Understanding Celebrity

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Graeme Turner

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    Acknowledgments

    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.

    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

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