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

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9780231145404: The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption
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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 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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About 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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Excerpt from Chapter 1, "The Candle in the Wind"

The camera has always tracked physiognomy, something Erwin Panofsky already understood back in 1934. Jimmy Stewart's twitch, Gary Cooper's tight-lipped jaw, John Wayne's swagger, Meryl Streep'smelting smile: these are what speak cinematic volumes,bring home and personalize larger narratives. Human physiognomy is the sculpture of the screen, its visual aria. Her tune was that of a blonde, Grecian beauty whose thin (underweight) fragility allowed pain to contort it at the slightest pressure without burying the flame in the eyes, the candle in the wind. Hers was a face that one felt was tuned to every register of emotion. Seeing was, in her case, believing, since her body seemed incapable of deliberation, therefore of deception. She was an actor, yes, played the role of royal on a million occasions, demurred dutifully, held her tea with the right form of expression, sipped and smiled. And yet the façade of royalty, also part of her, never fully erased the body's own language. This was the source of her "integrity," her ability, as in a film actor, to inspire conviction in a willing audience (of billions). Diana's voice was tight, slow, without a great deal of lilt, lacking in wit. She never quite got things, shared the silent film comedian's sense of world strangeness. The voice was part of the physiognomy of her suffering: stuttering, uncertain, with a hint of deadness. This added to her so-called genuineness and was read as further evidence of her integrity. Magical it was indeed that by simply crying without prompting at the presence of AIDS babies or victims of land mines she could get the world to say she was another Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa had spend her entire adult life caring, day in and day out, for the poorest and the dying in Calcutta, enduring heat and stench and pain and difficulties of all kinds without complaint, and here is a woman who gets off a plane, shows up before a thousand cameras, reaches into the dirt and utters in a quiet, shaking voice that land mines are a terrible thing, and the world jolts. All she had to do was be there and emote: before the camera. Christian to the core, her "morality" was read directly from her passion, from her pain at the world. Thus did she excite ancient desires for religion in a vast public caught in modern life. Max Weber called it the "charismatic personality."

Diana's empathy for those who suffered extreme pain was vital and unrehearsed. Nelson Mandela said it in an introduction to Diana: The Portrait, put out by the Princess of Wales Foundation (all proceeds to her charitable causes):

"When she stroked the limbs of someone with leprosy, she did more to break the taboos surrounding that disease than any number of books, articles and health education programmes. When she sat on the bed of a man with HIV/AIDS, held his hand and chatted to him naturally as a fellow human being, she struck a tremendous blow against the stigma and superstition which can cause almost as much suffering as the disease itself."

Her naturalness on the TV and with HIV/AIDS sufferers confirmed that she walked among us while being more than us. "We cannot all be a famous British Princess," Mandela continued. "We can, however, all try to do what we can to insist that every human being is precious and unique." This identification with her was a matter of her own ability to convert personal suffering into gestures of sympathetic identification with others. The public read her that way, as a figure who invited identification of their own suffering with her own.

...

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by Columbia University Press and copyrighted © 2008 by Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher, except for reading and browsing via the World Wide Web. Users are not permitted to mount this file on any network servers. For more information, please ">e-mail us or visit the permissions page on our Web site.

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Book Description Columbia University Press, United States, 2008. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. 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. Seller Inventory # AAH9780231145404

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