Cinema and Media Studies Television Celebrity
by
James Bennett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0097

Introduction

Celebrity Studies emerged as a distinct discipline during the mid-2000s, with the launch of the Celebrity Studies Journal in 2010 cementing the place of the discipline as an important area of scholarly work in film, television, media, and cultural studies. But celebrity studies draws on, and draws in, much wider disciplines, including sociology, politics, music, English, and history, with many of these approaches informing the study of television celebrity. Nevertheless, studies of celebrity and specifically of television celebrity emerge much earlier, with scholarly work commencing in the early 1980s. Here the paradigm of film stardom was most often invoked, producing accounts of television celebrity that described it negatively in comparison to the auratic stars of the silver screen. As Celebrity Studies has emerged as a discipline, distinct but conjoined with “star studies,” so too have media scholars had cause to look again at television fame, examining its historical roots, aesthetic, economic, audience, and ideological formations. The review here focuses on scholarly works that provide a significant conceptualization of celebrity that is produced by television. That is, as the mass medium of the 20th century, television is inherently involved and invoked in the circulation of many other forms of celebrity, from film stars to sports stars, and many in between. These wider forms of stardom and celebrity are reviewed in different entries on Stardom and celebrity in this series. But television also produces its own distinct types of celebrity, with three key figures having attracted sustained critical attention in recent years: the television actor, or star; the television personality or presenter; the reality television contestant or ordinary person. The last of these figures has been pivotal to debates within Celebrity Studies more widely, concerning the apparent democratization or devaluation of contemporary fame. Within such debates television celebrity has been used to exemplify the changing parameters of modern celebrity and to explore the nature of labor, performance, surveillance, freedom, autonomy, and neoliberalism. Despite the growing interest in television celebrity, studies tend to remain nationally orientated, with few performers crossing international boundaries.

General Overviews

Very few books have been dedicated solely to the specific topic of television’s own distinct forms of celebrity—testifying to the perceived inferiority of televisual fame compared to cinema. Television celebrity has most often been examined as an exemplar of celebrity culture more widely (Marshall 1997, Turner 2003), or as individual chapters within anthologies, or as an important aspect of reality television. The first book-length study of television celebrity was Murray 2005, which was not followed until the theorizations of Bennett 2010 and Bonner 2011. While each of these books has a different national focus, across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, respectively, they all concentrate on the television presenter—or television personality—as a unique and important figure within television and celebrity studies. Marshall 1997 and Turner 2003 take a wider focus on celebrity culture but provide grounding debates about television’s role in its construction, proliferation, and democratization (see Democracy). Chris Rojek’s influential Celebrity (Rojek 2001) occupies a similar role but provides tools particularly useful for the analysis of television celebrity in the author’s attention to the rise of fleeting and media-constructed forms of fame.

  • Bennett, James. Television Personalities: Stardom and the Small Screen. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    Provides an account of television fame from the inception of broadcasting through to the digital age, primarily focused on the United Kingdom. Bennett theorizes the television personality as a distinct performer within celebrity culture, examining aesthetics, performance, political economy, public service broadcasting, and identity.

  • Bonner, Frances. Personality Presenters: Television’s Intermediaries with Viewers. London: Ashgate, 2011.

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    A detailed study of how and why presenters are important to television’s institutions, aesthetics, and audience enjoyment. Positioning presenters as “cultural intermediaries,” Bonner provides a range of engaging case studies that demonstrate the role presenters play in television’s sociability.

  • Marshall, David. Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

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    Marshall provides a study of Oprah Winfrey and the power of television celebrity through a discursive approach to celebrity informed by Foucault’s work. For advanced-level undergraduate and postgraduate students.

  • Murray, Susan. Hitch Your Antenna to the Stars: Early Television and Broadcast Stardom. New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    Murray’s is the first monograph to historicize and theorize television fame in detail. Focused on early US television celebrity, it provides an account of how radio and vaudeville influenced the formation of television’s performance and celebrity modes as a marriage of “spectacle and intimacy.”

  • Rojek, Chris. Celebrity. London: Reaktion, 2001.

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    Celebrity provides a compelling and comprehensive account of the meaning of fame in contemporary society. In terms of television celebrity scholarship, Rojek’s book provides an account that is both somewhat derisory toward television—proclaiming it the purveyor of “attributed” rather than “achieved” celebrity—and yet insightful—with his analysis of the rise of “celetoids” a crucial contribution to the field.

  • Turner, Graeme. Understanding Celebrity. London: SAGE, 2003.

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    The first edition of this book quickly established itself as the key work in the field. The 2013 second edition contains useful discussion of television’s role in celebrity culture, particularly how it intersects with digital and social media. This is primarily for advanced-level undergraduate and postgraduate students.

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