CELEBRITY NATION

HOW AMERICA EVOLVED INTO A CULTURE OF FANS AND FOLLOWERS

A disquieting, well-researched exploration of the celebrity phenomenon and its consequences for our society.

Why the adulation of celebrities is a recipe for social decay.

One of the most eye-popping facts in this book is that Kim Kardashian has 326 million followers on Instagram as of September 2022. This simple data point shows the level that celebrity culture—i.e., being famous mainly for being famous—has reached in the U.S. and the world. Jones is a former editor of People magazine, a publication that played a role in building the celebrity machine, although now he has a jaundiced view of the whole business. The author identifies Elizabeth Taylor as one of the first to turn her life into a curated performance. After she stopped making movies, she generated millions of dollars in endorsements and eventually her own product line, which set a pattern for future generations. The big change, notes Jones, came with the social media revolution and the scale it provided. “The marriage of social media with celebrity culture was made in branding heaven,” he writes. “Just as the broad reach of television had once overshadowed the traditional legacy print media, so too did social media offer unparalleled reach, frequency, and intimacy, especially to younger consumers.” Paris Hilton was one of the first to grasp the potential of social media and understood that even the occasional scandal could be good for business. There were a host of imitators, and the formula worked best if it included a touch of vulnerability, which helped the manufactured image of authenticity. Jones points to surveys showing that many teenagers count being famous as their life goal, which underlines how celebrities have elbowed aside people of actual accomplishment. A few celebrities have used their profiles and wealth for good works. Jones hopes that this will become more common, but he doesn’t sound convinced. However, the author provides a solid examination of how we got here.

A disquieting, well-researched exploration of the celebrity phenomenon and its consequences for our society.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780807065655

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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