Stars in Our Eyes : Two Books on Celebrity

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Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth. Starstruck : the business of celebrity. Faber and Faber, 2010.

Inglis, Fred. A short history of celebrity. Princeton University Press, 2010.

The first issue of People was published in 1974 with a picture of Mia Farrow on the cover, but the first cover that I remember was of Charlie’s Angels in 1976.  At the time, I was working in a public library in the Midwest, and the community was already devoted to this weekly magazine. And that was three decades before Paris Hilton transformed being a celebrity into a career choice.

Recently two books have been published that cast an academic eye onto the meaning of celebrity.  In Starstruck, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett explains that the media and the public are obsessed with the lives and personal trivia of celebrities for reasons that cannot be explained by talent.  She names the difference between the collective fascination with an individual and their demonstrated talent, the “celebrity residual” and she analyzes the implications of this residual to the economy, as well as to the media and personal services industries.

Fred Inglis also makes a distinction between renown and celebrity in his Short History of Celebrity.   In this rambling book, the author reflects on the culture of the celebrity, which came into being in 18th century London, when the city replaced the royal court as the center of society.  He tells the stories of famous celebrities of the past, beginning with painter Joshua Reynolds and poet Lord Byron, and considers several European dictators and American robber barons, as well as the author’s personal favorite, Marilyn Monroe.

Inglis makes the case that celebrities have always combined familiarity with distance.  Celebrities provide many personal details about their lives, yet they are held apart from their adoring public.  Their role is to teach the public how to behave, how to look and what to value.  Their lives provide insights into the nature of society.   This academic book is not an easy read, but the author’s keen observations compensate.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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