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Fame's Perpetual Moment
journal contributionposted on 2022-08-24, 12:15 authored by David MarshallDavid Marshall
tThere was a moment just after September 11, 2001, that many commentators heralded the end of our celebrity obsessions and the emergence of a new sobriety in politics and culture. We had the mediated version of atonement when the famous presented their most serious sides for television specials in support of the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks. But within a matter of weeks the celebrity industry was back on its old track – salacious rumors about J-Lo and her movement through the entertainment industry A-List, further debates about the propriety of Michael Jackson’s behaviour, Demi Moore’s new love interest Ashton Kutcher – who is and was young enough to be her son and so on. The machine and industry that had been in place tested whether it could continue its dance with public intimacy and private turmoils of the rich and famed.
tFame is both fickle and incredibly enduring. It relies on a public individual’s connection to an audience and how that persona can embody some form of affective investment (Marshall, Celebrity and Power). Audience’s loyalty can migrate, but the machinery of fame can produce new variations for newly minted moments of affection or even its opposite, intense dislike. What is enduring is the process. There is the manufacture of celebrities and stars that were produced with regularity by the old movie studios in the first half of the twentieth century that are now produced with astonishing levels of success through the current array of reality/game shows via television. Beyond these public variations, there is the will-to-fame that is expressed by the various webcam sites and weblogs where a new era of public narcissism is mutating with new media forms.
tThis issue deals with fame; but it is not alone. The academy has embraced the study of celebrity and fame over the last decade and it has accelerated in recent years. Sport stardom (Andrews and Jackson), film stardom (Austin and Barker), literary celebrity (Moran; Glass), journalism and celebrity (Ponce de Leon; Marshall, “Intimately Intertwined”), the psychology of fame (Giles), and media and the celebrity (Turner; Marshall, Celebrity and Power) have appeared as full-fledged books with the regularity that echoes the celebrity system’s own production process. This burgeoning interest in fame cuts across disciplinary study in surprising ways. Chris Rojek’s discussion of religion and celebrity is but one interesting recent variation in the study of fame (Rojek).
tThe interest in this issue has been impressive and, for an editor, at times overwhelming. Nonetheless, we have collected an intriguing array of articles to advance the study of fame and to engage with the way it reflects and refracts the complex crystalline structure of popular culture. Understanding fame demands a form of perceptive interdisciplinarity that our group of 18 authors has worked to achieve.
tGerard Goggin and Christopher Newell’s article on how Christopher Reeve’s fame has transformed and disciplined international debates on disability to narrowly focus on the agenda of the “cure” serves as our feature article. The article paints a fascinating picture on the reconstruction of this particular dimension of the public sphere via the agency of a persona. Goggin and Newell’s writing is particularly valuable to understand the legacy of Reeve since his recent death and how it will continue to shape the concepts of disability for years if not decades to come.
tDealing with Ziggy Stardust, the contrived fictional star that Bowie incarnated in the early 1970s, allows Suzanne Rintoul to work through how celebrity and fame provide a discursive narrative that can be the source for performance of the public self. Bowie plays with ironic distance that is understood as a debate about authenticity in a way that is implicitly understood as a trope of contemporary popular culture and the audience’s understanding of popular fi