Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Week 5 Readings

'Historian Leo Braudy stated, "Fame, which used to be connected to honor, and bestowed by achievement, has now become so separated from either that it exists in a category of its own, frequently valueless and often unrelated to anything resembling actual accomplishment."  Do you agree with this statement, and if so how do you think this new type of fame is affecting youth today?'

Given that we live in a culture that seems to be increasingly driven by the mere idea of celebrity with every passing year, I think it becomes very important for teachers to provide students with the chance to discuss popular celebrities from a critical standpoint.  So much of the media coverage of these people seems to be geared toward presenting them in a flattering light, or at least in a way that is design to arouse fascination with their lives and personalities.  I would die a thousand deaths  in my heart if I ever thought that my own (future) kids were idolizing celebrities like Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian or Snooki- I shudder to think of it.  One of the more disturbing effects of the modern-day western world, in the broadest sense possible, is that we are constantly being bombarded by stimuli that are usually motivated by some form of advertising or another, and I think that the effect that this has can be especially devastating for young people who have not yet learned how to discern people’s true motivations, reality from fantasy, genuine talent from mere celebrity, etc.  That’s why I love the fact that this author makes a point to distinguish the growing disparity between the overall fame of modern-day celebrities and their actual deserved level of fame based on their talent and contribution to culture/society.  I found the concept of ‘celebrity residual’ to be an extremely insightful and tragically hilarious observation about the modern concept of celebrity.  Of course this ‘residual’ would be impossible to quantify objectively for any individual celebrity, but it’s genuinely refreshing to hear someone actually talking about this disparity in our culture that most people just seem to accept tacitly.  For years, I’ve been watching in disgust as the cultural platform for emerging artists that once was MTV (anyone remember “music television”?) has gradually become devoted to the most worthless programming that America has ever been exposed to (The Jersey Shore and all related spinoffs, Disaster Date, Real World-Road Rules Challenges, My Super Sweet 16, Next, Jackass… the list goes on and on).  I almost feel like the idea of ‘celebrity’ in the modern collective conscience has become sort of a contest of who is most willing to humiliate and degrade themselves on television.  I don't worry too much about adults watching these shows for a brief moment of mindless entertainment after a busy/stressful day, but without the benefit of a firm grip on the realities of the actual adult world, I worry that young people may internalize the worst kind of personal values from their constant exposure to this type of programming, and I feel like this book could provide a powerful springboard from which to develop any number of lessons that give students a much-needed forum in which to develop their critical thinking skills in regard to the constant indoctrination of nonsense that networks like MTV are trying to feed them.  That many of the 'stars' from these shows have gone on to 'achieve' massive residual celebrity status (Steve-O, anyone?) demonstrates just how powerful the 'star machine' referenced by the presentation really is.  I mean really, Pauly D from the Jersey Shore came to Gainesville last year and I was shocked by how many people close to my age actually made efforts to go see him DJ (poorly, from what I heard).


  1. I agree with your assessment of celebrity now days. There does seem to be a plethora of residual celebrities who completely lack talent. Having said that, the author does state that the A-listers often are the celebrities with talent etc. I do agree that the media paints this advertisement of what fame is, they ignore the realities of it, giving youngins a false impression of that life. It also fosters an entitlement sense due to the nature and impression that anyone can be famous without having talent. Also people see it an say "I want that." Unfortunately "that" does not exist, it is a narrative set by Hollywood and Big Celebrity. When one thinks about past celebrities , even centuries ago, they had a talent. Lindbergh had aviation skills, Benjamin Franklin was a Renaissance man, Will Smith is a great actor, Micheal Jordan was a great basketball player. I wonder though if history only remembers the talented, famous, residual celebrities and not the pure residual. What I am saying is that, hopefully, there may have been loads of residual celebrities in the past, likely not and that this is purely a modern phenomena.
    Along the lines of your post, celebrities used to carry their image as refined individuals. Paris Hilton invented the table top dancing..so refined. Perhaps it is the growth of the "just like us" phenomena, where there is a movement to show celebrities as one of us. Even then the lifestyle celebrity promotes, along with the outlook on life it promotes, actually clashes with most Americans.

  2. Since you mention MTV and its role in making stars from reality television I wonder what process MTV has done to get these people and shows together. For instance, how did the idea and execution for a show such as Jersey Shore come to fruition? How did a show like the Hills come about? Did people just apply or try-out to be on these shows and have their lives videotaped? Does this mean that they were the product of some television producer?

    It's a lot of questions to be honest, but like you said maybe learning or finding out about a celebrity and critically thinking about why or how they became a celebrity is necessary for people to overcome this belief that these people are worth looking up to or worth caring about.

    Also, I think the biggest issue with celebrity fixation may be how much people seem to care about the normal or everyday lives of celebrities. It seems like such an unhealthy obsession that is only made worse with the world of 24/7 news coverage. I can't necessary point to anything to say that our society's sometimes obsession with certain people is causing a negative consequence, but I wonder if one day it will.

  3. Louis, this is quite a profound and insightful commentary. I'm not sure if I have anything worthwhile to add - so I'll just say this: MTV is a fascinating example. In the beginning, it winnowed out some great musicians in favor of moderately talented and attractive "rock stars", and now has evolved to the point where it has winnowed out the moderately talented and attractive in favor of creepy-looking and untalented famewhores (pardon my French).