Professor David Daniels
August 15, 2011
Celebrity Culture and Heroism
Celebrities have always provided the viewers with an opening for our thoughts. They are our fable carriers; barriers of the godly forces of good, vice, desire, and salvation. At the same time, heroes, as agreed upon by all of us, bear inherent worth which is the very the spirit of the heroic as well as the noble. Resilient gods dish up to raise our dreams above the ordinary.
However recognition is not what it used to be like before. Personalities now live up on images promoted, sold, and distributed with such swiftness and craftiness that is almost unimaginable by the heroes of yesteryears; and of course they pass out that quick as well. I mean Queen Elizabeth is for sure famous, but it is doubtful whether most of the people, typically Americans would consider her a celebrity the way Princess Diana was. George Bush, Sr. again is famous. However, he is no celebrity.
As pointed out by Neal Gabler in Toward a New Definition of Celebrity, the celebrity of today “is known for his wellness” (2001) and survives for and by an information era. In this universal and atomized globe of bits and bytes, through which information becomes available instantly, in huge quantities, and as unpressed as an electronic picture, celebrities facilitate in personalizing this kind of information, by providing a human face to it. But, they are reduced in the process. The trouble due to this is the parallel reduction among us. Information is now available to us at an unbelievable pace, in countless altering faces and stories, on every entertainment channel, as well as on every news channel 24 hours, 7 days a week. Facebook bears a similar trend with Lady Gaga actually being the most celebrated star with at least 10 million supporters, followed by Vin Diesel, Barack Obama, Megan Fox and Cristiano Ronaldo all ranging between 10 million and 7 million. A pretty tight pattern is also noted on Twitter priding itself of Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Oprah, Kourtney Kardashian and Kirstie Alley with an unbelievable number of admirers. I guess this shows the extent that we have become addicted to the celebrities who keep shifting like fleeing sizes of shadows.
Such is the rate that now we are having excessive amount of information about celebrities presently, starting from their love affairs, their private talk on cell phones, or how many snout jobs they’ve had worked for before, or how many organelle tumors our presidents have got removed. However the additional info takes off the fame of the heroic and the sacred, thereby also stripping our culture and even our own lives, since heroes replicate what we deem as the best within ourselves. It does not matter if it is a murderer-turned-hero, or a rock star attempting suicide, we are always informed them and about our culture by the media which grips us together in a global culture. In place of gossiping over the rear fence about neighbors or relatives, people now gossip with outsiders about other strangers which can be celebrities throughout the world. Celebrities also spice up our lives. Nevertheless with every action an equal and opposite reaction is bound come, and hence a certain scorn has stealthily crept among everyone of us, with an extreme appeal not only with the fake beauty of the overvalued, but the untainted celebrity, who however also has a gloomy and sordid underside. Nowadays we change regularly between Ivory-soap versions of celebrities, that is their perfect careers, perfect marriages, perfect children. However, actors Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere make the golden couple as they get married first, but a few years later they have to exploit the full-page newspaper advertisements for complaining that they are not homosexual and that their marriage is a real one, but they divorce soon after all this.
I often find myself thinking through that if our deities are not everlasting; “something hollow that is a manifestation of our own hollowness” (Gabler 2), if our heroes are slayers, if our political leaders are showing to be obsessive philanderers or tax escapists, then we cannot trust on them in quite the similar way any longer. In fact, we sink in information, and try using it to dispel the concern of a spiritless and ever-changing tradition. Our relentless desire for tales obtains in fraction from the pure bliss of it, but also to divert us from our deeper worries. Although broken into bits of chitchat, celebrities, certainly, still convey us true meaning. The notion is that they hardly ever reflect any truth, a moment’s truth even of our tradition. The greater celebrity one is, the less magnitude he/she has, seemingly because it is assumed that the recognition gifted to a celebrity undervalues real fame that gets earned.
Majority of us welcome the fact that celebrity and greatness cannot be the same product. There are noticeable people who have gained fame for having done almost nothing of meaning. This is in fact a phenomenon.
Until we do not use the term to define itself, that, a celebrity is by definition somebody who is famed for not having gained anything of worth, till that time majority of the people we call celebrities have achieved something, and in fact many of them have really gained a great deal. Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Mark McGwire, Wayne Gretzky and other celebrity sportsmen are by all criteria and measurements taken as celebrities, and hence they can be called yet they are also business men. Similarly, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Marlon Brando and Barbra Streisand are unquestionably celebrities; however they are also, at the very minimum, amazing performers. To refute their achievements would be as meaningless as not recognizing their feat. And one can also come up with a contrary disagreement for any number of musicians, writers, politicians, and visual artists, including the sporadic skipper of the industry.
Denying the celebrity status shall again be meaningless like rejecting their accomplishments. It is of course possible that a celebrity, rather than being an indication of cultural degradation, is in reality an art form which is shaped in the mold of life. Even more of the recent evidence has it that it is very much possible that celebrity has now become a prevailing art form for us, not only in terms of the attention it stresses on, or in terms of the way it vanquishes other media but on the way it appears to reflect a huge number of the basic anxieties of the culture, specifically what art does. It is pointless to state that a celebrity must be known otherwise he/she can never be celebrity, which makes publicity a precondition.
Celebrities are gifted with worth or assets, both culturally as well as economically, which renders them to be an advantaged form of public bias. With public bias, celebrities possess the capability of acting as scheming rumbling tools for expressing the thought of individualism or consumer group identities. Like for example, individual consumers keenly observe and take up the fashion approach, cologne, bra size and clothes by celebrities leading to a consumer collective individuality. As an effect, celebrities symbolize the reformation of human being and collective identities into an economy of the capitalist democracy. The celebration of crime in celebrity culture exemplifies the reduction in greatness, and also that heroes following a route for sure knowings is becoming ruined. New models are being put forth for understanding and for the live out of morality and principles where self-indulgent enjoyment and pleasure rule. Thus, artificial showiness blended with sight is the new infamous way to great heroism in celebrity tradition whereby viewers are expected to be entertained, and to enjoy with the few.
Robert Ray in The Thematic Paradigm brings up the two types of heroes that are depicted in movies: the official hero and another is the outlaw hero. Now both of these are complete opposite in terms of behavior and attitude. Let’s begin with the outlaw hero, a good example being Robin Hood, as himself. First, you will notice that the outlaw hero is more personal while the official hero is more of a family person. Now, an example of a good official hero is Unstoppable with the main actor being Frank Barnes, a train engineer with two daughters. By comparing both movies we see that the outlaw hero represents a journey from mellowness; the official hero embodies the finest traits of maturity that is good judgment skills, sound analysis, knowledge and compassion with experience; whereas the outlaw hero mistrusts society, which is naturally symbolized by women and nuptials. Barnes is always offering guidance as a father to his daughters, Maya and Nicole, while Robin Hood is constantly busy robbing from the rich and passing the spoils to the poor. The outlaw hero hunts only for rigid relationships, concerning either a “bad” woman, whose ethics deny her of all liberties to be involved in a relationship, or other males who are themselves independent. Comparatively the official heroes are predominantly worldlier, more at ease within civilization, and are keen to take on even such civic responsibilities which demand individual forgo. Robin Hood gets entangled with Lady Marion, a rebel wife whereas Barnes maintains a scandalous free life in the best example to his daughters.
Ray’s actual point however is regarding the indecision faced by people, mostly Americans, who desire to possess the characters of both these extreme, not wanting to choose one of the two. Behaviors and attitudes being complicated cannot be categorized into an official or an outlaw hero. The outlaw hero symbolizes the fancy life which most humans desire to live because of the plentiful adventures and strong yet cool stance. Superheroes mostly exemplify the outlaw hero traits. Despite of whichever is more predominant in our lives, the truth is that we personify each hero under diverse situations; and thus, we perhaps can never choose between them.
Gabler, Neal. “Toward a New Definition of Celebrity.” Norman Lear Center, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California. 2001. Web. 25 July 2011. <http://www.learcenter.org/pdf/Gabler.pdf>.
Ray, Robert B. “The Thematic Paradigm.” Signs of Life in the U.S.A. Ed. Sonia Maasik, Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2003. Print.