a simple bod – a drunken EFL teacher who gets himself arrested for violent misconduct and ends up (somehow) in Guantanamo Bay, then writes a corker of a novel about his experiences, and goes on to become … en EFL teacher again.

    What d’yer, think, Lindsay – looks like a winner, eh?

    • The ugly bugger is yours truly… I chose it especially. Your novel idea sounds quite good – it had better come out quickly though before the base closes!

  2. Incidentally, the photo is from a thing called Magmypic. If you click on it you are taken to the site where you can make your own magazine cover photos. Great for procrastinating.

  3. I really thought Madonna and Guy Richie would last longer than that…

  4. Speaking of celebrities–don’t know if Beyonce will ever make it to that upper echelon of textbook celebs, but here’s my contribution to that effect:

    you know, just in case anyone was wondering…

  5. I can’t believe you forgot David Beckham!

    • Arg! You’re right of course. Brrrr (shudder)… does he go in the “beau” category or the sports star category? He has been overexposed though. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Could anyone become a celebrity through appearing in an EFL textbook some day, I wonder? I had money on Seamus McSporran with his 13 jobs becoming a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, but turns out the Soarseses just made him up

    • Good point. I would have thought the woman who lives in a plane might resurface somewhere too.

    • The ‘Soarseses’ did NOT make up Seamus McSporran. Google him! You couldn’t him make up. In fact McSporran is just about the only surname on the island.

      • Thank you Liz for stopping by, and for clarifying this. I found the wikipedia entry on him too after following your suggestion. Here it is:

        Looks like this sets the record straight. Alex?

      • My apologies, I still haven’t got used to this new world in which (a) people actually read TEFL blogs and (b) people write actual facts on them. I stand corrected.

        The Soarseseseses definitely own an island in the Caribbean though. I think it might be Jamaica

      • PS, how can there be all this discussion of celebrities in EFL textbooks without ever mentioning boob jobs. Our students are going to be really stuck if they have a real conversation about celebrities with a real British woman. I hear that the Newer New Headway Post-Beginner will have a text about Sam Fox though

  7. What about the EFL teachers who lived in a pub? Don’t I recall reading about them in some course book? Or was it just idle chit-chat from last night’s “Academic Guidance Meeting” at the Lamb & Flag?

  8. You are dead on. It is kind of out of control these days.

  9. Ah-hm… I recently wrote a text about Paris Hilton for an Inside Out workbook …. Is this the end of my career?

    • We certainly hope so, Philip!

  10. […] Six overexposed celebrities in ESL/EFL coursebooks […]

  11. Interesting post. Just finished working on a textbook (8th grade, UPP, for Israeli MoE – about B1/B2 level) where in a unit on entertainment, the learners have to collaborate in developing a fact file on a celebrity of their choice. The twist is that they are asked to look at celebrities who work with/promote charities. It’s a lot more constructivist in nature, providing an opportunity for online research, evaluation, and synthesis of information, etc., in addition to giving kids choices. From a commercial perspective, it will hopefully be a bit more future-proofed, increasing the book’s shelf-life by not self-dating.

    • Thanks for the comment Randi, and best of luck with your textbook! Your activity sounds interesting, and you’re right that allowing kids the choice will help in more than one way!

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