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(Solved) 1. Write an alternate thesis statement for Article 1. 2. Write an


1. Write an alternate thesis statement for Article 1. 

2. Write an alternate thesis statement for Article 2. 


Soc (2010) 47:493?497

 

DOI 10.1007/s12115-010-9367-6

 


 

SYMPOSIUM: CELEBRITY AROUND THE WORLD

 


 

Celebrity Culture

 

Frank Furedi

 


 

Published online: 23 September 2010

 

# Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

 


 

Abstract Although the idea of a celebrity has been around

 

for a long time, its mutation into an important cultural force is

 

a relatively recent development. In recent decades the

 

meaning of a celebrity has altered and is now often applied

 

to those who are famous for being famous. The ascendancy of

 

the celebrity has been fuelled by society?s uneasy relationship

 

with the question of authority. Often celebrity provides an

 

alternative source of validation. The tendency to outsource

 

authority to the celebrity represents an attempt to bypass the

 

problem of legitimacy by politicians and other figures.

 

Keywords Celebrity . Reality television . Authority . Charisma

 

The ascendancy of the celebrity is one of the distinctive

 

features of late twentieth and early 21st century western

 

culture. The apotheosis of the celebrity is not confined to

 

the worship of movie idols, pop stars, sport heroes or even

 

?those easily-disposable, banal, reality television constructions that compete for our attention. The term celebrity is

 

not simply a noun but an adjective that signifies that

 

someone possesses the quality of attracting attention. So we

 

have celebrity chefs, celebrity authors, celebrity fiction,

 

celebrity diets, celebrity workouts, celebrity psychiatrists,

 

celebrity therapists and celebrity doctors. Success in

 

virtually every profession is associated with a celebrity

 

status. Those who command the largest fees in the legal

 

profession are described as celebrity lawyers. Back in 2006,

 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that we need

 

celebrity scientists to inspire young people. And even the

 

ivory tower of higher education has been brought into the

 

F. Furedi (*)

 

School of Social Policy and Social Research,

 

The University of Kent,

 

Canterbury CT2 7NY, UK

 

e-mail: [email protected]

 


 

frame. Universities are encouraged to embrace this culture

 

and the shameless self-promoter has been rebranded as a

 

celebrity academic. It is evident that celebrity status is in

 

some sense a marker of authority and that its influence

 

transcends the world of day-time cable television and at

 

least indirectly influences all sections of society.

 

Historical studies of celebrity claim that although that this

 

phenomenon has a long history, it has become transformed

 

through technological innovations such as the cinema, popular

 

press, and television. These technologies have turned celebrities into object of mass consumption. There is also a

 

qualitative distinction between the celebrity culture of the

 

interwar era and its contemporary manifestation. The typical

 

celebrity of the thirties or fifties was the movie star or the

 

sporting hero. Today?s celebrities, who often lack accomplishment are often the product of cable or reality television

 

and many disappear as fast they are constructed. The literature

 

on this theme distinguishes between the exceptionally talented

 

and ?self made? stars and the ?manufactured? and relatively

 

unexceptional celebrities.

 

Whereas the first group gained their status through their

 

superior talents and abilities the second have been manufactured and made famous through media publicity. Today?s

 

celebrity is not simply a well-known person but a product of a

 

cultural industry devoted to the fabrication of interchangeable

 

stars. Critics of this process point to the trivialisation of public

 

life through the assembly line production of instant celebrities.

 

Others positively endorse the opportunities afforded by the

 

mass production of celebrity status and represent it as a

 

positive egalitarian development for providing access to fame

 

to ordinary people.

 

What is distinctive about today?s celebrities is that they

 

are promoted as both special and utterly ordinary. They are

 

celebrated for their unique personality and attractive

 

qualities while appearing to treat them as normal people

 


 

494

 


 

facing the humdrum problems and disappointments of

 

everyday life. Typically celebrities like Jennifer or Brad or

 

Brittany are referred to by their first names. These are

 

people that everyone knows or ought to know. This

 

affectation of familiarity conveys the implication of the

 

removal of social and cultural barriers between the celebrity

 

and the consumer of popular culture and offers the promise

 

of a relation of intimacy. Although they are not quite like

 

ordinary people, their problems and predicaments are

 

sufficiently familiar to everyman to allow for the forging

 

of an emotional bond. Contemporary celebrity culture

 

succeeds in transforming the powerful and the wellknown into intimate and familiar figures. Through reducing

 

the psychic distance between the public and the famous, the

 

celebrity is drawn into the routine everyday experience.

 

Celebrities, especially the manufactured ones serve as the

 

focus for gossip and exchange of information. Such gossip is

 

not simply part of an isolated and arbitrary exchange between

 

individuals but an integral constituent of a culture in which the

 

narratives of everyday life are frequently recycled through

 

conversations about celebrities. As Jane Johnson, a reporter

 

for the popular British celebrity publication Closer observed:

 

?celebrity gossip is a national obsession and a unifying

 

experience across all social groups?. In recent years reality

 

television shows like the X-Factor have emerged as both a

 

distinctive and prominent feature of the national conversation

 

in numerous western societies.

 

The commodification of celebrity culture both fuels

 

and responds to a market for new but readily recognisable and reassuringly familiar celebrities. The creation

 

and commodification of celebrities has itself become a

 

source of popular fascination. Reality television self

 

consciously constructs or invents celebrities in front of

 

an audience. Indeed the audience is expressly afforded

 

the opportunity to choose soon-to?be celebrities.

 

Through this ritualised form of participation the public

 

is encouraged to identify with and invest significant

 

emotional capital in their chosen contestants.

 

Programmes like Big Brother, X-factor, Pop idol, Pop

 

Stars, Fame Academy are in the business of actually

 

involving the public in the production and the discarding

 

of mass produced ?over-night? celebrities. The easilydisposable celebrity symbolises the imperatives of mass

 

consumer culture. Minor celebrities are mass produced and

 

then devoured with extraordinary speed.

 

Contributions on this subject have pointed to a variety of

 

themes associated with the emergence of this cultural

 

phenomenon. Numerous writers have pointed to the rise of

 

the celebrity-industrial complex, particularly the role of the

 

media. Cable television and 24/7 coverage is often associated

 

with the massification and commodification of the celebrity.

 

Others have claimed that this culture is the outcome of an

 

imperative towards a faux-egalitarianism which creates a

 


 

Soc (2010) 47:493?497

 


 

demand for shallow distinctions between people and where

 

attention-seeking acquires a powerful momentum. Some have

 

seen the ascendancy of celebrity culture as reflecting a cultural

 

shift from the valuation of character to that of personality. The

 

celebrity victim, someone who gains fame for their failures,

 

illness or misfortune has also fascinated numerous observers.

 

The victim celebrity personifies a wider sense of powerlessness

 

and estrangement and helps give meaning to the difficulty that

 

many have in coping with the routine problems of existence.

 

The fame that society accords to those who are prepared to

 

disclose their private troubles and intimate thoughts is a

 

development that has engaged the attention of writers on the

 

growth of the confessional and therapeutic imagination.

 

In every reality television competition the critical moment

 

comes when the contestant is asked questions like ?what does

 

this mean to you? or ?how do you feel?? At that point

 

celebrities?to-be are expected to share the kind of private

 

feelings that resonates with the aspiration of audience to gain

 

recognition. Their confessional affirms everyone?s craving to

 

be recognised and normalises the aspiration for fame and

 

distinction. In this way celebrities serve as moral guides for

 

people?s expressive behaviour. That is why probably the most

 

significant attribute of celebrity status is the role it plays in

 

constitution of contemporary authority.

 


 

The Problem of Authority

 

Twenty-first century society has an uneasy relationship with

 

the question of authority. Time and again we are confronted

 

with the question: ?whom can you trust?? People ask

 

continually: ?who is in authority??, ?who is the authority??,

 

?who can speak with authority?? or ?on whose authority do

 

you act?? Every controversy surrounding an act of misfortune?whether it is an outbreak of a flu epidemic, an

 

environmental problem, a natural disaster, an accident or a

 

financial crisis creates a demand for authoritative solutions.

 

Yet this aspiration for authoritative answers coincides with a

 

cultural sensibility that is profoundly suspicious of the

 

exercise of authority. In contemporary times authority has a

 

very bad press. Unmasking authority has become a fashionable enterprise that resonates with popular culture. Those

 

who hold positions of responsibility and of power?

 

politicians, parents, teachers, priests, doctors, nursery workers?are ?exposed? continually for abusing their authority.

 

That the term ?authority? is associated so readily with

 

the act of abuse is symptomatic of western society?s

 

disenchantment with the so-called authority figure. It

 

appears that we have become far more able to demonise

 

authority than to affirm it. Consequently even those who

 

are formally in authority hesitate about openly exercising

 

their influence. In numerous businesses and public

 

institutions this objective is accomplished through the

 


 

Soc (2010) 47:493?497

 


 

now widely practised custom of outsourcing authority to

 

consultants, experts and of course, celebrities.

 

One thing that is certain is that we cannot live without

 

some form of authority. Those who reject some form of

 

authority as illegitimate usually embrace others as acceptable. So, many critics of the teachers? authority over the

 

class room invite us to serve as ?mentors?, ?facilitators? or

 

?role models? to children. In a world where the clergy is

 

sometimes denounced for its authoritarian and abusive

 

behaviour, it is the celebrity or the victim that is often

 

endowed with moral authority. Some renounce all forms of

 

public authority and recognise only the authority of the self.

 

However the self, too, depends on the instructions and

 

advice on the authority of the therapist and the expert. So

 

although authority can be undermined it cannot be quite

 

abolished. However when authority unravels it undermines

 

public life and gives way to moral disorientation.

 

According to Max Weber one of the ways that communities

 

respond to the erosion of customs, traditions and formerly

 

authoritative institutions is through the charisma and personal

 

attributes of unique individuals. Weber believed that even in a

 

modern society charisma remained relevant as an external form

 

of legitimation. Although historically charisma was based on

 

heroism or revelation it can acquire different cultural forms.

 

Celebrities may not possess heroic qualities but as highly visible

 

role models they have become the object of imitation. Their

 

highly publicized personality and individual qualities work as a

 

form of quasi-charisma that has the quality of gaining people?s

 

attention. According to Lawrence M. Friedman, authority ?has

 

been reshaped in the image of the celebrity?. Drawing on the

 

cultural resources of the celebrity politicians, public figures

 

even religious leaders attempt to cultivate the image of the

 

popular, accessible public persona. Even the papacy has

 

internalised elements of this influence. The large crowd of

 

young people attracted to the funeral of Pope John Paul II in

 

April 2005 were fascinated by the image of this religious superstar and treated the event as not unlike a pop-festival.

 

Celebrities today may lack the magical qualities traditionally associated with the status of charisma. And indeed

 

often they appear as the very opposite of this Weberian

 

ideal type. However their fame marks them out as unique

 

and different to ordinary people ?who are not known?.

 

These are individuals who through some kind of magical

 

process have become an exalted version of ourselves. Their

 

authority lies not so much in their superior qualities but in

 

the fact that they serve as a point of reference to others. In

 

particular they serve as models for expressive behaviour.

 

Like classical charismatic figures, celebrities are individuals

 

who provide people with a focus for identification. But

 

unlike the classical charismatics the celebrity lacks the

 

mysterious transcendent leadership qualities of a prophet or

 

hero. They are what they are??role models? rather than

 

authoritative leaders.

 


 

495

 


 

It is worth noting that there is a substantial body of

 

academic literature that regards celebrity culture as on

 

balance a positive development. Some hail it as an

 

egalitarian alternative to the classic public sphere of the

 

?privileged elite?. From this perspective the traditional

 

ideals of ?heroism, fame or genius? are associated

 

masculine hierarchical values. In contrast, some contributors uphold celebrity culture on the grounds that it is

 

inclusive and diverse, feminine, and providing an

 

opportunity to air everyday theme themes that were once

 

deemed trivial.

 

We are frequently informed that celebrities are inspiring

 

role models for millions of young people or that voting for

 

contestants on a Reality Television Show represents a

 

successful example of political mobilisation of people who

 

are otherwise switched off from public life. Typically

 

advocates of contemporary popular culture regard people?s

 

fascination and interest with celebrities as possessing the

 

potential to connect with public life. The very fact that

 

many celebrities are in many respects ordinary individuals,

 

who have been forced to confront the normal problems

 

faced by everyday folk is sometimes represented as an

 

example of democratising public discourse. Some suggest

 

that this is a positive development since it expands debate

 

to issues that concern people who are otherwise switched

 

off from public life. Consequently celebrities are frequently

 

promoted as role-models who can engage millions of

 

otherwise disengaged people in public life. This perspective

 

plays an influential role in education and campaign oriented

 

towards connecting with young people.

 

The project of mobilising the potential of celebrity

 

culture for enhancing the quality of public life has

 

proved to be a delusion. For example research in the UK

 

shows that celebrity followers are three times less likely

 

than others to be involved in community organisations

 

and two times less likely to participate in volunteer

 

work. One study concluded that those who followed

 

celebrity culture were ?those least likely to be politically

 

engaged?. The relationship between political disengagement and the rise of celebrity culture is not a causal

 

one?rather they both express a trend towards the

 

disorientation of public life.

 

It is important to note that a role model is not quite a

 

figure of authority. It is the decline of what Hannah

 

Arendt has characterised as pre-political authority?

 

parents, elders, teachers?that has led to a demand for

 

individuals who can serve as models for behaviour. In

 

this relationship, role models provide a focus for

 

psychological identification but in a shallow and superficial manner. Imitation is a significant dimension of

 

celebrity culture. People are not only encouraged to

 

imitate a role model?s style of appearance but also their

 

habits and emotional behavior.

 


 

496

 


 

Outsourcing Authority to the Celebrity

 

Given the influence of celebrity culture it is not surprising

 

that politicians and public figures have sought to mobilise it

 

to consolidate their position. Politicians self consciously

 

attempt to either acquire a celebrity image or to associate

 

themselves with individuals who possess this status.

 

Celebrity politics gained significant momentum during the

 

Clinton Presidency. Clinton successfully mobilised

 

Hollywood personalities to add glamour to his regime. On

 

the other side of the Atlantic, the election of Tony Blair as

 

the Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1997 was followed

 

by what came to be known as the ?Cool Britannia? party at

 

Downing Street. This social gathering of pop stars, actors,

 

fashion designers and personalities aimed to endow the new

 

Blair Regime with celebrity authority.

 

For their part celebrities are quite happy to use their

 

authority and serve as the unelected leaders of a variety

 

of causes. Hollywood has been in the forefront of raising

 

public concern about the plight of Tibet and of Darfur.

 

The Irish pop star Bono is the master of this form of

 

celebrity colonialism. In recent years he has set himself

 

up as the voice of Africa. At international summits

 

prominent public figures such as former President

 

George Bush and former Prime Minister Brown are

 

more than happy to defer to Bono?s wisdom in exchange

 

for a photo opportunity.

 

This parasitical relationship between political leaders

 

and celebrity culture has acquired a peculiarly tawdry

 

form in the UK. British politicians are even keen to be

 

associated with off-the- shelf created celebrities to

 

demonstrate that they are in touch with the mood of

 

the public. Take the case of, Jade Goody was transformed from a 21 year old dental nurse to a mega

 

celebrity after appearing on Big Brother. Although she

 

was just a contestant and not a winner of Big Brother2

 

and developed a reputation for her crude manners,

 

prejudice and ignorance, she was turned into a national

 

brand. She was promoted as bubbly and irrepressible

 

young woman who was prepared to do just about

 

anything to be famous. In the media she was described

 

as a Reality TV Star, which was another way of saying

 

that she was famous for just being watched. When she

 

was diagnosed with cancer her public status was further

 

enhanced by her celebrity illness. After her death in

 

March 2009, Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister

 

took it upon himself to lead the tributes to her, praising

 

Jade Goody as a ?courageous woman?. Nor could Brown

 

resist the temptation of appearing in American Idol in a

 

recorded message. In the meantime, his wife Sarah gained

 

a reputation as a celebrity groupie. ?Loved Paris Hilton

 

who I met last week in LA for the first time?, wrote Sarah

 

Brown on Facebook earlier this year. ?Nothing about her

 


 

Soc (2010) 47:493?497

 


 

public image prepares you for the first meeting. She?s a

 

smart, caring, considerate person. Who knew?? Paris

 

obliged by returning the favour; ?Just had an amazing

 

conversation with Sarah Brown, Gordon Brown?s wife,?

 

she twittered live from theirintimate encounter. Paris

 

added ?she is such a smart, beautiful, inspirational

 

woman?. The public embrace of Paris Hilton by the wife

 

of the British Prime Minister indicates the significance

 

that the political elite attach to being identified with the

 

glamour of the celebrity.

 

The outsourcing of conventional authority to celebrities

 

represents one of the most disturbing developments in

 

public life. Celebrities are often recycled as moral and

 

political leaders who possess the authority to lecture people

 

about how to conduct their life. In Britain, the celebrity

 

chef Jamie Oliver was endowed with prophet like status

 

and assigned the role of saving the nation?s children from

 

the scourge of junk food. This celebrity was acclaimed by

 

both the Prime Minister and the Queen and parliamentarians frequently cited his statements to show that they too

 

had seen the light. Although unelected and unaccountable,

 

celebrities enjoy some of the deference lost by conventional

 

authority. Thus they are ideally placed to lead campaigns

 

and moral crusades. The examples of Robert Redford

 

campaigning against nuclear waste dumping or Charlton

 

Heston advocating the rights of gun ownership shows that

 

the influence of the celebrity transcends the ideological

 

division between left and right.

 

Today all forms of authority have been called into

 

question. The powerful mood of cynicism towards authority

 

is not simply directed at a particular group of politicians,

 

scientists or public figures. The sentiment signalled by this

 

mood of suspicion is the stigmatisation of all types of

 

formal authority. In such circumstances authority finds it

 

difficult to gain public legitimacy in a coherent and

 

institutionalised form. Individuals who are charged with

 

exercising authority are confused and defensive about their

 

role. Instead of acting authoritatively they often go through

 

the motion of playing their role. It is such circumstances

 

that celebrities have gained a significant degree of moral

 

status. These quasi-charismatic figures do not have to justify

 

their moral status. Celebrities like George Clooney or Bono do

 

not have to worry about re-election. Nor does society hold

 

celebrities to account. When we become disappointed in their

 

performance we simply look for a fresh face and a more

 

convincing personality. These days authority comes in tiny

 

bite size packages and has a very short shelf life.

 


 

Further Reading

 

Barry, E. 2008. Celebrity, cultural production and public life.

 

International Journal of Cultural Studies, 11, 3.

 


 

Soc (2010) 47:493?497

 

Couldry, N., & Markham, T. 2007. Celebrity culture and public

 

connection: Bridge or chasm? International Journal of Cultural

 

Studies, 10, 4.

 

Franck, E., & Nuesch, S. 2007. Avoiding ?Star Wars??celebrity

 

creation as media strategy. Kyklos, 60, 2.

 

Friedman, L. 1994. The republic of choice: Law, authority and

 

culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

 


 

497

 

Jaffe, A. 2006. Modernism and the culture of celenbrity. New York:

 

Cambridge University Press.

 


 

Frank Furedi is Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent in

 

Canterbury, England. He is author most recently of Wasted: Why

 

Education is not Educating (2009).

 


 

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