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    • 00:11

      CHRIS ROJEK: I'm Professor Chris Rojek,and I'm based at the sociology departmentof City University in London.I teach on celebrity sociology of culture, media sociology.In this tutorial I'm going to discuss the threemain types of celebrity.And then I'm going to go on to look at supply and demand sideexplanations as to why celebrity has become

    • 00:33

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: so prominent in our society, rightthroughout the Western world.And then I'm going to talk a little bit about somethingcalled attention capital and what that means.So let me begin by trying to givesome kind of sketch of the three main types of celebrity.There are three types.The first is ascribed celebrity.This refers to kings, queens, duchesses, dukes, emperors,

    • 00:58

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: people who've been born into positions of fame.Prince William would be one, Prince Charles,the queen in this country, anyonewho gets fame simply from the position that they occupy.That would also extend to people like presidentsand prime ministers, who gain celebrity, fame, respect,disrespect in some cases, on the basis of the positionsthat they occupy in society.

    • 01:19

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: That kind of celebrity dominated in pre-industrial traditionalsociety.It's been edged out to a large degree by achieved celebrities.Achieved celebrities are people whoare famous by reason of their skills, talents,and accomplishments.So David Beckham in this country is a very famous footballer.

    • 01:40

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: Rihanna in America is a famous singer.Anyone who's famous for somethingthat they can do better than the rest of us,that's an achieved celebrity.And that's connected directly to the rise of democracyand the rise of mass communications.Democracy has produced ordinary peoplewho have talents, skills, accomplishments

    • 02:01

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: that we take an interest in.But we take an interest in them notbecause they are interesting, but because theyare presented to us by the media as interesting.So mass communications is essential for usto actually register achieved celebrities.They're probably the dominant form in industrial society.And they have been for 200 years plus.

    • 02:23

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: But they are under threat or theyare being marginalized in some respectsby something called celetoids.The word celetoid comes from celebrity, cele-, and -toid,tabloid, meaning a low grade, bottom of the rung kindof people.These are people who become famous for short bursts

    • 02:44

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: of time, people who become famous through realitytelevision shows, or who are constructed by newspapersor commercial TV channels.We know about them for two or three weeks, two or threemonths, then they disappear.Some become long-life celetoids.In this country, Jade Goody was one.

    • 03:05

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: And in America, there's someone called William Hung, whois a very bad singer that was on the talent show Pop Idol,I think with Simon Cowell.Simon Cowell said you, cannot sing, you cannot dance,you're hopeless, get out of my sight.William Hung made several millionfrom releasing his own albums after that put-down.

    • 03:25

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: Celetoids reflect the immense power of the media and masscommunications in our societies.The mass communications industry can make and break people.But it can also direct our attentionat a whole range of people who we otherwisewould take no interest in.

    • 03:46

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: We've sketched the three main types of celebritythat exist in Western society.The next question we've really got to look atis why are celebrities so prominent now?If we went back 300 years, we'd know about kings and queens,but we wouldn't know about famous footballers.We wouldn't know about famous actors, actresses, singers,and so on.What is it that's made that happen?

    • 04:09

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: There are two sets of explanations.One is the supply side explanation,which is that as mass communications have grown,they've had to fill the channels in the news printwith something.And celebrities is a relatively quick, easy wayof grabbing our attention.So as you get more channels of communication,you get more celebrities being created by those channels.

    • 04:32

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: I don't like that explanation.I don't like it because I don't thinkit explains the high levels of passion and emotionthat some people show for people they never meet.So I think that there is a sense in which celebritiesgive large numbers of our fellow citizens meaning,a sense of meaning, a sense of purpose in life.

    • 04:53

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: So I'm fonder of demand side explanations.And they fall into various categories.The first one of interest, I think,to students who are looking into celebrity,is the sort of straightforward explanationthat celebrities have, to some extent, replaced religion.Religion used to be the area of life

    • 05:14

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: where we came together and looked upto something which was bigger than us, that had a largerstatement about what life is.But in Britain, only 9% of Christian peoplego to church regularly.And it's declining in most of the Western world.The numbers going to organized religion have declined.

    • 05:35

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: And in that gap has risen celebrity culture.Celebrity culture fills the vacuum.Now, what basis can we provide for saying that's convincing?Well, one of the things is that many peoplebelieve that celebrities have magical powers.When the Beatles first started touring in the UK,the first row of the theaters was

    • 05:56

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: reserved for people who had handicaps of various kinds.And the idea was that the Beatles would come downand touch those people.And through the touching, they would become cured,or their pain would be released.When Elvis Presley died, he was actually seen for many yearsafterwards in America.There were visitations of him.He was a kind of ghostly presence.

    • 06:19

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: People pray to celebrities.People think that celebrities are capable of solving problemsthat ordinary men and women don't.And the other thing to think about, I think,two other things-- first of all, if you come to Londonand you are a tourist, one of the things you might want to dois to go to Highgate Cemetery, where lots of celebrities

    • 06:40

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: are buried.In the medieval period, people would take pilgrimagesto where the saints are buried, or where the saints lived.Now we have tours of cemeteries.We have tours of areas where celebrities live,like Beverly Hills.You can get a whole tour in Los Angelesof where the stars live, where they've died,

    • 06:60

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: where they've been shot, where they have fights.You get a real sense of a religious sensibility.And that religious sensibility is alsoenhanced by the huge trade in celebrity relics.In the medieval period, people would have splinters of a bonefrom a saint, locks of hair from a saint.Well, the church still has those,

    • 07:22

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: but there's a huge trade in celebrity autographs,celebrity cigarette butts, celebrity glasses.If a celebrity touches something,it is seen as having a sort of quasi-sacred quality.So that's the religious argument.Celebrity has arisen to fill the gap of organized religion.

    • 07:42

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: The second argument, which I thinkfor me is the most convincing, beginsby looking at how people in our societies earn a living.And everyone in this room earns a living not by making things.There are three of us in this room filming.We don't make things like motor cars or television sets.What we do is give services to each other.

    • 08:05

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: We provide services based on knowledge, information, skills.Seven out of 10 people in Western societieswork in the service sector.They don't make things.They are developing interactions and skillsand exchanging knowledge and information with others.These are good people skills.You have to have good people skills to be good at this.

    • 08:27

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: Who are the people with the best people skills?Celebrities.That's why we pay them so much money.That's why we look up to someone like Russell Brandin an election year and listen to whathe has to say in terms of where we should vote.That's why people like Clint Eastwood, a Republicanin America, does the same thing for the Republican Party.Celebrities instantly develop a sense of trust.

    • 08:50

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: And what we can develop from thatis that celebrities act for us as informal life coaches.Nobody elects them to be life coaches.They don't actually go on TV and go onto the film screensand get interviewed in order to instruct us about how to live.But that's what they do.We pick up all sorts of tips about how to present,

    • 09:13

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: what to say, how to look, how to laugh,grooming hints, hints about our overall personasfrom celebrities.We do this unconsciously.Increasingly, we do it while we're browsing the net.When we think that we're just wasting time, killing timebefore lectures, or just trying to find out

    • 09:34

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: a reference to a particular essay that we're looking at,we're picking up things by famous people unconsciously,subconsciously, which we will transfer into,a, trying to be better in terms of people skills that may leadto at some point a better job, and, b, because in additionto work we're all interested in sex, b, to try and find

    • 09:57

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: a partner or to keep a partner, to look cool,to come across to your partner as someone attractive.We learn a lot of that subconsciouslythrough celebrity culture.So we've talked about the different types of celebrities,and we've discussed supply and demand side explanationsas to why they are so significant in our culture.

    • 10:19

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: And I should say that the media oftenpresent celebrity as trivial, but Ihope I've said enough to show that celebrityis more important to our society than oil.It makes the whole thing run around.Eliminate celebrities and we won't know what to do.The question then is, what is it that celebrities actually do?What do they actually achieve in terms of making

    • 10:42

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: us take notice of them?And the idea of attention capital has developed.Attention capital simply means impact value.If you have high impact value and you're noticed instantly,you have high celebrity value, and you can thereforecharge higher fees to work in the cinema or in movies,

    • 11:02

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: or whatever it is that you're dealing with.Attention capital raises an obvious issue for all of us,because all of us live, or most of uslive, in a culture of achievement famine.Let's call it achievement famine,where we want to achieve various things in life, but we don't.Celebrity culture, to some extent, fills that gap.

    • 11:23

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: When we can't achieve going out with a wonderful girl or boy,or getting a great job, we can look at celebritiesand say, well, they've done it.And we can live through them to a certain extent, vicariously.But one of the interesting developmentsof attention capital recently hasbeen the move to gain social impact by notorious means.

    • 11:44

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: The first person that I was aware of whomade me think about this was someonecalled Mark David Chapman.Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon, who he never knew,but he actually met.Because on the day that Lennon was murdered by Chapman,he met him outside the Dakota Building in New York.And Lennon signed an album for Mark David Chapman.

    • 12:05

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: And in the evening, Mark David Chapmanwaited and shot Lennon five times.In the court people said, the prosecutor said,why did you kill him?And Mark David Chapman said, in orderto be the most famous person in the world,I had to kill the most famous person in the world.He wanted to steal Lennon's fame.

    • 12:25

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: This is something which seems to be gatheringpace in celebrity culture.In the late 90s there was something called the Columbinekillings in Colorado, where two boys, I think about 16,murdered about 12 people and also a teacher.When their circumstances were looked into by the police,

    • 12:47

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: they were called Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.They found on Eric Harris's website instructions,not only about who would play themin the film of the Columbine killings,but who would direct it.For your interest, it was either Quentin Tarantino or StevenSpielberg who they thought should direct it.And now, in 2015, we are facing another very prominent example.

    • 13:10

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: A man called Andreas Lubitz crashed a Germanwings planeinto the French Alps.The press presented the crash as a result of his depression.Very soon afterwards, his girlfriend,or his former girlfriend-- a womancalled Maria W-- said, well, that was part of it.He was a depressed person.But he also said that I'm going to do something in my life

    • 13:32

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: that I will be remembered for forever.In other words, he wanted notorious posthumous fame,doing something that we would not forget.This kind of development in terms of celebrity cultureis marginal in terms of the numbers of peoplewho go down that route.Although it should be said that harassment laws in both Britain

    • 13:53

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: and America have been passed in large numbers in the last 10years precisely because celebrities are being harassed,threatened, hate mail is coming to celebrities.Although they are distant from us, we can gain access to it.But let's admit that what I'm talkingabout in terms of notorious attention capital is marginal.But what interests me is the high place

    • 14:15

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: of these attention capital examples in popular culture.We talk about this.We discuss this.We are not surprised when we are told Andreas Lubitz crasheda plane, killing 149 people, because he wanted to be famous.There's not a titter of, kind of, this is amazing.It's accepted now that celebrity is somethingthat nearly everybody wants to achieve.

    • 14:37

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: And the means to achieve it may not be ones that we approve of,the notorious means.But we can understand and empathize with them.We can understand where these people are coming from.We've run through a number of issuesrelating to the rise of celebrity culture.We discussed how it's changed in its types over time.

    • 15:01

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: I've tried to emphasize the key importance of the informationsociety, mass communications, in representing celebrities to us.Celebrities are not presented to us as one man or one womanto an audience.There are always groups of expertsbetween the celebrity and us.And they're called cultural intermediaries.They advise the celebrity on how to present and so on.

    • 15:24

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: Future areas of research that you may want to take up,who are these cultural intermediaries?How do they gain their power?What do they tell celebrities, in termsof presenting to the public, to have high attention capital?And since we all now live in a digital society,how is digital society helping to make people famous,

    • 15:44

      CHRIS ROJEK [continued]: who do not have skills, who do not have talents,but who want to present as, in quotes, "nice people."We know there are sites with, in quotes, "nice people."How long do they last?Why do we want, in quotes, "nice people" in our celebrityculture?


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Professor Chris Rojek discusses celebrity culture and explains the differences among ascribed celebrities, achieved celebrities, and celetoids. Rojek says celebrities have grown in prominence in Western society because they begun to replace religion. He also points out a growing trend of people who seek to gain celebrity via notoriety, often times killing prominent people or many people to attain the fame they desire.

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Professor Chris Rojek discusses celebrity culture and explains the differences among ascribed celebrities, achieved celebrities, and celetoids. Rojek says celebrities have grown in prominence in Western society because they begun to replace religion. He also points out a growing trend of people who seek to gain celebrity via notoriety, often times killing prominent people or many people to attain the fame they desire.

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