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C H A P T E R O N E REFLECTIONS ON STARDOM AND ITS TRAJECTORIES With the golden days of Hollywood long gone, and the movies having given way to pop music and pro sports as America’s prime fantasy obsessions, a new kind of star had come along. The rock star. Robert Greenfield By the time Robert Greenfield observed that “a new kind of star had come along,” rock stars had replaced movie stars at the head of the pantheon of American popular culture.1 Where Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn , and Humphrey Bogart had once reigned supreme, now Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and numerous others held court. “Rock star” replaced “movie star” as the standard designation for someone possessed of great charisma, glamour, and sex appeal. Thus, Bill Clinton was a rock star, where a generation earlier President John F. Kennedy was likened to a movie star. This change may seem to be a trivial shift in fashion, explicable in terms of the buying power of adolescent baby boomers and the decline of the studio system but not of any importance in itself. The rock star, however, really was a new kind of star, not merely the successor to the movie star as the biggest celebrity, but having a new cultural role. One reason we have failed to understand this is that we have consistently confused stardom with celebrity, and, as a result, we have not treated stars and stardom with the seriousness they deserve. Daniel Herwitz, in his insightful book The Star as Icon, takes Princess Diana as his central instance. Herwitz says much that is persuasive about stardom, but I want to argue that, regardless of what one thinks of the late wife of the heir to the British throne, she cannot be called a star. She was certainly a celebrity and, by Herwitz’s definition, an icon, but she does not meet the criteria that distinguish stardom as a specific historical and cultural phenomenon .2 In making this claim, I mean to make no comment on Diana’s importance to history, contribution to human welfare, or degree of attraction and fascination. To say that she is not a star is not a criticism of her but a simple 2 Rock Star act of taxonomy necessary so that we can understand the different forms that fame and visibility have had in our culture. Diana was not a star, because she had not achieved success in a skilled field or profession, one of five de- fining characteristics of stardom. The other four attributes that distinguish stardom, which I will discuss in more detail below, are (2) the star is the object of imagined personal relationships by fans; (3) the star has a persona that represents more than an individual personality but works as a widely understood culturally specific sign or icon; (4) the persona is consistent and well developed; and, finally and most subjectively, (5) a star has the degree of personal attractiveness that we call “star quality.” It would be impossible in popular discourse to expect any distinction between celebrity and stardom to be regularly observed. Scholarly discourse, however , should be able to support such a distinction, but it has routinely failed to do so. In recent scholarship, film studies partially excepted, celebrity has been far more often the focus. This fact seems to me to stem from the power of Daniel Boorstin’s notion that “the Celebrity is a person who is well known for his well-knownness.”3 By “power,” I don’t mean “influence,” although Boorstin’s treatment of celebrity has doubtless been influential. Rather, I mean that Boorstin’s critique of celebrity captured something that many people feel to be a fundamental condition of contemporary life. We believe that many, if not most, celebrities do not deserve the interest they receive. All stars are celebrities, but not all celebrities are stars. Boorstin fails to recognize this distinction, treating stars as pseudo-events and as creatures of the machinery of publicity and advertising: “The qualities which now commonly make a man or woman into a ‘nationally advertised’ brand are in fact a new category of human emptiness.”4 Boorstin’s conflation of star and celebrity has become the norm, and even some otherwise careful theorists such as David Marshall and Chris Rojek fail to escape it. While not everyone who conflates stardom and celebrity is as dismissive of it as...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781421413938
Related ISBN
9781421413921
MARC Record
OCLC
885208479
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-22
Language
English
Open Access
No
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