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Celebrity: Capitalism and the Making of Fame

Celebrity: Capitalism and the Making of Fame

Milly Williamson

ISBN: 978-1-509-51143-3 October 2016 Polity 216 Pages




It is a truism to suggest that celebrity pervades all areas of life today. The growth and expansion of celebrity culture in recent years has been accompanied by an explosion of studies of the social function of celebrity and investigations into the fascination of specific celebrities. And yet fundamental questions about what the system of celebrity means for our society have yet to be resolved:

Is celebrity a democratization of fame or a powerful hierarchy built on exclusion? Is celebrity created through public demand or is it manufactured? Is the growth of celebrity a harmful dumbing down of culture or an expansion of the public sphere? Why has celebrity come to have such prominence in today’s expanding media?

Milly Williamson unpacks these questions for students and researchers alike, re-examining some of the accepted explanations for celebrity culture. The book questions assumptions about the inevitability of the growth of celebrity culture, instead explaining how environments were created in which celebrity output flourished. It provides a compelling new history of the development of celebrity (both long-term and recent) which highlights the relationship between the economic function of celebrity in various media and entertainment industries and its changing social meanings and patterns of consumption.

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Chapter One: What is Celebrity? The Changing Character of Fame
Chapter Two: Celebrity and the Theatre: modernity and commercial culture
Chapter Three: Celebrity and the industrialisation of cultural production: the case of the mass press and the cinema
Chapter Four: Celebrity and News
Chapter Five: Ordinary Celebrity
Chapter Six: Social media and celebrity: the internet of ‘self’
'The book we’ve been waiting for! At last, a lucid guide to the political economy of celebrity culture. Ranging from the gendered star system of eighteenth-century theatre to the abuse of "ordinary" people in contemporary reality TV, Milly Williamson brings historical and theoretical sophistication to her lively analysis of the mutating relationship between celebrity and capitalism – all the while foregrounding "competing ideals and values about what it means to be human".'
Jo Littler, City University, London

'There are myths about celebrity. Is it a sign of a decaying culture? Is it part of human nature to obsess over stars? Milly Williamson sidesteps these tired questions to get to the heart of the matter by providing the economic history that underpins the phenomenon. A game-changing contribution.'
Toby Miller, University of California, Riverside

"…a much needed contribution to the sprawling field of celebrity studies"