What are the conditions of celebrity today? The contemporary celebrity will usually have emerged from the sports or entertainment industries; they will be highly visible through the media; and their private lives will attract greater public interest than their professional lives. Unlike that of, say, public officials, the celebrity's fame does not necessarily depend on the position or achievements that gave them their prominence in the first instance. Rather, once they are established, their fame is likely to have outstripped the claims to prominence developed within that initial location. Indeed, the modern celebrity may claim no special achievements other than the attraction of public attention; think, for instance, of the prominence gained for short,intense periods by the contestants on Big Brother or Survivor. As a result, and as the Big Brother example might suggest, most media pundits would argue that celebrities in the twenty first century excite a level of public interest that seems, for one reason or another, disproportionate. who have studied this phenomenon might argue that this excessiveness constitutes an intrinsic element of the celebrity's appeal, it is also one reason
why celebrity is so often regarded as the epitome of the inauthenticity or constructedness of mass-mediated popular culture (Franklin, 1999). As the epigraph at the top of this chapter suggests, it is the pervasiveness of celebrity across the modern mass media that encourages us to think it as a new development, rather than simply the extension of a longstanding
condition. The exorbitance of celebrity's contemporary cultural visibility is certainly unprecedented, and the role that the celebrity plays across many aspects of the cultural field has certainly expanded and multiplied in recent years. We are still debating, however, what constitutes celebrity - how precisely to describe and understand this phenomenon. Properly
assessing the scale and provenance of celebrity - as a discursive category, as a commercial commodity, as the object of consumption - probably has to be deferred until some of these definitional issues are clarified. In this chapter, I want to begin this process through a discussion of some key debates: around the definitions and taxonomies of celebrity; the history of
the production of celebrity; and the social function of celebrity.
What is celebrity?
Let's consider some options. First, commentary in the popular media by columnists and other public intellectuals tends to regard the modern celebrity as a symptom of a worrying cultural shift: towards a culture that privileges the momentary, the visual and the sensational over the enduring, the written, and the rational.1 Second, those who consume and invest in celebrity tend to describe it as an innate or €natural' quality, which is possessed only by some extraordinary individuals and €discovered' by industry talent scouts. For the popular press, the fanzines, the television and movie industries, the defining qualities of the celebrity are both natural and magical: journalists, feature writers and publicists speak of their €presence', their €star quality', and their €charisma'. Third and in striking contrast to this, the academic literature, particularly from within cultural and media studies, has tended to focus on celebrity as the product of a number of cultural and economic processes. These include the commodification of the individual celebrity through promotion, publicity and advertising; the implication of celebrities in the processes through which cultural identity is negotiated and formed; and most importantly, the representational processes employed by the media in their treatment of prominent individuals. The sum of these processes constitutes a celebrity industry, and it is important that cultural studies' accounts of celebrity deal with its production as a fundamental structural component of how the media operates at the moment. In this section,
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