In This Article Celebrity and Public Persona

  • Introduction
  • Key Texts
  • Key Edited Texts
  • Journals
  • Popular Texts
  • Foundation Texts
  • Social Identities
  • International, Transnational, and National Celebrity
  • History

Communication Celebrity and Public Persona
by
P. David Marshall
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0159

Introduction

Research on celebrity and public persona derives from fundamentally interdisciplinary sources. Although at its core, the study of public personality has been the object of investigations by those more closely associated with media and communication, the key disciplines of sociology, cultural studies, literary studies, political science, social psychology, and even anthropology and history have been part of its analysis. Celebrity identifies the “extra-textual” dimensions of the famous, in which the lives of the renowned are followed, read, and reported. It is a public celebration of individuality that is (but not exclusively) connected to consumer culture and democratic capitalism. Through these larger cultural tropes celebrity has had its strongest affiliations with the contemporary entertainment industries, particularly in terms of how they are covered by the media and the press for further value beyond the cultural forms that are often the origins of stardom—the public individual’s performances in fields such as film, television, sport, and popular music. Celebrity is a site of celebration and derogation in any culture: these public individuals are truly exalted and given a status beyond others, but they are also ridiculed for their believed-to-be unearned credentials for having such a public platform and voice. Moreover, the study of celebrity and public persona is also an investigation into the connection between the populace and these public personalities, where parasocial relations most evident in fandom identify how celebrities embody audiences with an affective connection that is truly powerful in contemporary culture. That power of embodiment and connection that celebrities possess is subsequently exploited by the media industries to promote and sell new connected cultural products. Identifying celebrities as part of a spectrum of public personas links the study of celebrity to the investigation of the celebrated and famed in a variety of professions and fields well beyond entertainment. Thus, the term persona is used in these studies of public personalities to acknowledge the mask that is deployed to present a public version of the self for this external consumption and reading by an audience, a collective, a network, a nation, a citizenry, or a community. Research into public personas has led to related studies of political leadership, self-branding, notoriety in business, and reputation management, and research delves into the presentation of the public self by greater portions of the populace in online cultures. Celebrity and public persona is a field in which research aims to investigate the significance and meaning of various versions of the public self in both contemporary culture and historically.

Key Texts

Book-length studies of celebrity serve as the principal texts in the field. Although Klapp 1964 effectively identifies the spectrum of what might constitute public personalities, it is Dyer and McDonald 1998 (originally published in 1979) that has served as the gateway from the study of film stardom into the wider, public reach of celebrity, and it is the text that has established that it is the audience’s search for the “real” star that motivates the entire extra-textual celebrity industry (p. 19). Marshall 2014 represents one of the first academic efforts to define the dimensions of celebrity and celebrity culture in its movement between and among cultural forms as well as its translation into politics. This work provides insights into the relationship of celebrity to consumer culture and democracy. Equally powerful in shaping the field is Braudy 1997, a work that maps fame over the course of human history. Gamson 1994 has been instrumental in further exploring the fan-star relation and how that relation intersects with the various cultural industries viscerally: this research has led to the extensive work on parasocial and gossip structures that celebrity culture initiates. An increasing number of monographs have been devoted to celebrity in the 21st century; the strongest efforts in this area have emerged from cultural studies via Turner 2013 and through sociology in Rojek 2001. Both these works encompass updates of their authors’ readings of celebrity culture: the author of Rojek 2012 provides the strongest evidence that our focus on fame has skewed our managing of political and cultural resources; the author of Turner 2013, though still understanding how audiences use celebrity to interpret their world in a normative way, has revised his reading of contemporary celebrity to further emphasize how it has allowed the blending and blurring of entertainment and journalism across media forms and thereby made it more difficult for a public to work in an informed way. Both authors have moved the analysis of contemporary celebrity beyond a deep textual analysis into wider notions of what can be described as not quite a political economy of celebrity but rather an industrial analysis that helps in understanding the shifts in cultural power and representation that celebrity culture articulates.

  • Braudy, Leo. 1997. The frenzy of renown: Fame & its history. New York: Vintage.

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    The most definitive historical reading of fame that traces its manifestations from Alexander through monarchical fame and representative power and into the performance culture that emerged in the 18th century and continues today. First published in 1986.

  • Dyer, Richard, and Paul McDonald. 1998. Stars. London: BFI.

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    Although Dyer’s work is clearly related to film stardom and rarely ventures beyond, his great insight into the ideological work of the star with regard to its audience, his reading of the move beyond the film text into the audience’s desire to know more about the star beyond what is physically present on film, and his textual analysis of stars such as Marilyn Monroe makes this a continuing central resource. First published in 1979.

  • Gamson, Joshua. 1994. Claims to fame: Celebrity in contemporary America. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A brilliant resource in its movement from text to industry to audience in its structure. The book’s greatest value is the extensive work on audience watching of celebrities. Gamson explores this through participant observation of fans in Los Angeles and their efforts to get close to their idols in a variety of ways.

  • Klapp, Orrin E. 1964. Symbolic leaders: Public dramas and public men. Observations. Chicago: Aldine.

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    Although Klapp’s writing is for a more popular audience, it has to be acknowledged as critical to understanding the development of public persona and its migration inside and outside the entertainment industry. There is a focus on influence and, from a social psychological perspective, Klapp affirms that a “leader” has to “typify” the wants and desires of the targeted audience and thereby become symbolically significant (p. 35).

  • Marshall, P. David. 2014. Celebrity and power: Fame in contemporary culture. Rev. ed. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    Provides the most definitive and most cited definition of celebrity in the literature. Marshall links celebrity to an ideological value of individualism, in which celebrity affectively embodies audiences that are used by cultural industries. Provides distinctions between types of celebrity emerging from film, television, and popular culture with a conclusion as to how that manifests in contemporary politics. The revised edition includes a new introduction. Originally published in 1997.

  • Rojek, Chris. 2001. Celebrity. Focus on Contemporary Issues. London: Reaktion.

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    Written in an accessible style, Rojek helps to categorize in a useful way contemporary celebrity into “ascribed,” say, from royalty “achieved,” for example, via sport achievements, and “attributed,” namely, the celebrities who are made by media forms. His work is also successful in relating religion to celebrity culture and builds on the notion of affective connection of fans and audiences to celebrities.

  • Rojek, Chris. 2012. Fame attack: The inflation of celebrity and its consequences. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

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    A much more critical reading of the effects of celebrity culture that relies on an illness discourse derived from psychology to identify the problems in a celebrity dominated world. His chapter on parasocial relations is particularly useful in understanding the particular kind of connection that celebrities have with people.

  • Turner, Graeme. 2013. Understanding celebrity. 2d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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    Very clearly an effort to internationalize the study of celebrity as well as focus on its unique forms of power and influence. Divided into production and consumption, Turner’s account is perhaps the most accessible as it develops clear ideas centered on the social function of celebrity (p. 23). It is the first extended reading of celebrity and reality television that has emerged as a major area of study of celebrity culture. Originally published in 2004.

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