Discursive essay on celebrity culture

Despite sideshows such as these, the heartland of celebrity studies remains within media and cultural studies where academics already interested in popular culture and representation have readily applied themselves to the discussion of particular celebrities as texts. Such discussions turn up regularly in undergraduate coursework materials as well as in the readers and themed collections that have lately begun to populate the field e.

Andrews and Jackson Andrews, D. Sports stars: The cultural politics of sporting celebrity , Edited by: Jackson, S. London and New York : Routledge. Framing celebrity: new directions in celebrity culture , London and New York : Routledge. The celebrity culture reader , London and New York : Routledge.


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Those of us who have published our research on celebrity know how easily we can ourselves be incorporated into the regime of publicity and promotion upon which the celebrity industries depend. It would be a fair guess that just about anyone who has published significant amounts of material on celebrity will have experienced some media interest in their work. Personally, especially since the publication of Understanding celebrity Turner Turner, G.

Understanding celebrity , London : Sage.

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Typically, they want to know why academics are interested in celebrity, if it is a bad thing for media consumers to be interested in them too and, finally, what should be done about it. It is interesting that journalists come to academics seeking a moralistic or censorious opinion; it is rare for an interview not to include at some point an explicit invitation to offer an on-the-record judgement about the personality or behaviour under examination.

At the same time, it is pretty clear that journalists don't take celebrity especially seriously as a social or cultural formation; it is in the news, to be sure, and so it must be pursued, but ultimately most journalists seem to think it is an ephemeral phenomenon. In fact, I have found that a sure-fire way to end the interview early is to launch into a detailed analysis of why we are interested in the production and consumption of celebrity, aimed at suggesting that this is a complex and important focus for cultural research.

That kind of response seems to spoil all the fun. A concerted attempt to make a proper intellectual investment in the study of celebrity is, then, both timely and worthwhile.


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The launching of this journal provides us with an opportunity to discuss what something called celebrity studies might do; and a starting-point for that is a frank examination of what celebrity studies is doing now. So, let me make some personal observations on how that looks to me. For a start, I do not see a great deal of depth or variety in academic writing and research on celebrity. Most of the readers and edited collections and, significantly, there are many more of them than there are book-length studies tend to work over similar subjects in similar ways.

Approaching celebrity studies

Celebrity and power: fame in contemporary culture , Minneapolis, London : University of Minnesota Press. There are other approaches, of course, but they are in the minority. David Marshall's Celebrity culture reader provides examples of this range of approaches. View all notes From time to time, we have new formations of a theory or a history of celebrity see Rojek, for instance, in Rojek, C. Celebrity , London : Reaktion.

Overwhelmingly, however, the field is populated with analyses of individual celebrities either as media texts interesting in their own right or as pointers to broader cultural formations or political issues; in either case, the focus of analysis is upon the details of their representation through the media.

Much of this has proved to be valuable work, and there can be no question that celebrity has demonstrated its usefulness as a productive location for the analysis of cultural shifts around gender, race or nationality, for instance. It is important that such work continues.

Media Power on Society - Celebrity Influence on Youth Culture

However, I think it is also important that we ask if this is all we want from a field called celebrity studies? For my part, I think we need to do more to actively foster other approaches to studying celebrity. To do that, we need to remind ourselves that celebrity is not only a category of media text nor merely a genre of media discourse. There are a number of ways through which we might define and thus approach celebrity that would help us account for other dimensions to its function and significance.

In the rest of this article, I want to talk a little about the varied ways in which we might define celebrity — as representation, as discourse, as an industry and as a cultural formation — and what kinds of research agendas or analytical approaches could flow from these definitions. First, to be sure, celebrity is a genre of representation that provides us with a semiotically rich body of texts and discourses that fuel a dynamic culture of consumption.

Secondly, celebrity is also a discursive effect; that is, those who have been subject to the representational regime of celebrity are reprocessed and reinvented by it. The process of celebritisation is widely seen as transformative but with markedly varying political significance; at one end of the spectrum of opinion, it would be described as a form of enfranchisement and empowerment, but at the other end as a mode of exploitation or objectification. In its most extreme and worrying instances, celebritisation can produce something close to abjection think of Britney Spears or Jade Goody at various points in their public careers.

Indeed, it is the more idealistic interpretations of this potential that generates the demand for places in reality TV shows which offer individuals the chance to subject themselves to precisely this process of transformation. Equally importantly, and this is a third category through which our analysis might function, the celebrity which is the objectified outcome of this discursive effect is itself a commodity.


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Like any other commercial product, what P. David Marshall Marshall, D. At the most pragmatic level, for the individual concerned, their celebrity is a commercial property which is fundamental to their career and must be maintained and strategised if they are to continue to benefit from it. In terms of what this means for the development of celebrity studies, it highlights the necessity for celebrity studies to find ways to map and understand the increasing structural importance of the production and consumption of celebrity to the shape of the media and entertainment industries.

Celebrity, that is, also needs to be understood and studied as an industry.

SAGE Books - Understanding Celebrity

Finally, and in the end possibly most importantly, celebrity is also a cultural formation that has a social function. Not only is celebrity implicated in the production of communities such as fan groups or subcultures, not only does it generate celebrity culture 3 3. Here, I mean a culture of consumption based around media representations of particular individuals and the related modes of constructing identities.

View all notes and social networks, it also participates in the field of expectations that many, particularly the young, have of everyday life. As we have seen earlier, this latter aspect is now regularly picked up in the media, but so far this has produced little in the way of analysis or explanation.

In fact, it is notable that while celebrity's social and cultural implications are probably the aspects we understand least at the moment, they are also the aspects about which we should be most legitimately concerned in the long term and I will return to this in the next section. In my view, it is currently a weakness in the field that celebrity studies, to date, has concentrated so much on the first of these categories — examining celebrity as a genre of representation — with some attention to the second, on celebrity as a discursive effect.

In many ways, it is true, such a preference is understandable. It also has some precedents in the history of cultural and media studies as a field. Cultural studies began in a similar manner, by focusing its attention upon media texts as a means of demonstrating what kinds of information or insights cultural and media analysis could provide.

The degree of arbitrariness in the choice of text, however, eventually attracted criticism. Cultural populism , London and New York : Routledge. It is a legitimate criticism, and debates about that kind of issue have been part of the territory of cultural studies, on and off, ever since. None the less, as is so often the case with the preferred objects of analysis in popular culture, it is the textual richness and the sheer excessiveness of celebrity culture that attracts consumers and analysts alike, and so it is not at all surprising that these have remained the focus rather than the larger, more structural, political or theoretical issues.

I also suspect that some in cultural and media studies have welcomed the opening-up of a new location for the performance of textual analysis at a point in the field's history when the analysis of other kinds of media texts had largely fallen from favour. There are at least two problems in terms of the implications this pattern of preferences raises for a field of celebrity studies, however.

One is that the dependence upon the methods of textual analysis has a slightly regressive dimension, recalling the politically optimistic work performed in the late s and early s which provoked Jim McGuigan McGuigan, J. The new revisionism in mass communication research — a reappraisal. European Journal of Communication , 5: — That is, while textual analysis certainly remains a valid methodology, in my view we have long passed the point where it can be seen as constituting an entirely sufficient basis upon which to mount a broad programme of cultural studies research.

As celebrity studies moves towards developing what should be a more diverse and multi-disciplinary set of research practices, this is a concern it would do well to consider.

11 Pop Culture Research Topics That Pop

The second issue is that much of this kind of writing takes us into very much the same territory that the media themselves have explored in their own analysis of celebrity. It would be disappointing if cultural studies' writing on celebrity became indistinguishable from journalists' celebrity profiles and feature articles in the weekend colour supplements and on current affairs television.

It has to be said that there are some close similarities at the moment. Like the academics, the journalists are also focused upon the details of the representation of the celebrity, and engaged in a process of carefully attributing significance to them. Ironically, too, as the feature articles so often demonstrate, there is a potentially circular, and certainly reciprocal, relationship between the academy and the media around this subject matter. Both sectors feed off each other: the media quote us in order to legitimise their stories, while we mine them for empirical or textual evidence for ours.

My primary concern, however, is that what I would see as the more structurally important aspects of celebrity have been sidelined by the preferences I have been describing. Celebrity studies is not full of debates about how we might understand the celebrity-commodity and there is only a slim academic literature which focuses upon the production, trade, marketing or political economy of the structures which manufacture this commodity.

Nor is celebrity studies full of research into, as distinct from theorising about, the social function of the cultural formation of celebrity. None of these are easy topics and approaching them involves drawing upon a range of disciplines, knowledges and research methods; but they do seem to point towards profitable ways of developing new directions for celebrity studies in the future.

How might we go about developing celebrity studies in the future? For a start, I believe we need to establish a stronger base for the study of the industrial production of celebrity. This is where I see a significant gap in celebrity studies, and there are at least two angles from which it can be addressed. The first would examine the structural effect of celebrity upon production in the globalising media and entertainment industries.

While any approach would need to be aware of and responsive to local and national production environments, the primary target for this first set of examinations would be to understand the roles played by transnational organisations. These would not only include the usual media and entertainment interests, but also the large advertising and promotional interests involved in, for instance, the promotion of celebrity properties as a component in the development of transnational branding.

This is a much larger set of questions than just those to do with celebrity, however, and so there is another angle of inspection that could address the celebrity industries from a more manageable vantage point. It could interest itself in the processes and practices through which celebrity is produced and marketed in particular local or national regions and markets in order to pick up the different levels at which the production of celebrity articulates with varying patterns of media regulation, production, distribution and consumption, as well as understanding the regimes of professional practice, that determined how these organisations operate.