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Gods Behaving Badly

Media, Religion, and Celebrity Culture

By Pete Ward

Publication Year: 2011

From Britney and Brangelina to Tiger Woods and Michael Jackson, Western society is obsessed with its American idols and gods of the red carpet. We worship their triumphs, judge their sins, and maintain vigil at their deaths. Can our fixation on and devotion to celebrity culture itself be considered a religion? If not, why do we use religious terminology to describe these stars and our actions towards them? 

Gods Behaving Badly examines the blurred boundary between popular culture and religion—one that has given way to an often confounding fusion of the sacred and the profane. Flipping through pages of tabloid media and looking underneath the veil of Hollywood’s glamour, Pete Ward exposes how, in its consumer life, Western society elevates celebrity to the theological and, in so doing, creates a new para-religion. Inevitably, whether despised or extolled, individual celebrities evoke public moral judgment, creating fertile ground for theological innovation. 

Plucked straight from the headlines, the narratives in Gods Behaving Badly give concrete evidence of how the religious themes of incarnation, revelation, sin, judgment, and redemption are all woven into narratives we construct about our most cherished—and most villainized—personalities.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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pp. 1-1

Half Title Page, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. 1-8

Media and popular culture make up one of the fastest-growing areas in the study of religion. An entire range of studies focuses on religion and how it is portrayed, and changed, by the media. These include work examining religion and film, religion and advertising, religion and TV, and religion and popular music.1 Individual TV shows, rock bands, and ...

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1. Celebrity Worship

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pp. 9-33

Michael Jackson was as contentious dead as he was in life. His death in Beverly Hills in 2009 was a news sensation. On the day he died, the search engine Google reacted to the sudden spike in activity as though to a virus attack as millions searched using the star’s name. At the same time, the social networking and microblogging service Twitter was reported to ...

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2. Representation

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pp. 35-56

The quick-witted TV host introduces his show with a topical gag: “Global Warming is now on all our minds. Even the stars have realised that they must make changes to their lifestyles. Madonna has promised that that she will now only fly to Africa once a year to buy a baby.”1 Cruel it may be, but it raises a smile and the audience laughs. The joke works because we know something about Madonna. ...

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3. Para-Religion

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pp. 57-86

Celebrity worship is a kind of religion, or at least it has religious elements. Discerning the religious in popular culture is challenging, not least because religion as a generalized theoretical construct is much disputed. There are competing and contrasting ideas about the very nature of religion. The religious aspects of celebrity culture seem to resonate ...

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4. What Kind of Gods?

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pp. 87-108

Celebrity culture is generated as a flow of images and stories in media representation. This representation is theological in nature, but it does not speak in a traditional way either about religion or about God. Christian thinking situates knowledge of God, or theology, in a narrative of relationship. John Calvin, for instance, begins his Institutes of the Christian Religion by ...

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5. Themes

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pp. 109-132

Meryl Streep has turned sixty. She has dominated the headlines, says the journalist Shane Watson. She has refused plastic surgery, she is now starring in a film in which her character has sex, and “she eats carbs all the time, knocks back the booze, wears her hair messy, and generally defies all the rules of making it as a modern woman, never mind a Hollywood star.”1 ...


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pp. 133-150


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pp. 151-159


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pp. 161-163

E-ISBN-13: 9781481300469
E-ISBN-10: 1481300466
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602581500
Print-ISBN-10: 1602581509

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 764450195
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