The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption

The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption

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by Daniel Herwitz
     
 

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Princess Diana, Jackie O, Grace Kelly—the star icon is the most talked about yet least understood persona. The object of adoration, fantasy, and cult obsession, the star icon is a celebrity, yet she is also something more: a dazzling figure at the center of a media pantomime that is at once voyeuristic and zealously guarded. With skill and humor, Daniel

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Overview

Princess Diana, Jackie O, Grace Kelly—the star icon is the most talked about yet least understood persona. The object of adoration, fantasy, and cult obsession, the star icon is a celebrity, yet she is also something more: a dazzling figure at the center of a media pantomime that is at once voyeuristic and zealously guarded. With skill and humor, Daniel Herwitz pokes at the gears of the celebrity-making machine, recruiting a philosopher's interest in the media, an eye for society, and a love of popular culture to divine our yearning for these iconic figures and the role they play in our lives.

Herwitz portrays the star icon as caught between transcendence and trauma. An effervescent being living on a distant, exalted planet, the star icon is also a melodramatic heroine desperate to escape her life and the ever-watchful eye of the media. The public buoys her up and then eagerly watches her fall, her collapse providing a satisfying conclusion to a story sensationally told—while leaving the public yearning for a rebirth.

Herwitz locates this double life in the opposing tensions of film, television, religion, and consumer culture, offering fresh perspectives on these subjects while ingeniously mapping society's creation (and destruction) of these special aesthetic stars. Herwitz has a soft spot for popular culture yet remains deeply skeptical of public illusion. He worries that the media distances us from even minimal insight into those who are transfigured into star icons. It also blinds us to the shaping of our political present.

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Editorial Reviews

Arthur Danto
The Star as Icon can be compared with Stanley Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness, but is more contemporary and less optimistic. The book studies significant movies ( Rear Window, The Philadelphia Story), is culturally literate, and is very good on the idea of aura and popular culture as it has evolved since Walter Benjamin. Required reading for any course in film studies.

Film-Philosophy - Leung Wing-Fai
An eloquent essay that contributes to the contemporary discourse on celebrity and stardom.

Choice
A dazzling book... that manages to pack an astonishing amount of detail and depth into a modest number of pages... Highly recommended.

Library Journal

Herwitz (humanities, Univ. of Michigan; Aesthetics: Key Concepts in Philosophy) examines some complex explanations for the role of celebrity in popular culture. Referring to numerous examples of celebrity icons (e.g., Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly), he pays particular attention to Princess Diana, who embodied many of the divergent facets of an icon in modern society-eliciting high public admiration yet prompting a media obsession with her personal problems and tragedies. Herwitz skillfully analyzes the tightly interwoven components of this pattern, citing relationships to television, film, and escalating consumerism-all playing a role in the building up and tearing down of icons, a process that loses sight of the celebrity as an individual. Herwitz approaches the subject with intelligence and fine scholarship and offers much to think about.

Yet another tantalizing element of the celebrity mystique is glamour-a maddeningly indefinable quality sought by many but seemingly attainable by only a few. Gundle (film & television studies, Warwick Univ.; Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy) takes an expansive look at glamour from past to present in a narrative rich with captivating details and commentary. He examines the many categories in which glamour is measured-wealth, sex appeal, beauty, spectacle, daring, urban sophistication, professions, and products. He discusses its arbiters-photographers, major magazines, writers-and some of its diverse symbols through time such as Marie Antoinette, Marlene Dietrich, Gianni Versace, and Princess Diana, setting their historical context and discussing their eccentricities, excesses, and style-setting trends. Gundlesums up glamour as a look, action, or way of life more fascinating and colorful than that of its audience. Both of these books are essential for those with a keen interest in the sociology of popular culture and stardom.
—Carol J. Binkowski

Film Philosophy
An eloquent essay that contributes to the contemporary discourse on celebrity and stardom.

— Leung Wing-Fai

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231145411
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
04/05/2016
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Edward Dimendberg

The Star as Icon displays an uncommonly high level of erudition and a masterful understanding of art history and philosophy rarely encountered in contemporary studies of mass culture. Daniel Herwitz's book is likely to provoke vigorous debate and few people will be able to read it without finding themselves challenged to articulate their own beliefs and commitments. It reconfigures the axis along which relations among high and low culture may be apprehended, yet does so without recourse to identity politics or a master narrative of globalization.

Edward Dimendberg, author of Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity

Arthur Danto

The Star as Icon can be compared with Stanley Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness, but is more contemporary and less optimistic. The book studies significant movies ( Rear Window, The Philadelphia Story), is culturally literate, and is very good on the idea of aura and popular culture as it has evolved since Walter Benjamin. Required reading for any course in film studies.

Arthur Danto, Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Columbia University

Marjorie Perloff

In this highly original and provocative book, Daniel Herwitz argues that the star icon is not just an emblem of our celebrity culture. Rather the star is a creature 'caught between transcendence and trauma in her own life and in the public's gaze.' As aesthetic type, the star is at once created and destroyed by the society in which she operates. Both a philosophical meditation and an incisive cultural critique, this study of consumer culture's power to establish aura, only to reduce it quickly to a marketing formula, will make you laugh out loud—but perhaps also weep!

Marjorie Perloff, professor emerita of English and comparative literature, Stanford University

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Meet the Author

Daniel Herwitz is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Humanities at the University of Michigan. His Columbia University Press books include Heritage, Culture, and Politics in the Postcolony (2012) and, with Lydia Goehr, The Don Giovanni Moment: Essays on the Legacy of an Opera (2006).

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