Intriguing, readable critical analysis of celebrity and our cultural obsession with fame.
By tackling America’s current condition of free-news oversaturation and ubiquitous fixation with celebrities, Currid-Halkett (Policy, Planning, and Development/Univ. of Southern California; The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City, 2007) asks how much celebrity-dominated airwaves, newspapers, magazines and conversations distract us from more meaningful issues. “[O]n the whole,” she writes, “many of us care far more about [Jennifer] Aniston’s latte than the thousands being murdered in Sudan.” The author backs up her case by citing solid studies, interviews and statistics—including the number of times a celebrity is photographed in a year, or how many events he/she attends—all of which she weaves together with accessible language while maintaining narrative momentum. She defines celebrity as the phenomenon of society valuing certain individuals for reasons that outweigh—or are entirely unrelated to—their talent. It’s this key difference, she argues, between how much attention should be paid to someone (due to their talent) and how much attention is actually given, that accounts for “celebrity residual.” This is most likely to show up in the fields of entertainment, sports and politics. More than anything else, people respond to visual stimuli, which, to a large extent, explains Paris Hilton’s camera-friendly rise to become the “ultimate celebrity.” There’s also the relatively recent sphere of reality-TV stars, like the Gosselins or Kardashians—talentless people who captured the public’s interest. Celebrity permeates every level of society, and Currid-Halkett deftly tracks how this democratic celebrity—of both mainstream stars as well as, say, the local high-school quarterback or an incessantly updating Facebook friend—reveals how the world is organized. She looks at the economics, accounting for all the money made by photographing celebrities, and the roots and duration of stardom. The book raises surprisingly uncomfortable questions, including why society is so invested in people who, for all intents and purposes, could be fictional characters for how little impact they have on our reality.
Approachable and thorough.