The Rise of Celebrity CultureWith the influx of print, broadcast, online, and mobile media, the concept of “celebrity” has become a social construct. It is also a consequence of economic schemes by business people who invest in commodifying certain individuals to sell a product, a television or radio program, and/or to attract other potential investors in the form of advertisements. However, the emergence of social networking (e.g., Facebook and MySpace), blogging (e.g., Live Journal and WordPress), and other seemingly narcissistic, ego-centric platforms such as video sites like YouTube and reality television (TV) programs like Big Brother has led many people to believe that becoming popular is quite an easy feat that could lead to elevated status and material wealth. Indeed, modern technologies have a role in the evolution of a celebrity culture that is essentially ephemeral and is beset with a “…general emotional atmosphere and institutional character…” (Epstein 2005).
However, the rewards of being popular do not only benefit the celebrity, but the “institutions” that have contributed to such status. Joseph Epstein (2005) identifies entertainment-oriented television (TV) programs, magazine, and prominent talk-show hosts as strategic parts of a “celebrity-creating machinery” designed to fuel various publicity stunts or hype. Websites and social network pages about celebrities are likewise effective in achieving the same purpose. Indeed, current notions of being a “celebrity” are viewed in a different light and with a broadened scope wherein anyone who has access to cyberspace and/or reality TV shows can engage in self-promotion and network-building. Furthermore, such shift has also led to heightened voyeurism among TV viewers, radio listeners, Internet and mobile phone users, and other members of the general public.
Such interest either in taking a peek into the lives of real celebrities or in becoming a “mini-celebrity” in the virtual world is due to personal aspirations to achieve a privileged life caused by fame and money. Epstein (2005) notes the ability of celebrities to somehow fulfill a non-celebrity’s fantasy of enjoying fame, having money, and being involved with “beautiful lovers”. However, he also observes that such interest also stems from the desire to see the extent of such seemingly convenient and perfect life: “We also, after all, at least partially, like to see our celebrities as frail, ready at all times to crash and burn.” This is somehow parallel to watching reality TV shows wherein the viewer gets entertained by mostly unknown participants acting as celebrities and who are committing mistakes and getting involved in dramatic moments which may or may not be scripted. Thus, there exists a paradoxical intent of emulating the achievements of celebrities and wanting “to learn that our own simpler, less moneyed, unglamorous lives are, in the end, much to be preferred to those of these beautiful, rich, and powerful people…” (Epstein 2005)
On the other hand, for those who are “online celebrities”, Christine Rosen (2007) explains that the intent to build a social network of “friends” is not because of “the human need for companionship”, but due to “the need for status”. She adds that sites like Facebook “allow us to create status—not merely to commemorate the achievement of it.” Citing a study by researcher B.J. Fogg, she writes that earning friends and compliments affect and reflect status.
Though there are positive aspects attributed to the culture of celebrity, such as the challenge to improve one’s personality and pursue one’s goals, Rosen (2007) laments that people have been too concerned about their online persona that they spend less time interacting with others offline. Moreover, she asks: “In investing so much energy into improving how we present ourselves online, are we missing chances to genuinely improve ourselves?”
For Epstein (2005), the culture of celebrity has also affected the realm of academics and writers or what he refers to as the “intellectual life”. Not a few educators have engaged in media activities to influence public policy and public opinion, whereas writers who have become famous have participated in book-signing events and promotional tours.
Roger Ebert (2008) is indignant over the fact that the rise of celebrity culture has marginalized film critics. He decries the inability of the US educational system to nurture curious readers and critical thinkers among generations of Americans who should be more concerned about important things in life than being too aware of what Hollywood celebrities do.
Thus, the development of celebrity culture has created a vacuum in terms of community involvement, face-to-face interaction, and intellectual stagnation.
Works CitedEbert, Roger. “Death to the Film Critics! Hail the CelebCult!” The Contemporary Reader. Ed. Gary J Goshgarian. 10th edition. Longman, 2011. Print.
Epstein, Joseph. “The Culture of Celebrity.” The Contemporary Reader. Ed. Gary J Goshgarian. 10th edition. Longman, 2011. Print.
Rosen, Christine. “Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism.” The Contemporary Reader. Ed. Gary J Goshgarian. 10th edition. Longman, 2011. Print.
Written by Leann Zarah (email@example.com)
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