Sociology of Celebrity

last updated 9-1-2018

Readings: M&G
Defining Celebrity
Celebrity Blog 
Annotated Celebrity Bibliography
Links to Celebrity Sites
Movies & Songs about Celebrity
Art as Transgression
Celebrity Visuals
Celebrity Places
Celebrity Worship

"A celebrity is "known for being well-known"
- Daniel Boorstin, The Image
Cultural definition Celebrity is composed of three elements:
a Name
a Face
     a Celebrity Text (a.k.a. star text) -
those 3 to 10 factoids about the celebrity that "everyone" knows
Structural definition: Celebrity is a Transaction of three crucial elements,
    -the Celebrity Construct          
This involves the interaction between the "raw material of the person" and a set of Cultural Intermediaries (including, but not limited to: agents, publicists, trainers, make-up artists, etc.)
     - Fans, the public, audience
     - Mediators
celeb construct
                    wof          g3
Star - Oxford Unabridged Dictionary:
This term for a lead actor or someone at the top of their field dates to at least 1779. The earliest reference in the OED2 is from that date and is used by a man named Warner, recorded in Jesse's George Selwyn and his Contemporaries published in 1844. The use in theater predates the use in other fields.
Celebrity Visuals
Portraits of Pre-Figurative celebs
Celebrity Plastic Surgery
Celebrity Mug Shots
Musicians Mug Shots
Perfecting Celebrity Photos

            d3        d5          d2                                                             
Star System- Movies: The Early Years:
Early on, actors were not known by name, but in 1910, the star system came into being via promotion of Vitagraph Co. actress Florence Lawrence, first known as The Vitagraph Girl. Other companies, noting that this approach improved business, responded by attaching names to popular faces and fan magazines quickly followed, providing plentiful, and free, publicity. Films had slowly been edging past the 20 minute mark, but the drive to feature-length works began with the Italian spectacle film, of which Quo Vadis (1913), running nine reels or about two hours, was the most influential.
The first generation of star actors included Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Marie Dressler, Lillian Gish, William S. Hart, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Claudette Colbert, Rudolph Valentino, Janet Gaynor, Ronald Colman, Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, Lon Chaney, and Will Rogers. During World War I the United States became dominant in the industry and the moving picture expanded into the realm of education and propaganda.
twitter            wof-trump
C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, 1956
"The elite of power, wealth, and celebrity do not have even a passing acquaintance with the elite of culture, knowledge and sensibility; they are not in touch with them-although the ostentatious fringes of the two worlds sometimes overlap in the world of the celebrity."
The celebrities are The Names that need no further identification. Those who know them so far exceed those of whom they know as to require no exact computation. Wherever they go, they are recognized, and moreover, recognized with some excitement and awe. Whatever they do has publicity value. More or less continuously, over a period of time, they are the material for the media of communication and entertainment. And, when that time ends - as it must - and the celebrity still lives - as he may - from time to time it may be asked "Remember him?" That is what celebrity means."
What's killing movie stars?
Where have all the Hollywood movie stars gone?  
By James Warren, Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2008

To hear the July-August Radar tell it, the obituary page should now include news of "Movie Stars, Dead at 101." The self-described bible of "pop culture for smart people" argues that Hollywood, dependent on stars as "mythic beings" since the 1907 silent flick hit "Biograph Girl," now sees star after star failing at the box office of late, including Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Reese Witherspoon, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Ben Stiller, among others. The star "who can reliably put butts in seats on opening weekend," this asserts, is now gone (Will Smith might be an exception).

As "possible culprits," this cites:
 1- overcoverage by a supposedly vengeful tabloid press;
 2- the rise of technology as driving force behind many flicks, especially for a generation fixed on video games;
 3-a penchant by stars to creatively "stretch" and do so many varied parts that it's hard to keep a single persona as did    
     predecessors ("portraying a  freak-loving photographer one month and a Stepford wife another may be creatively satisfying
     for Nicole Kidman, but not for her audience");  
4-Internet-driven, word-of-mouth buzz, especially bad buzz, that hurts movies, regardless of who's in them; and the fact that
     many famous actors   become merely "celebrities" in this tabloid culture and, as astute industry watcher-author Neal Gabler
     puts it, tend to be in competition with movies, not serving them, as their personal lives are more engrossing to the outside
     world than their onscreen roles.
Links to Celebrity Sites
Top ten celebrity websites
100 top celebrity sites
Top celebs by money
Celebrity Gossip Sites
The ‘Celebrity Rehab’ Death Trap

Celebrity Places
Celebrity Worship

Celebrity Worship Syndrome - read all about it!

"Celebrity Worship as Weak Religion" (2003)

A Sociological Understanding of Celebrity Worship
The para-social object, God, functions in gemeinschaften to regulate recognition and validation of the individual self by other members of the community. If everyone shares the same faith in the same God(s), each recognizes the other as valid. In gesellschaften, the sense of self is not as propped up by lateral corroboration as it is in gemeinschaften; in gesellschaften, God has a new function, that of inflating the self through narcissistic contemplation. In individualistic societies, God is a projection of self-worship. This understanding accounts for the new polytheism and the fact that people make God into anything that makes them feel good about themselves. This, of course, holds for celebrity worship. The new polytheism, then, is a direct result of the weakening of social validation of the self through common para-social objects. When para-social objects are no longer common, validation of the self tends to be narcissistic and, as Simmel would have it, individuated (solipsistic). -MAW
book1              faces book
Downside of Celebrity Culture
"In early February, North Korea's leader bragged about his nuclear arsenal, the lagging U.S. dollar started climbing and the Prince of Wales announced his engagement. But the serious-minded readers of Bloomberg News were most interested in Charles and Camilla. Americans have an insatiable appetite for celebrity news, and the juicier the better - from Brad and Jennifer's breakup to Michael Jackson's trial to Martha Stewart's jail term. Some observers say it's harmless to follow the lives of celebrities. ... But media critics say celebrity coverage is squeezing out legitimate news and that, as a result, the United States is becoming a nation that knows more about the 'Battle of the Network Stars' than the battle for Baghdad. With less attention being paid to informing citizens about government and the world around them, the critics warn, a cornerstone of a democratic society- an informed populace - is being put in jeopardy."
-Howard Altman, "Celebrity Culture," CQ Researcher, March 18, 05, v15,#11, pp.245-268
P.T.Barnum's autobiography
Was Dickens the first celebrity?
Celebrity Tweeters & their Ghosts
"Celebrity As Simulacrum" (1994)
* Ubiquitous. Advertising is everywhere.
* Anonymous. It is extremely difficult to determine authorship in advertising.
* Symbiotic. "Adcult shares the energy of other social organisms. The something with which it lives is on the surface entertainment and below the surface deep concerns of the specific culture." Advertisement merges with other cultural trends, like music. By viewing MTV videos, for example, one sees "how the colonizing power of commercial speech can quickly consume discrete forms and make them one."
* Syncretic. "Adcult layers itself on top of other cultures." It builds on what has come before, like the Burger King commercial that has two diapered babies chatting as in Look Who's Talking. Twitchell likens this self-referential aspect of Adcult to religious ceremonies.
* Profane. Advertising must excite and shock to get the consumers' attention.
* Magical. Twitchell contends that he is "hardly the first to recognize that advertising is the gospel of redemption in the fallen world of capitalism, that advertising has become the vulgate of the secular belief in the redemption of commerce. In a most profound sense advertising and religion are part of the same meaning-making process: they occur at the margin of human concern about the world around us, and each attempts to breach the gap between us and objects by providing a systemic understanding. Whereas the Great Chain of Being organized the world of our ancestors, the marketplace of objects does it for us. They both promise redemption: one through faith, the other through purchase. But how are order and salvation affected? By magical thinking, pure and simple." [description of Twitchell's work taken from "Jesse Ventura and the Brave New World of Politainer Politics" by Ann Conley and David Schultz]
Movies about celebrity:
Sunset Blvd.
Stardust Memories
A Star is Born
I'm Still Here

    and so many more - including those biopix

Songs about celebrity:                                  
Kinks - "Celluloid Heroes"
Brad Paisley -  "Celebrity Lyrics"
Britney Spears - "Piece of Me"
David Bowie - "Fame"
Barenaked Ladies - "Celebrity"
Dixie Chicks - "Everybody Knows"
Mxpx - " Punk Rawk Celebrity"
Eminem- "Stan"
Lady Gaga - "Paparazzi"
Hole- "Celebrity Skin"
Twista- "Overnight Celebrity
Counting Crows - "Have You Seem Me Lately"
Joe Walsh - "Ordinary Average Guy"

Lots more here