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Living in Celebrity Society

Professor Robert van Krieken, The University of Sydney

22nd Nov 2012  02:00 pm - Darlington Centre School Building Room 6

On television, in magazines and books, on the internet, and in films: celebrities of all sorts seem to take up a lot of space. The cross-over between the celebrity and politics appears to be intensifying, with actors and pop stars becoming politicians, politicians needing to function in the same way as celebrities, and increasingly rely on their association with celebrities for their political effectiveness. The more one looks around the world today, the more one sees social, economic and political life being organized around celebrities.

But we still understand very little about what different celebrities have in common with each other, and what celebrity actually means. The aim in this presentation, drawing on the book Celebrity Society (Routledge), is to reflect on the deeper significance of celebrity for our everyday life, our sense of self, and relations of status, recognition and power. It will look at the way in which the figure of 'the celebrity' is bound up with the emergence of modernity, as well as how the 'celebrification of society' is not just the twentieth-century product of Hollywood and television, but a long-term historical process, beginning with the printing press, theatre and art. It will sketch the central elements of what can be called 'celebrity society', organized around the distribution of visibility, attention and recognition.

Drawing on the work of the sociologist Norbert Elias, it is possible to see contemporary celebrity society as the heir (or heiress) of court society, reproducing but also democratising the role of the aristocracy. Understanding 'celebrity's secret' also means engaging with the idea of celebrity as driven by the 'economics of attention', because attention has become a vital and increasingly valuable resource in the information age.