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  1. Celebrity Culture

    By Ellis Cashmore

  2. Over the past few decades, celebrity culture has taken grip, not only of entertainment, but of sports, politics, religion, science, commerce, military affairs, even crime. Our preoccupation with people about whom we know little, but with whom we feel strangely intimate has become a dominant feature of social life. The third edition of Ellis Cashmore’s book Celebrity Culture is published by Routledge. FO° presents a brief history.

  3. 1871 BIRTH OF HYPE

    P.T. Barnum (1810-91) launches what becomes known as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” using contrived stories to publicize his show in a manner that foreshadows what is later known as hyping. In ten years, he will start the Barnum & Bailey circus. Barnum is the most prominent of a small but growing number of impresarios, that is, organizers of theatrical events, which customers pay to see. As such, he is a co-founder of the fledgling entertainment industry. The industry grows prolifically in the twentieth century. Michael Gracey’s 2017 film The Greatest Showman is a burlesque melodrama about Barnum.


    Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, a device that makes the exhibition of motion pictures possible is demonstrated in New York; this is one of precursors to cinema, another being the Lumière brothers’ cinématographe, which is unveiled the following year. Cinema dominates the first half of the twentieth century, familiarizing audiences with watching a static screen on which are shown moving images. The screen continues to occupy a central place in all social life. The term “fan” is in popular use, but only to describe baseball enthusiasts


    Enrico Caruso (1873–1921), the world-renowned tenor, is charged with carrying out an indecent act allegedly committed in the monkey house of New York's Central Park Zoo. The case becomes a cause célèbre, highlighting how suspicions of wrongdoing, when attached to famous figures, could excite both the media and the public. Caruso is found guilty and fined. Far from hurting his career, the incident adds to his mystique – though the effects of scandal on a famous figure’s reputation are still unclear (see Arbuckle case, 1921).

  6. 1910 A STAR IS FAKED

    The faked death of Florence Lawrence presages the start of the “star system.” Lawrence is contracted to Biograph Studios, in Hollywood. Actors are rarely credited and regarded as largely inconsequential. Studio executive Carl Laemmle dreams up the scheme of faking actor Lawrence’s disappearance to discover whether newspapers will cover the story. They do and, in the process, generate so much interest in Lawrence that, on her return, she is a known figure. Once credited on posters, she becomes what many regard as the first recognizable movie star.


    Roscoe Arbuckle, the highest paid actor in Hollywood, is arrested for the sexual assault and manslaughter of a female actor at a party in San Francisco; although he is cleared, his films are withdrawn and his film contract canceled; he dies destitute in 1933. Arbuckle’s fate issues a reminder how scandals, particularly involving sex, are ruinous. Studios become careful to control both public and private lives of their employees, though not always perfectly.


    Greta Garbo, of Sweden, signs a contract with MGM, becoming Hollywood’s leading female actor, first in silent films, then in talkies; her taciturn, often cold attitude and refusal to talk to journalists creates a mysterious aura that fortifies her iconic status. Few figures profit from secrecy like the aloof and austere Garbo. She effectively offers audiences and media a license to imagine anything they please about her. In effect, she is Hollywood’s tabula rasa.


    Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper starts to write her “Letter from Hollywood,” a column consisting of tittle-tattle from the entertainment industry; in 1938 the Los Angeles Times syndicates her column, in 110 newspapers, making her one of the most influential people in showbusiness. In 1947, Hopper appears on the front cover of Time magazine


    Television is exhibited at the World’s Fair in New York; sets for domestic use become available. Over the next 15 years, domestic tvs will be in 90%+ of households and initiate changes in practically every area of social life, including consumer spending. Unlike its British counterpart, American tv is commercial and, as such, depends on advertising revenue (Commercial tv is not introduced to Britain until 1955 when BBC’s monopoly ends). TV Guide launches in 1948; by the 1970s it is one of the best-selling magazines in the USA.


    Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders, a book that reveals the extensive influence of advertising, is published; it is complemented in 1959 with the author’s The Status Seekers, an analysis of how people crave consumer goods not for their use but for the prestige they confer on the owner. The bestselling books chronicle how the public have become fixated on material possessions, not for their functional utility, but for the prestige or kudos they confer on the owner. Later in the century, celebrities will become living advertisements for consumer society.
    Suzy Parker (1932-2003), model for Coco Chanel and forerunner of supermodels, earns an unprecedented $100,000 per year.

  12. 1960 THE PAPS COMETH

    Frederico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita features a predatory photo-journalist named “Signor Paparazzo” and introduces a new generic noun to the popular vocabulary. In Italy, freelance journalists are skilled at baiting their subjects, deliberately annoying them so that they can capture their reaction on film. This preemptive approach to reporting is not yet popular in Britain or the USA, but will gain in currency over the next several decades.


    Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are photographed by Marcello Geppetti, a paparazzo, in Italy, where they are filming Cleopatra. This becomes arguably the most iconic image in the history of celebrity culture. Both Taylor and Burton are married to other people and have children. Their affair becomes an international scandal. Far from avoiding the scandal, Taylor embraces it and, in the process, prefigured the practices of later celebrities.
    A telecommunications satellite is launched and provides an eight-minute transmission; Telstar 1 is the first of several communications satellites capable of sending signals to earth that go into orbit over the next several years; they provide the stimulus for the development of a global media.


    Photographer Ron Galella (b. 1931) receives a federal court order barring him from approaching within 50 yards of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929-94) or her children. Onassis is a reluctant celebrity: As wife of the President and then of one of the world’s richest men, she attracts the media. But she is a careful custodian of her own image and resists photographers’ attempts to catch her offguard – as Galella does. Galella himself was a singleminded pap and frequently risked physical injury in his pursuit of subjects.


    Diana marries Prince Charles. The Royal Wedding attracts 28 million British television viewers and 750 million worldwide. Diana’s arrival either launches a new era of celebrity. People become fascinated with her, not because of anything she does or says or even wears, but because she seems to possess a silent charisma – a compelling attractiveness or irresistible charm that inspires devotion in others.


    Madonna’s Like a Prayer album is released; Pepsi pulls out of a $5 million endorsement deal with her. Madonna has been around for a number of years, her first album being released six years earlier. She had courted controversy, but never so blatantly as in Like a Prayer, the video for which features a portrayal of a black Jesus. It seems a deliberate attempt to cause scandal and it succeeds. With this record, Madonna demonstrates that scandal, far from destroying careers, can make them (compare Roscoe Arbuckle, 1921; Elizabeth Taylor, 1962).

  17. 1997 DEATH OF AN ICON

    UK newspaper Daily Mirror pays a reported £265,000 ($450,000) for British rights to publish shots of Diana and Dodi Fayed on their vacation off Sardinia. The photographer Mario Brenna earns an estimated $7 million from global sales of the pictures. Diana dies in a car accident in Paris; the photographers who chase her prior to the crash are later cleared of wrongdoing. Diana’s funeral on September 6 brings approximately 2.5 billion viewers to their tv screens. Even in death, Diana continues to enthrall the public over the next two decades and probably beyond.


    British and American versions of Big Brother start. There have been earlier versions of what we now call reality tv, but BB is by far the most influential, introducing a new generation of celebrity housemates, who share what is soon a valuable property -- ordinariness.


    Michael Jackson indicates that he has shared his bed with children in tv interview.
    Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected governor of California; later signs law that increases penalties against aggressive paparazzi; serves until 2011, then returns to film.
    Excerpts of a sex tape featuring Paris Hilton are uploaded; 13 million viewers watch the tv show The Simple Life in which she features; over the next three years, she is contracted to appear in eight films.
    Beyoncé’s first solo album sells 6 million copies.
    Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are awarded £14,500 damages from Hello! for breach of privacy and rights of confidence.
    Twitter is founded; in 6 years it has 500 million users. People magazine records sales of 3.6 million copies.


    Facebook incorporates and moves operating base to Palo Alto, California. Less than a year later, it buys the domain name facebook.com. By 2010, it has 900 million users.
    David Beckham is involved in an internationally publicized scandal after reports of an extra-marital affair.
    Martha Stewart begins a five-month prison sentence; she is released in 2005 to find her companies prospering.
    Princess Caroline of Monaco wins a key ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, which confirms that the publishing of paparazzi photographs of the Princess in a public place was a violation of her right to privacy.
    The US publication the Star is revamped as a glossy magazine; it started as a tabloid in 1972.

  21. 2006 ENTER TAYLOR

    Taylor Swift releases her debut album on the Big Machine Records label on October 24. 16 years later, 14m fans try to buy tickets to her concerts, causing Ticketmaster to crash. Swift is, by then, the preeminent entertainer in the world.


    Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK) launches on E! The Entertainment Channel. This launches the career of the one-time personal assistant of Paris Hilton. Kardashian and her relatives will dominate headlines, fashion pages and gossip columns for the next decade. She will marry Kris Humphries in 2011, filing for divorce after 72 days. In 2014 she marries Kanye West, a liaison the media call Kimye; the following year, she will have her second child. Over the next several years, Kim and her family will exert a pronounced influence over global culture, affecting the way we approach sex, gender and the self.


    Tiger Woods’ scandal results in his withdrawal from competition. He is married and has two children, but several females declare they have had sexual affairs with him. He publicly apologizes for what he calls his “transgression.” Accenture, AT&T and Pepsi drop him, but he remains the highest-paid athlete in the world thanks to huge deals with Nike, Electronic Arts and Upper Deck.


    Elizabeth Taylor dies, aged 79. Amy Winehouse dies, aged 27.
    Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William draws 26 million British viewers and 2 billion worldwide.
    Kim Kardashian’s first wedding to draws 10 million viewers to E! on October 9.


    #OscarsSoWhite, for the second straight year, highlights the tendency of the Academy to ignore black artists; the Academy responds to a wave of criticisms with the announcement of set goals to encourage a wider breadth of actors and filmmakers. Two years later Black Panther is released and becomes an international boxoffice success: It has an African American director and a predominantly black cast and becomes one of the most influential films of its time.


    Tiger Woods is arrested for DUI. Bill Cosby is on trial for historical sexual crimes. In their different ways, both are stereotype-smashing black Americans, Cosby using his sitcom in the 1980s and 1990s to project a new image of African American families, Woods conquering golf, a sport that was traditionally dominated by whites and which excluded black competitors. Their respective descents (temporary in Woods’ case) reflects the fate of several other African American celebrities, including OJ Simpson, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson (posthumously) and Ye aka Kanye West (see 2022)


    Harry Styles turns up at the annual Met Gala in a black lace top with a ruffled bow at the neck, flowing, sheer sleeves, block heels and a single pearl earring, all by Gucci; his fingernails are painted with black and teal polish; Styles will become influential in redefining masculinities.


    Adidas and several other companies end their deals with Ye after his antisemitic remarks made on social media. In the same year, Ye reaches a divorce settlement, which obliged him to pay $200,000 per month child support to former wife Kim Kardashian. He is also twice-suspended from twitter for violating the platform's rules prohibiting incitement to violence.
    The first volume of Netflix’s documentary series Harry & Meghan drops. “How narrow their vision of fame is,” Variety notes, “how pinched and unimaginative their [H&M’s] presence on the world stage has become.” The Financial Times is similarly dismissive: “This is a show that makes you grateful that the streaming platform has the option to watch at 1.25x speed.”


    Lizzo denies allegations that she sexually harassed and created a hostile workplace for three of her ex-dancers who filed a legal complaint. One of the former dancers Arianna Davis claimed, despite her body-positive rhetoric, Lizzo fat-shamed her.
    U.S. District Judge warns Kim Kardashian and other influencers: If you’re paid to hype a dicey investment to your followers, you may be liable when they take your advice. She and others had promoted a now-worthless crypto currency and “were profiting off endorsements at their fans’ expense by touting an investment opportunity that had no legitimate business plan.”

  30. Credits Written by Ellis Cashmore
    Produced by Atul Singh
    Art and design by Lokendra Singh
    Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Creative Commons