The Cultural Politics of Celebrity (2010)


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Drake P. & Miah, A. (2010) The Cultural Politics of CelebrityCultural Politics.

 

"As we have seen, contemporary celebrity is associated with the rise of the mass media in the twentieth century and its creation, circulation, and promotion of well-known individuals. Although celebrity culture predates modern communication technologies, the dramatic rise of the mass media in the twentieth century facilitated a great expansion of the sites in which celebrity culture could be consumed by audiences. They are an inherent part of consumer capitalism, driven by the interlocking media and publicity industries.

Although celebrity is not a modern phenomenon, the articulation of contemporary celebrity with the media represents a distinct shift in the dynamics of fame. Celebrity might thus be best understood not as the property of an individual but as a mediating frame between famous individuals and their media publics. The relationship between celebrities and audiences has been usefully conceptualized as a para- social engagement, as it is primarily based upon a one-way flow of communication, although more recently in the case of reality television, feedback mechanisms (voting for or against a celebrity) are a popular reflexive device allowing audiences to play and interact within the boundaries of the format. Through such forms of interaction celebrities become more than simply famous, they become mediated friendships, giving rise to new forms of mediated intimacy – ranging from adoring and enchanted, to cynical and ironic – between celebrity performers and their publics.

In conclusion we contend that celebrity is not a phenomenon as easy to dismiss as its many critics would like us to believe. For better or worse, the ubiquity of celebrity culture means it is part of everyday life, and deeply embedded in the functioning of the contemporary media. As the examples of Goody, Jackson, Bono, and Geldof indicate, the publicity that celebrities command can act as a lightning rod for social anxieties, bringing public attention to potentially political issues. Celebrity narratives can sometimes set the news agenda, as Whannel argues, and if often only briefly, become the headline topic for everyday discussion, possibly to even form part of a mediated public sphere. For good or ill, celebrity culture continues to be connected in complex ways to our sense of identity and belonging, of how we relate to the world, to each other and to ourselves. For these reasons we argue that the dynamics of our contemporary cultural settlement with celebrity are important to analyze."