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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






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






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.






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.






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.





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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