Understanding Celebrity

Books

Graeme Turner

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    Copyright

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    Acknowledgment

    I wish to acknowledge the contributions made to this project by my collaborators on an earlier, Australian, book on celebrity (Fame Games: The Production of Celebrity in Australia, 2000): Frances Bonner and P. David Marshall. I learnt a great deal from them over the course of writing that book, and much of what I learnt from them has helped me immeasurably in writing this one. Of course, in what follows I directly acknowledge their published work, but this is to recognise also that their contribution has been at a more informal and collegial level as well – conversations, advice, references, and the odd raised eyebrow, they have all helped.

    I would also like to thank a number of colleagues who have read drafts of this material and provided me with comments. Frances Bonner, in particular, read the whole thing with her customary generosity, while John Hartley and Alan McKee read less but were also generous and thoughtful in their comments. The project itself was initiated at the invitation of Julia Hall from Sage during a research seminar at the Media and Cultural Studies Centre at the University of Sunderland, where I was a visiting professor from 2000–2003. I would like to thank John Storey and his colleagues (in particular Angie Werndly and Andy Crisell) for inviting me into their professional lives and for making me so welcome there. For her comments during that seminar, which she probably no longer remembers but which proved to be useful, I would like to thank Joke Hermes. Three of my graduate students have worked as research assistants for me at various stages, so my thanks go to Susan Luckman, John Gunders and Elizabeth Tomlinson. My colleagues at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland have provided me with the very best environment to do my work, and the Centre's Project Officer, Andrea Mitchell, has been assiduous in protecting my time as well as running the centre like a well-oiled machine. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Chris, for her love and support.

    Acknowledgment to the Second Edition

    For this second edition I wish to acknowledge the contribution to my work on celebrity in general, and to this book in particular, from my colleague in the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, Anthea Taylor, who has commented helpfully on some of the revised material, and with whom I have had so many productive conversations over the last four years. I also wish to acknowledge the organisers of the inaugural international Celebrity Studies conference at Deakin University, Melbourne, in 2012, James Bennett and Sean Redmond; I have drawn on the material presented there in the concluding chapter. Finally, my thanks go to Mila Steele of Sage who gently coerced me into undertaking this updated version of Understanding Celebrity; I hope it has turned out the way she had hoped.

    Preface

    What is left to say about celebrity? Well, as I hope to demonstrate in this book, quite a lot. In particular, I have been concerned to disaggregate the customary constructions of celebrity a little, recognising celebrity's multiple industrial locations, for instance, so that we maintain a sense of the difference between the varieties of fame produced by the film industry, television, sports, the business world and so on. Also, I have been conscious that the dominant pattern within cultural studies' discussion of celebrity has been to concentrate on ‘celebrity culture’, effectively defined as a field of representation. The analysis of the specific celebrity as a text – mostly historicised and contextualised but sometimes not – remains the dominant paradigm within cultural and media studies approaches to understanding celebrity. In this book, I have explored alternatives to this paradigm by devoting a significant proportion of the analysis to the industry that produces these celebrity texts and to the processes that structure their consumption.

    Consequently, I have divided this book into three parts. In Part One: Introduction, I begin by presenting an overview of the history of celebrity and its analysis, directed towards a preliminary understanding of the cultural function of celebrity. In Part Two: Production, I discuss the promotions and publicity industries that produce celebrity before examining the contemporary trend in television where the manufacture of celebrity has been closely articulated to the generation of new formats and products. In Part Three: Consumption, I focus on the modes and purposes of the consumption of celebrity, ranging from the public reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to the attractions provided by celebrity websites. The cultural functions served by celebrity emerge as highly varied and contingent, challenging any simple definition of what might constitute a celebrity culture. Structuring the book in this way has enabled me to give equal (well, almost equal) attention to the discursive constitution of celebrity (its ambivalence, the role played by the signs of authenticity, for instance); to the industrial structures that produce and distribute it; and to the cultural processes through which it is consumed. In my view, that gives us at least a starting point from which we might begin to properly understand celebrity as it operates in contemporary culture.

    GraemeTurner, Brisbane, July 2003

    Preface to the Second Edition

    The first edition of this book was written a decade ago, and much has changed since then. In particular, the production and consumption of celebrity online has become a fundamental, indeed a mainstream, activity. While the first edition dealt with those aspects of the online environment that were around at the time, there are important platforms which have appeared since then which demand attention: the use of Twitter, to name but one, has transformed the celebrity-fan relation as well as troubling many of the systems of industrial control used to manage the production of celebrity. In order to maintain the structure of the book – the division between production and consumption, aimed at giving both their due – I have resisted the temptation (and some suggestions) that I write a new chapter about celebrity and new media. I have preferred to insert material on new media, digital media, or mobile media as I go, integrating it into the larger arguments I have made in order to update them. Inevitably this complicates them as well; once you introduce social media into the picture, for instance, that ushers in a whole lot of issues about what counts as mass media, and about the importance of scale in such a calculation.

    While most of the additional material deals with the changes associated with new media platforms, this new edition is also a thorough revision of the earlier version: some material has been added, some removed, and the orientation of the overall argument has shifted slightly to reflect important shifts in the field of celebrity studies. While the first edition was primarily concerned with establishing the need for media and cultural scholars to consider celebrity as an industry as well as a field of representations, some of the changes in this edition reflect a growing concern, within celebrity studies itself, with better understanding the cultural and political consequences of celebrity's prominence in our media culture. The result, I hope, is a significant updating of the arguments, the media platforms discussed, and the examples used, which will extend and enhance the usefulness of this book.

    GraemeTurner, Brisbane, February 2013
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