The Cult of Contemporary Celebrity

1378 Words6 Pages
Celebrity: (noun) 1. A well known person. 2. Fame, being famous.

No doubt every simian tribe of hunter-gatherers had their local celebrities: the woman who gave birth to quintuplets, the boy who swallowed a porcupine and survived, the man who wrestled with a tyrannosaurus and... well, he probably would have died, but celebrity status would have been applied posthumously.

If, however, the man wrestling with a Tyrannosaurus was a modern Hollywood celebrity, not only would he have lived, he would have pocketed something like $20 million for his efforts, and earned the adulation of several billion people.

The global celebration of modern celebrity is partly a product of our pre-historic need for heroes. In a world where philosophers keep telling us that God is dead, the modern Hollywood celebrity also serves as a brittle substitute for both the post-Christian and pre-Christian need for deities. If, as is often claimed, Hollywood operates under the assumption that only eight different stories can be told, then all eight stories can be found in the Greek Myths, with the exception of the Christian ideal that the weak, not the strong, are blessed.

Like the Greek Gods and Heroes, Hollywood celebrities rarely die on screen. They often possess superhuman powers and are gilded with either Herculean invincibility or Venetian beauty. If they do die, it either represents a martyrdom like Christ's death, or is due to an Achilles heel or a dark fate, serving to heighten the tragedy. Finally, the Hollywood celebrity manifests a god-like ubiquity both on and off the screen- they can be in many places at one time - acting on thousands of screens, smiling from thousand of billboards and photographed and interviewed in thousan...

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...t - the news was so utterly contrary to the image Ford had created, both on screen and in his private life, over two decades.

Marcel Duchamp, arguably the most influential and iconoclastic artist of the 20th Century, once said `Success is just a brush fire, you have to keep finding wood to feed it.' Never is this more true than with the Hollywood celebrity. The hundreds of celebrity successes, burning like brush-fires of variable intensity throughout the Hollywood Hills, are ultimately meaningless and palpably destructive to the film industry. In most cases, it just seems to be a matter of keeping up with the Jones's.

Works Cited:

Paul McDonald: The Star System

(Wallflower Press 2000)

Clive James: Fame in the 20th Century

(BBC Books 1993)
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