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A celebrity is a widely-recognized or famous person who commands a high degree of public and media attention. The word stems from the Latin verb "celebrere" but they may not become a celebrity unless public and mass media interest is piqued. For example Virgin Group director Richard Branson was famous as a CEO, but he did not become a global celebrity until he attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. Another example is Al Gore, whose environmental crusade has elevated him to celebrity status. On the other hand, mass entertainment personalities such as soap opera actors or music stars are likely to become celebrities even if the person deliberately avoids media attention.
A famous definition of celebrity comes from the cultural theorist Daniel Boorstin. In his book,The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, he cynically describes celebrities as “a person who is known for his well-knowness . . . a human pseudo-event.”.
Central Celebrities[edit | edit source]
|“||In our modern system of civilisation, celebrity (no matter of what kind) is the lever that will move anything.Wilkie Collins||”|
—The Moonstone (1868)
A small number of celebrities can be considered 'global', in that their fame has spread across the world, even across linguistic and cultural boundaries. These celebrities are often prominent political figures, actors, globally successful artists, musicians and sports stars.
The rise of international celebrities in acting and popular music is due in large part to the massive scope and scale of the media industries, enabling celebrities to be viewed more often and in more places. The reach of entertainment products is further extended by large-scale illegal copying of movies and music, which makes inexpensive pirated versions of DVDs and CDs available throughout even less economically developed countries.
Regional or cultural celebrities[edit | edit source]
Each culture and region has its own independent celebrity system, with a hierarchy of popular film, television, and sports stars. Celebrities who are very popular in one country might be unknown abroad, except with culturally-related groups, such as within a diaspora. In some cases, a country-level celebrity might command some attention outside their native country, but not to the degree that they can be considered a global celebrity. For example, singer Lara Fabian is widely-known in the French-speaking world, but only had a couple of Billboard hits in the U.S., whereas singer Celine Dion is well-known in both communities.
Subnational entities or regions, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic, religious) also have their own 'celebrity systems', especially in linguistically or culturally-distinct regions such as Quebec(a French-speaking province in Canada) and Wales (a constituent country of the UK). Regional radio personalities, newscasters, politicians or community leaders can be considered as local or regional celebrities. A local celebrity can be more of a household name than a national celebrity and may often experience the same type of attention from the public as a national celebrity albeit in the confines of their particular region. For example, while journalist Lin Sue Cooney is a well known television reporter in Arizona, she is little known outside the Southwestern US.
In a smaller country, linguistic or cultural community, a figure will be less likely to gain a broader celebrity. Shakira and Daddy Yankee were known largely in the Spanish-speaking world before becoming popular in English-speaking communities, by performing English language songs. Similarly, Spanish actors Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, who were country-level celebrities in their native Spain, were able to become global celebrities only after they became Hollywood actors in English-speaking films.
English-speaking media commentators and journalists will sometimes refer to celebrities as A-List, B-List, C-List, D-List or Z-List. These informal rankings indicate a placing within the hierarchy. However, due to differing levels of celebrity in different regions, it is difficult to place people within one bracket. A Nicaraguan actor might be a B-list action film actor in the US, but be an A-list star in the Czech Republic. An objective method of placing celebrities from any country into categories from A-List to H-List based on their number of Google hits has been proposed, but while this method is quantitative, it only works for individuals with distinctive names, e.g., Jason Mewes, not Kevin Smith.
Professions that can make someone a celebrity[edit | edit source]
Some professional activities, by the nature of being high-paid, highly exposed, and difficult to get into, are likely to confer celebrity status. For example, movie stars and television actors with lead roles on prominently scheduled shows are likely to become celebrities. High-ranking politicians, national television reporters, daytime television show hosts, supermodels, successful athletes and chart-topping pop musicians are also likely to become celebrities. A few humanitarian leaders such as Mother Teresa have even achieved fame because of their charitable work. Some people are internet celebrities and are found in videos online.
While some film and theatre directors, producers, artists, authors, trial lawyers and journalists have achieved celebrity status, in general they are less famous than actors of equal professional importance to the business.
Celebrity families[edit | edit source]
An individual can achieve celebrity on the basis of their profession, accomplishments, or notoriety, without necessarily having any family or social connections to aid them. However, there are families where the entire family is considered to have celebrity status. In monarchies, all members of royal families are celebrities, especially when they are associated with a real or perceived scandal. As well, there are artistic 'dynasties', where several members of a family are associated with a profession - such as in music, sports or politics.
Celebrity as a mass media phenomenon[edit | edit source]
In the 1970s, academics began analyzing the phenomenon of celebrity and stardom. According to Sofia Johansson the "canonical texts on stardom" include articles by Boorstin (1971), Alberoni (1972) and Dyer (1979) that examined the "representations of stars and on aspects of the Hollywood star system." Johansson notes that "more recent analyses within media and cultural studies (e.g. Gamson 1994; Marshall 1997; Giles 2000; Turner, Marshall and Bonner 2000; Rojek 2001; Turner 2004) have instead dealt with the idea of a pervasive, contemporary, ‘celebrity culture’."
In Bob Greene’s article “The new stardom that doesn't require paying any dues,” he argues that for “most of man's history...people of talent would work to create something--something written, something painted, something sculpted, something acted out--and it would be passed on to audiences.” With the rise of reality TV shows, Greene points out that audiences have been turned into the creators. He argues that the “alleged stars of the reality shows "Survivor" and "Big Brother,"have become famous not for doing, but merely for being.” 
|“||You have to go through many hoops just to talk to a major celebrity. You have to get past three different sets of publicists: the publicist for the event, the publicist for the movie, and then the celebrity's personal publicist. They all have to approve you.||”|
Greene says that “You simply have to be present, in the right place at the right time.” Whereas “...public[ly famous] people were once defined as such based upon the fact that their remarkable skills had brought them to the attention of the public,” Greene states that with reality TV, “one can become a public person just by being a person, in public.”
Celebrities often have fame comparable to that of royalty. As a result, there is a strong public curiosity about their private affairs. Celebrities may be resented for their accolades, and the public may have a love/hate relationship with celebrities. Due to the high visibility of celebrities' private lives, their successes and shortcomings are often made very public. Celebrities are alternately portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, when they garner awards, or as decadent or immoral if they become associated with a scandal.
Tabloid magazines and talk TV shows bestow a great deal of attention on celebrities. To stay in the public eye and to make money, more celebrities are participating in business ventures such as celebrity-branded items including as books, clothing lines, perfume, and household items.
Fame in the 20th century[edit | edit source]
Clive James, the Australian writer, broadcaster and performer, wrote a book on the phenomenon of fame in the 20th century. He contends that true fame was almost unknown before the 20th century, because of the lack of global mass media, and the first true media celebrity was Charles Lindbergh, initially because of his aviation feats and later because of the tragic kidnapping and murder of his son.
James points out that celebrity eventually became distinctly different from fame, resulting in the phenomenon of people who are famous simply for being. He cites Elizabeth Taylor] as an early example, whose private life made her more of a celebrity than her film career had. He also contends that fame sometimes backfires on those who seek it by depriving them of their privacy for life, a point illustrated by the rise of the paparazzi and there fanatic desire for pictures and personal stories about celebrities.
He argues that achieving great fame requires frequently reinventing yourself as best exhibited by Elvis, Madonna and Michael Jackson.
References[edit | edit source]
- Martin Mayer. Wanted: More Events, More Heroes. New York Times. URL accessed on 2007-11-23.
- Collins, Wilkie (1868). The Moonstone. London: Tinsley. Second Period, Fifth Narrative, Chap. 1
- E. Schulman, "Measuring Fame Quantitatively. III. What Does it Take to Make the 'A' List?,"Annals of Improbable Research Vol. 12, No. 1 (2006), 11.
- B. Greene, "The new stardom that doesn't require paying any dues,"Jewish World Review, September 14, 2000.
- Interview with Michael Musto, David Shankbone, Wikinews, October 7, 2007.
See also[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
- Academic website for the study of Celebrity
- Feature article on the psychology of celebrity obsession, "Divine Trash", from Cosmos science magazine
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