A Short History of Celebrity

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Overview

"With breathtaking range and panache, A Short History of Celebrity provides a keenly observed interpretation of the emergence of modern transatlantic popular culture. At once learned and accessible, Inglis's vivacious prose reveals the contradictions of icons as diverse as Joshua Reynolds and Lord Byron, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. His insights into the popular heroes of art, literature, and the stage and screen (including television), as well as politics and public life, enable us to appreciate continuities that stretch across two-hundred-and-fifty years."--Richard D. Brown, professor emeritus, University of Connecticut

"Celebrity is ripe for anatomizing, and in this enjoyable work of cultural history Inglis performs an exemplary dissection, showing both the pains and the pleasures, the shame and the virtues, of the modern cult of celebrity. This is vintage Inglis: funny, coruscating, biting."--Krishan Kumar, University of Virginia

"This is a fascinating, remarkable, and thought-provoking book. Its great value is that it doesn't begin with Survivor, Big Brother, or Oprah. Instead, Fred Inglis extends his study back to the eighteenth century and gives attention to painting, gossip columns, and wartime dictators, among much else. Inglis is a powerful and engaging writer and this book is a pleasure to read."--Tara Brabazon, University of Brighton

"Fred Inglis has a distinctive voice as he explores our ambivalence toward celebrities and the phenomenon of celebrity itself. Filled with examples and quotable passages, this is a heartfelt book by a man who is grounded in Wittgenstein yet familiar with David Beckham."--Richard Howells, King's College London

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Editorial Reviews

The Guardian
Byron was one of the first products of the alloy of glamour and publicity that we refer to as celebrity. In his new book, A Short History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis traces the phenomenon back to late 18th-century London. It was there, he argues, with its convergence of theatre and journalism and new opportunities to shop, that celebrity began.
— Aditya Chakrabortty
Los Angeles Times
The purpose of A Short History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis' brief, energetic, stimulating screed, is to tell us that, although we think we live in the age of celebrity, it's been quite a while in coming.
— Martin Rubin
Wall Street Journal
Inglis is more even-handed than many of his colleagues, and sager too, able to see beyond the ephemera of the moment to take a more expansive view. He asks not simply what the culture of celebrity means today, but where it came from.
— Darrin M. McMahon
Boston Globe
In his thoughtful survey of pop culture since the dawn of modernity, Fred Inglis argues that mass obsession with the lives (and deaths) of the rich and famous didn't just pop up out of the blue. . . . In an attempt to give some depth to all the shallowness, Inglis, the author of 20 books including a biography of the late cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, goes in search of origins.
— Joshua Kendall
Bloomberg Businessweek
With scholarly dexterity . . . Inglis describes the manipulation of political celebrities by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, followed by the postwar democratization of fame, as movie stars, sports heroes, and rock guitarists became leading celebrities. Through it all, Inglis argues the lucrative exploitation of the lives of the rich and famous has entailed an appeal to what audiences think of themselves—for better and for worse. . . . The Bottom Line: The development of the fame business comes into clearer focus as a result of Inglis' sophisticated perspective. Four stars out of five.
— Paul M. Barrett
Bloomberg
From the glamour of John F. Kennedy's 'Camelot' to Ronald Reagan's rise from B movies and Barack Obama's election campaign, celebrity makes power, money and the world go around. At long last, we have a decent book that goes some way to explain how it got this way.
— Mark Beech
The Observer
Fred Inglis has added his learned, sometimes curmudgeonly, often rhapsodic voice to the chorus, with a book that locates the origins of celebrity culture in the 18th century. . . . This emphasis on the history of emotion is what distinguishes Inglis's book from the other accounts of celebrity, making it more than just a great hall of historical fame. Inglis sees these emotional shifts as working concurrently with changing social forces that turned life itself into a spectator sport.
— Lara Feigel
Sydney Morning Herald
[A] very interesting book. . . . What makes his 'short history' so compelling is how Inglis combines an eye for captivating detail (the actor David Garrick being forced to kneel by a 'jeering audience'), the illuminating comparison (Sarah Bernhardt versus Lola Montez, Hitler versus Edward VIII), and the synoptic view ('A Very Short History of the Feelings'). . . . It not only surveys an extraordinary range of persons, their acts and their import in a sophisticated way, but it induces further thought about the ambivalent powers of celebrity.
— Justin Clemens
New Yorker
Inglis's treatment is whimsical rather than exhaustive. Alert to the cultural value of iconic figures from Lord Byron to Eric Clapton, he also offers a stimulating assessment of how celebrity has, historically, involved fluctuating proportions of knowability and remoteness.
Literary Review
Inglis is a magnificently erudite writer who lingers over his subject as though it were a good cigar.
— Frances Wilson
Berlin Review of Books
A Short History of Celebrity is an excellent book. The prose is fabulous, and Inglis is brimming with insight and humor. Moreover, one can't help being drawn into tales of the rich and fabulous. However we may flatter ourselves, the stars are just not like us.
— Alex Prescott-Couch
Choice
In his smartly written and engaging book, cultural historian Inglis successfully tackles a potentially cumbersome topic with the brevity promised in the title. . . . Erudite and entertaining.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
[C]harming.
Los Angeles Times - Martin Rubin
The purpose of A Short History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis' brief, energetic, stimulating screed, is to tell us that, although we think we live in the age of celebrity, it's been quite a while in coming.
Wall Street Journal - Darrin M. McMahon
Inglis is more even-handed than many of his colleagues, and sager too, able to see beyond the ephemera of the moment to take a more expansive view. He asks not simply what the culture of celebrity means today, but where it came from.
Boston Globe - Joshua Kendall
In his thoughtful survey of pop culture since the dawn of modernity, Fred Inglis argues that mass obsession with the lives (and deaths) of the rich and famous didn't just pop up out of the blue. . . . In an attempt to give some depth to all the shallowness, Inglis, the author of 20 books including a biography of the late cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, goes in search of origins.
Bloomberg Businessweek - Paul M. Barrett
With scholarly dexterity . . . Inglis describes the manipulation of political celebrities by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, followed by the postwar democratization of fame, as movie stars, sports heroes, and rock guitarists became leading celebrities. Through it all, Inglis argues the lucrative exploitation of the lives of the rich and famous has entailed an appeal to what audiences think of themselves—for better and for worse. . . . The Bottom Line: The development of the fame business comes into clearer focus as a result of Inglis' sophisticated perspective. Four stars out of five.
Bloomberg - Mark Beech
From the glamour of John F. Kennedy's 'Camelot' to Ronald Reagan's rise from B movies and Barack Obama's election campaign, celebrity makes power, money and the world go around. At long last, we have a decent book that goes some way to explain how it got this way.
The Guardian - Aditya Chakrabortty
Byron was one of the first products of the alloy of glamour and publicity that we refer to as celebrity. In his new book, A Short History of Celebrity, Fred Inglis traces the phenomenon back to late 18th-century London. It was there, he argues, with its convergence of theatre and journalism and new opportunities to shop, that celebrity began.
The Observer - Lara Feigel
Fred Inglis has added his learned, sometimes curmudgeonly, often rhapsodic voice to the chorus, with a book that locates the origins of celebrity culture in the 18th century. . . . This emphasis on the history of emotion is what distinguishes Inglis's book from the other accounts of celebrity, making it more than just a great hall of historical fame. Inglis sees these emotional shifts as working concurrently with changing social forces that turned life itself into a spectator sport.
Literary Review - Frances Wilson
Inglis is a magnificently erudite writer who lingers over his subject as though it were a good cigar.
Sydney Morning Herald - Justin Clemens
[A] very interesting book. . . . What makes his 'short history' so compelling is how Inglis combines an eye for captivating detail (the actor David Garrick being forced to kneel by a 'jeering audience'), the illuminating comparison (Sarah Bernhardt versus Lola Montez, Hitler versus Edward VIII), and the synoptic view ('A Very Short History of the Feelings'). . . . It not only surveys an extraordinary range of persons, their acts and their import in a sophisticated way, but it induces further thought about the ambivalent powers of celebrity.
Berlin Review of Books - Alex Prescott-Couch
A Short History of Celebrity is an excellent book. The prose is fabulous, and Inglis is brimming with insight and humor. Moreover, one can't help being drawn into tales of the rich and fabulous. However we may flatter ourselves, the stars are just not like us.
Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre - Brian Bates
His transatlantic argument weaves dozens of celebrity case studies into a compelling macro-narrative that artfully balances historical anecdote, cultural theory, histories of ideas, and rhetorical inquires. The result is a thoroughly readable and fascinating exposition of how celebrity identities have enthralled, defined, and reprised western cultures since the middle of the eighteenth century.
American British and Canadian Studies - Adriana Neagu
Without doubt Inglis writes an original reference work that provides both a framework of analysis and a comprehensive inventory of illustrations, pointing to the centrality of celebrity to American life.
From the Publisher

"[C]harming."--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"His transatlantic argument weaves dozens of celebrity case studies into a compelling macro-narrative that artfully balances historical anecdote, cultural theory, histories of ideas, and rhetorical inquires. The result is a thoroughly readable and fascinating exposition of how celebrity identities have enthralled, defined, and reprised western cultures since the middle of the eighteenth century."--Brian Bates, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre

"Without doubt Inglis writes an original reference work that provides both a framework of analysis and a comprehensive inventory of illustrations, pointing to the centrality of celebrity to American life."--Adriana Neagu, American British and Canadian Studies

Library Journal
Cultural historian Inglis (Honorary Professor of Cultural History, Univ. of Warwick, UK) has written an intriguing reflection on how the phenomenon of celebrity shapes our perception of ourselves and our satisfaction with our own images. The book is uneven in quality; the chapters on movie stars, sports and rock figures, and newscasters are little more than thumbnail sketches of representative icons—Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Jones, Murrow and Cronkite, Eric Clapton, Princess Diana—with relatively lightweight commentary. But elsewhere the study is decidedly worthwhile: Inglis unfolds a schematic of the history of celebrity from its first appearance in the mid-18th century and delivers punishing judgment on the corrosive effects of today's overdependence on feelings and image to tell us what we think about ourselves. Inglis's book is not a jeremiad, but his observations on the danger of commodifying celebrityhood—think Tiger Woods—aren't encouraging. VERDICT This book will remind you of Christopher Lasch in thesis, but in tone and style, Inglis is closer to writers like Milan Kundera and Umberto Eco: he has crafted a playful but serious essay that delivers telling judgment on an important matter. It deserves a large and broad reading audience.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691135625
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/26/2010
  • Pages: 322
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Inglis is Honorary Professor of Cultural History at the University of Warwick and a former member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author of more than twenty books, including "The Cruel Peace: Everyday Life in the Cold War" (Basic).

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Read an Excerpt

A Short History of Celebrity


By Fred Inglis

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4008-3439-6


Chapter One

The Performance of Celebrity

This is a history book. Insofar as it offers a theory of itself, it is a theory of historical sedimentation, transformation, re-creation. It is the theory that we live, wittingly and involuntarily, the assorted versions of our selves and our society which history has deposited within us. Nothing much to say about that except that history is not a vast undifferentiated force coming at us with a capital H, but an irresistible series of tiny, invisible infiltrations which sidle along our bloodstream and oscillate in our thoughts and feelings.

Insofar as we become conscious of these invasions, we do so by way of shaping them into narratives grand or small, but even the grandest are made up and made out of the bits and pieces of the many disjointed experiences and unintelligible events of the past, rearranged and re-created for a different present.

The usefulness of fame for the purposes of this simple historical lesson is that the concept serves to pick out those lives and ways of life which shaped themselves into the significant constellations of the past and provided quite a lot of people with stars to steer by. When we add to that the general scholarly agreement that modernity may usefully be taken as picking up speed from round about the middle of the eighteenth century, then a history of the fairly new concept of celebrity may tell us plenty about what is to be cherished and built upon as well as what is to be despised and ought to be destroyed in the subsequent invention of modern society.

My most pointed moral is that the business of renown and celebrity has been in the making for two and a half centuries. It was not thought up by the hellhounds of publicity a decade ago. Consequently, if we load its discussion and evaluation down with the mass of time, we might be able to lend some gravity to the shallow and violent lightness of being attributed to fame in our day. What follows is full of such historical examples, of individual life stories which neither constitute a sample nor provide epitomes. They are instances of something, cases in point. Examples instruct; they do not prove.

II

Celebrity is everywhere acknowledged but never understood. It is on everybody's lips a few times every week; it is the staple of innumerable magazines on either side of the Atlantic, whether in the glossy and worshipful guise of Hello! and Glamour or the downright fairytale telling and mendacity of the National Enquirer and Sunday Sport; it fills a strip cartoon in (where else?) Private Eye and provides all the dailies, whether tabloid or broadsheet, with the contents of news, op-ed, gossip, and, not infrequently, contributed columns.

Celebrity is also one of the adhesives which, at a time when the realms of public politics, civil society, and private domestic life are increasingly fractured and enclosed in separate enclaves, serves to pull those separate entities together and to do its bit towards maintaining social cohesion and common values. Nonetheless, in societies like ours priding themselves on having reduced the aura of deference; on having opened their élites to popular talent; on their mingling of high old art and new low popular culture with a fine egalitarian hand, it is something of a surprise to find quite so many people in thrall to the power of that same celebrity, and to those who, involuntarily or otherwise, carry it along with their lives. One way to catch hold of this change will be to notice how celebrity has largely replaced the archaic concept of renown.

Renown, we shall say, was once assigned to men of high accomplishment in a handful of prominent and clearly defined roles. A sixteenth-century jurist, cleric, senior mercenary, or scholar was renowned for bringing honour to the office he occupied. He might be acclaimed in the street, but the recognition was of his accomplishment-his learning (in the case of John Donne, for instance), his victories (as Othello is acclaimed in the play), his implacable power (in the case of Cardinal Wolsey). Renown brought honour to the office not the individual, and public recognition was not so much of the man himself as of the significance of his actions for the society.

This historical difference is readily studied by way of the fame of one of the very few women of historical renown in the period before celebrity became a feature of the individualisation of fame. We have a detailed record of the Royal Progresses of Elizabeth I, and these bring out their ceremonial meaning as pledging monarch to people, and vice versa. What is publicly affirmed by her attire and adornments, and by her words, on the one hand, and by the people's witness of themselves and their self-display (masques, banners, cheering, children's presenting of posies to the queen), on the other hand, is nothing less than the mutual duties of each to the other.

This picturesque prologue serves to mark off honour and renown from glamour and celebrity. The rise of urban democracy, the two-hundred-year expansion of its media of communication, together with the radical individualisation of the modern sensibility made fame a much more transitory reward and changed public acclaim from an expression of devotion into one of celebrity.

III

The distinction can only be made historically. As I suggested, Royal Progresses provide a simple instance of the way in which fame and power express and confirm themselves by way of spectacle. The adjective "spectacular" as applying to something eye-filling, imposing, dramatic, and ambitious makes its Oxford English Dictionary appearance only in 1901 and has since been vaguely enlarged to take in any event or accomplishment of impressive consequence or display ("she's a spectacular pianist"), visible or not.

In 1967, as the extraordinary year of unprecedented spectacle which succeeded it was about to open, a Parisian leftist published a striking and prophetic little book of pensées which, a few months later, became the primer for analysts of the "May events." In Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord took it upon himself to announce the advent of a quite new dimension to the idea of the political spectacle and the power it dramatised.

[T]he principle of commodity fetishism [taken from Marx's Capital], the domination of society by intangible as well as tangible things ... reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence.

The world at once present and absent which the spectacle makes visible is the world of the commodity dominating all that is lived.

Debord proposes a spectacle of quite different significance to the Elizabethan Progresses describing which will, I hope, provide a little more purchase on the image of celebrity first adumbrated in 1770s London and brought to its extraordinary compulsion by the infinite reproducibility of all contemporary imagery. The display of Queen Elizabeth I was certainly spectacular, whether or not the adjective existed then, but the meaning the spectacle dramatized was not celebrity but renown. Elizabeth is renowned as being the monarch; her fame is conferred by her people on behalf of God and England; the enacted theory of her rule partakes equally of her pious receptiveness and her subjects' supplication and approval.

She set out on January 14, 1559, the day before her coronation, seated in an open carriage, followed and preceded by a thousand horsemen, her whole attire stiff with glittering jewels and flashing gold leaf, the innate radiance of which was still believed to possess mysterious magic. "As she moved, a vast didactic pageant unfolded, stage by stage, settling her into the moral landscape of the resilient capital." In Fenchurch Street, a child was appointed to present her with gifts of tongues to praise and hearts to serve her; at Cornhill, another child on a throne was supported by four citizens representing the cardinal virtues; they in turn were provided with their moment of fame in a little cameo during which they trod underfoot four other citizens attired as the contrary vices. On to Cheapside, where Elizabeth passed down a thoroughfare lined with great poster paintings of the English monarchs culminating in herself, paused (in Little Conduit) at two large stage mountains, one bare and barren (bad government), one green and flowering ("a flourishing commonweal"), met Father Time, who gave her a copy of the Book of Truth, listened to a Latin oration in minatory praise of herself by a schoolboy of St. Paul's, to another schoolboy oration at Christ's Hospital, and wound up at Temple Bar to read tablets carried by the giants Gog and Magog summarising all the honour and admonition offered to her.

It makes a sumptuous story and marks a very wide space between the political imagination of the Elizabethans and our own. Theirs was allegorical, specific, and plain as day. The queen stood for clear moral absolutes, a whole medley of them: "Chastity, Wisdom, Peace, Beauty, and Religion" is Geertz's list. But the point of the progress was for her royalty to be instructed by her people in its duty and significance towards them, hence the presence of so many children. She in her turn knew her place and took the lessons to heart, promising on Cheapside "that for the safetie and quietness of you all, I will not spare, if nede be, to spend my blood."

Exotic, indeed, and a long way from the Notting Hill carnival. Yet not so very far. Elizabeth's Progress was a confection of charisma, where that slippery concept connotes the public location of authority and its benefits, of fame and its supernatural aura. Charisma, first made much of by Max Weber, is at once the personal radiance and gravity of a publicly recognized figure and the symbolic halo of value and meaning lent to that figure by those rituals which declare and create centrality and importance.

In Elizabeth's case, the worshipful rituals at once claimed and ratified her. They connected her reciprocally to her people. So, too, with presidents and prime ministers, monarchs and dictators, and in a quite intelligibly scaled diminuendo, with the carefully shaded circles of significance which surround them: ministers and secretaries of state; solemn figures of lasting achievement, businessmen, clerics, admirals, marshalls, artists, scientists; leading figures of more or less democratic communication without which we would all be lost in the world, television commentators, announcers, journalists, opinionators; and out beyond these circles which surround the very centre, the obviously whirling and transitory porters of fame created by the cultural industries and the huge happiness and misery brought by the industrialisation of leisure: the stars of film, sport, rock, kitchen, soap, and a dozen other pastimes.

This is not to pretend that our world view, like that of the Elizabethans, conceives society as a great chain of being stretching from thrones, principalities, and powers down through the wretched of the earth and culminating in a similar chain in the animal world. It is to say that the centres of value and meaning in the societies of the wealthy nations have indeed their own decided order, contested and opposed no doubt but intelligible and upheld quite securely. It is also to say that the not-very-old phenomenon of celebrity, borrowing assiduously from past spectacles and rituals (there being nowhere else to find them) generates by its dramas the structure and the strength with which to hold things in their proper place.

IV

This book offers an explanation of this no more than 250-year-old phenomenon. It finds the reasons for the persistence, the vigour, and the apparently limitless energy of the new spectacle and its peculiar allegory in its history. Mid-eighteenth-century London is our starting point, half a century after the capital replaced the court as the centre of social dynamics. Spontaneously, the city bred its version of a new social figure, famous for his and her urban accomplishments: Dr. Johnson and his self-appointed circle of public opinion-makers in literary journalism; Wilkes and his raffish radicals; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the lead she took as a solitary woman tourist (getting into the Sofia mosque disguised as a man), as philanthropic proselytiser for the new science of immunisation (herself disfigured by smallpox), as friend of poets (Alexander Pope) and audaciously free-loving free-liver; the amazing Joshua Reynolds, all were treated as first, authentic celebrities. Above all, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries provide the earliest opportunity to study the way in which the theatre, distorting and magnifying mirror of its society, assumes the significance it never loses as providing the leading ladies and men of the cast of celebrities. Sarah Siddons, David Garrick, and Kean anticipate Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, and Irving and point forward to Hollywood.

In the new urban culture of London and the passionate competitiveness of its new and old rich, the theatre takes a special place as the occasion both to be seen moving in the best society and to see that society mirrored, magnified, parodied, and satirised onstage. Sheridan's great play The School for Scandal is a brilliant seizing of the significance of gossip in this unprecedented sort of society, for gossip is only the means of preserving one's own respectability and that of one's own little class by counting other people out of it. Actors then act out in public, both onstage and off it, the delicious contents of this scandal. Their reward, paid in kind for well over two centuries, for losing their respectability is to be celebrated for scandalousness. As you would expect, actors learned to live up to this reputation as long as they were paid enough. Jane Austen provides a mordant insight into the process in her treatment of the scandalous play Lovers' Vows staged in Mansfield Park while the master of the house, Sir Thomas Bertram, is away from home. In doing so, she captures the sexual thrill still at the heart of theatre celebrity.

These throngs of biography, vastly magnified by the fat figure of the Prince Regent, gradually effected the institutionalisation of the underlying forces which composed celebrity: first, the new consumerism of eighteenth-century London; second, the invention of the fashion industry with department stores to match in mid-nineteenth-century Paris; third, the coming of the mass circulation newspaper, its gossip columns, and its thrilled, racy transformation of city life in New York and Chicago into the glitter of publicity.

These three new social formations provide a simple dynamic for the advent of the industrialisation of celebrity. London's consumer society invented with astonishing speed the forms and content of the new urban leisure. Not just the theatre, but the pleasure gardens, the coffee houses, the novels and journalism, the sudden expansion of those making the Tour, and of the holiday industry to take in Bath and Brighton, Weymouth and Scarborough, define certain conventions of sociable life which still hold. The leisure timetable of the London haute bourgeoisie of 1820 is immediately familiar to us today. It was given direction and excitement by being punctuated by glimpses of the famous. Gainsborough's painting of fashionable young women dressed to the nines eyeing each other's fashions in St. James's Park is a gleeful instance of this. The scandalous life of the Prince Regent in the Brighton Pavilion marks the passage of the royal heir from sanctity to celebrity.

Stage two of the process takes us to Paris after the return of the Bourbons. London's invention of spectacular leisure is there vastly extended, and the city's lead in making the celebrity-conscious consumer society overhauled. When Baron Haussmann pulled down great swathes of old Paris to make his grands boulevards, he may have intended to ease the passage of the riot police on their way to put down insurgent citoyens, but he certainly arranged things for the benefit of the fashionable crowd out in its finery to see and be seen. He also made things easy, as Walter Benjamin was the first to notice, for the new invention of plateglass to be installed all the way down the Rue de Rivoli and up the Boulevard Malesherbes in order to show off the goods of haute couture and the new department stores.

After 1851 Paris swiftly becomes the city of the urban spectacle, and thereafter the astonishing new painters who picture this development-Manet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec-provide us with a sumptuous album of the dress, the poses and posiness, the delights and agonies of living city life in public.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from A Short History of Celebrity by Fred Inglis Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

Part I: Fame and Feeling
Chapter 1: The Performance of Celebrity 3
Chapter 2: A Very Short History of the Feelings 19

Part II: The Rise of Celebrity: A Three-Part Invention
Chapter 3: The London-Brighton Road, 1760-1820 37
Chapter 4: Paris: Haute Couture and the Painting of Modern Life 74
Chapter 5: New York and Chicago: Robber Barons and the Gossip Column, 1880-1910 108

Part III: The Past in the Present
Chapter 6: The Geography of Recognition: Celebrity on Its Holidays 135
Chapter 7: The Great Dictators 158
Chapter 8: The Stars Look Down: The Democratisation of Celebrity 187
Chapter 9: From Each According to His Ability: Sport, Rock, Fashion, and the Self 217
Chapter 10: Stories We Tell Ourselves about Ourselves 247 Envoi: Cherishing Citizens 270

Notes 289
List of Illustrations 303
Index 305

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  • Posted October 11, 2010

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    Genesis and Permutations of Celebrity

    Fred Inglis demonstrates convincingly that the system and production of celebrity is inherent to an industrializing economy. The key drivers behind this metamorphosis have been the rise of urban democracy, the successive revolutions in the media industry, the growing individualization of society, the liberalization of mores, and the sheer quantity of money thrown at the manufacture of celebrities. Unsurprisingly, London, Paris, New York, and Chicago were the first loci of this industrialization of celebrity. Celebrity progressively took precedence over renown that was once associated with men and women of high accomplishment. Renown reflected the significance of the actions of these people for the society rather than a public recognition of their persona. This evolution turned fame into a much more ephemeral reward and shifted public acclaim from an expression of devotion to one of celebrity. Reality TV is the epitome of this metamorphosis. Furthermore, Mr. Inglis brings to light with much brio the powerful contradiction that drives celebrity. Celebrities are simultaneously uniquely recognizable and sacredly remote. This contradiction found its genesis after 1918. Interestingly, Mr. Inglis surmises that this ambivalence could explain why people both worship and despise celebrities. This finding is not so surprising when one considers that a modern society could not function without its intake of (new) celebrities. Mr. Inglis posits that celebrities give us certain bearings because they are a reflection of the best and worst values of contemporary Western society. To his credit, Mr. Inglis shows clearly the wide variety of celebrities behind the one-word concept "celebrity." Celebrity was originally closely associated with the established elite of artists (always on the edge of rebellion) and the social circles of haut ton. Celebrity then got increasingly hitched to the fabulous wealth of the "robber barons" during the Gilded Age. Mr. Inglis observes on this subject that in contrast to Europe, the United States was not prisoner to social classes in its association of success with new wealth. The end of the Great War also witnessed the extension of the manufacture of celebrity to the film stars (Hollywood), the heroes of high technological travel (racing car drivers, aviators, yachtsmen), the professional sportsmen, and the good and bad genius of mass politics. After WWII, the celebrity complex made democratization of its ranks a high priority by including for example sport and rock stars, gossip columnists, news presenters, fashion models, soap opera actors, and journalists. Surprisingly, Mr. Inglis seems to downplay the increasing importance of both the Internet and mobile media in the celebrity arena when he states that "television is our first instrument with which, cognitively and emotionally, to grasp the world beyond the front door, and its mutations." Generations Y and Z will probably beg to differ on this subject. In conclusion, Mr. Inglis narrates with much panache how culture and technology have evolved over the past two hundred fifty years to produce celebrity as we apprehend it today.

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