May 1, 2007

A Celebrity Culture

Reading a post by Amit Varma today, where he links to an article by Mrinal Pande in The Mint (which is written with a vehement feminist tone but it poses an interesting question...should the Bacchans or in particular, Amitabh Bacchan (AB or as he is commonly referred to - 'Big B'), be held to a higher standard(s) as role models for the country?),
my thoughts went to an article I just read earlier this week in the Best American Essays 2006 on The Culture of Celebrity in today's world. The author, Joseph Epstein, discusses how the notion of celebrity has changed in recent years (Paris Hilton*, Brittany Spears...what role models!), discusses how the value that celebrities stand for most is publicity (even if it is sometimes of the wrong kind!), and makes an interesting distinction between being a celebrity and being famous.

I am quoting three paras from the essay here that I thought interesting...

....Considered as a culture, celebrity does have its institutions. We now have an elaborate celebrity-creating machinery well in place--all those short-attention-span television shows (Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous); all those magazines (beginning with People and far from ending with the National Enquirer). We have high-priced celebrity-mongers--Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Oprah--who not only live off others' celebrity but also, through their publicity-making power, confer it and have in time become very considerable celebrities each in his or her own right.

.... Fame, then, at least as I prefer to think of it, is based on true achievement; celebrity on the broadcasting of that achievement, or the inventing of something that, if not scrutinized too closely, might pass for achievement. Celebrity suggests ephemerality, while fame has a chance of lasting, a shot at reaching the happy shores of posterity.

... MANY OF OUR CURRENT-DAY CELEBRITIES float upon "hype," which is really a publicist's gas used to pump up and set aloft something that doesn't really quite exist. Hype has also given us a new breakdown, or hierarchical categorization, of celebrities. Until twenty-five or so years ago great celebrities were called "stars," a term first used in the movies and entertainment and then taken up by sports, politics, and other fields. Stars proving a bit drab, "super-stars" were called in to play, this term beginning in sports but fairly quickly branching outward. Apparently too many superstars were about, so the trope was switched from astronomy to religion, and we now have "icons."

One could extend some of the arguments he makes in the essay to Indians' obsessions with AB and his iconic status in India and also to the craving for attention that drives people to blogging, youtube, and other online displays of their talents (or in some cases, the complete lack thereof.) Maybe I should write something along those lines later ... but I lack the talent and should stop craving for attention, huh? :)

* "
Paris Hilton is the human equivalent of a peacock. She is mostly useless, but she has wealth, looks (to a degree) and fashion sense that signal “successful mate” to the primitive parts of male brains." - via

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