In this essay, I will examine the subject of celebrity culture, and discuss the role that celebrities play in contemporary societies.

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Paul Bestwick   118984   HGA101   Assessment Task Two   Due Date 03.05.2012

            In this essay, I will examine the subject of celebrity culture, and discuss the role that celebrities play in contemporary societies.  It is not envisaged that the essay will act as an exhaustive expose on celebrity roles, but rather, it will address specific issues that demonstrate what are arguably some of celebrity’s most significant functions.  Firstly, it will be shown that celebrity is not a new identity, but has existed in various guises throughout history.  The essay will then discuss the notion of celebrity and show that it is a constructed identity, which is perpetuated by the networks, and plays an important role in driving consumerism. The essay will include a case study of Princess Diana as an example of celebrity/audience relationships, demonstrating the ways in which celebrity acts as a site through which audiences derive meaning.  I will discuss the manner in which celebrities have used the power conferred upon them, through their celebrity status, to challenge established dominant ideologies and to initiate change in society.  The essay will conclude in demonstrating the manner in which celebrities have translated their personal beliefs, on the subjects of spirituality and sexuality, into the public arena; and the manner in which these cultural meanings and associations have been assimilated by society (Turner, 2004, p.17) into a postmodern world.


            The notion of celebrity is not unique to the current era, Roman and Greek histories record the feats of their heroes; while French society can boast of Louis xiv as a veritable paragon of style, who was admired and emulated by the courtiers of the day.   Similarly, many cultures had their heroes of renown and the current era is no different in this respect.  Chris Rojek postulates that the end of the feudal system, and the weakening influence of the church, created a vacuum, in which cultural capital was transferred from the aristocracy to the self made man; “and celebrities replaced the aristocracy as the new symbols of recognition and belonging”(2001, p.14).  And of course, this marked the point where society moved from feudalism toward capitalism and the beginning of the period known as modernity.  Modern methods of communication and the rise of the mass media, have since facilitated the means by which the celebrity construct is consumed by modern society.  Ellis Cashmore explains, “The period of industrialisation and the serial production of images began in earnest in the 1930’s, as motion pictures ascended to their paramount position in popular culture” (2006: 74).  Over the period since the advent of the motion picture, the notion of celebrity has expanded to the point where the lives of celebrities, due to the interest of their fans, have become subjects that constitute newsworthiness.  Their fame however is manufactured and dispensed according to the demands of the markets, which are also created, maintained and perpetuated by the networks that profit from their very existence (Turner 2004:  34-35).  Rojek postulates that it is the commodification of celebrity, driven by the capitalist market, and the need to consume, that sustains and perpetuates the celebrity construct (2001: 14).  Cashmore comments that the high visibility and saleability of celebrity is like an instant cash generating machine, with the star directly and indirectly selling “every imaginable piece of merchandise” (2006: 7).  He goes as far as to suggest that the purpose of celebrity may be solely to drive consumerism (Ibid: 13).  Like the hierarchical system it replaced, celebrity is a site invested with power, which in turn is appropriated and personified by the individual star.  So aside from marketing, once conferred, celebrity status empowers and qualifies the star to engage in behaviour or beliefs which challenge the dominant ideologies established in society. Marshall suggests that the amplified discursive power conferred by celebrity status, gives celebrities “a voice above others, a voice that is channelled into the media systems as being legitimately significant” (2004, p. X).  Often, this is seen in the daily parade of celebrity news across the media, and this essay will demonstrate the ways in which audiences are influenced by the discourse of these familiar strangers, with whom in many cases, they conduct unreciprocated parasocial relationships.

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            As an illustration of the power of celebrity, consider Diana Spencer, who once stated, “… one minute I was nobody, the next minute I was Princess of Wales, mother, media toy” (Chua-Eoan et al 1997: 30).  The newspapers, magazines and television cameras captured many of Diana’s public moments, including her marriage to Charles; whilst the birth of each child was followed closely by the world from the announcement of conception, until they appeared, proudly heralded by the international media.  Chris Rojek explains that repeated exposure of ...

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