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FAME by Tom Payne


What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity

by Tom Payne

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-42993-5
Publisher: Picador

A droll comparison of the cult of celebrity to the Classics.

In entertaining the notion that celebrities are indeed godlike, former Daily Telegraph deputy literary editor Payne spends most of his debut establishing similarities between the primitive and the urbane. The author draws these parallels adroitly, marrying the hollow-smiled, high-gloss shenanigans of the rich and famous with ancient civilizations, religion and Greek mythology. In Payne’s world, Britney Spears’s much-publicized shaving of her “mucky, black locks”—and the subsequent sale of that hair on eBay—is akin to the mythological self-sacrifice of Iphigenia. Also, Michael Jackson’s varied eccentricities are comparable to Athenian statesman Cimon, who concealed his own death. Payne devotes chapters to interesting if not entirely persuasive pop-culture commentary. He predictably asserts that the beauty-potential of famous women is much more closely scrutinized than that of their male counterparts (“they are allowed to look good as they grow old”); speculates that INXS front man Michael Hutchence, who enjoyed romances with recognizable beauties Helena Christensen and Kylie Minogue, took his own life in 1997 due to sheer boredom rather than severe depression; and looks at how the Big Brother reality-TV program and its democratic voting/eviction process is emblematic of Athenian ostracism. Payne’s philosophizing on the perfumes of Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez dilutes the zaniness even further. The author’s wry, consistently whimsical analysis should be enjoyed with a grain of salt and a delicious appreciation for the classicist’s thought process, and his defining moment arrives when delivering the theory that celebrity obsession can be both a callous weapon of dehumanization and “something that bonds us.”

A glamorized hypothesis that bubbles over with pithy, socially conscious observations, but the classic associations formed from them can be a stretch.