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What’s Left to Say About Celebrity?

29 November 2011
Social Sciences and Humanities Library Conference Room,
The University of Queensland




The study of celebrity has become one of the standard teaching areas for media and cultural studies. Where once it might have been seen as an interesting but ephemeral formation, celebrity and the industries which produce it are now recognised as playing a fundamental role in the economies and structures of the contemporary media, as well as supplying an increasing proportion of the content.  Over the last decade as celebrity studies has grown, a great deal of the theoretical ground clearing has been done: teaching programs are established, there is a well supported journal in the field, and celebrity is now a lively field of debate within media and cultural studies.  

Much of the hard work has been done, then, to establish that celebrity demands attention. That said, it is clear that celebrity studies needs to be more than just an anthology of accounts of this or that celebrity, or analyses of those regularly occurring celebrity moments where our interests overlap with those of the mainstream media.  The presentations in this symposium all, in their own way, addressed the question of what more can we do with the notion of celebrity? The symposium brings together a stellar cast of leading international figures in celebrity studies, together with one of the leading younger scholars making her mark in this field, in order to present their latest work.  In papers that indicate the diversity and depth of this field, they each convincingly showed that there is indeed much left to be said about celebrity.


Professor Chris Rojek (Brunel University, London): 'Celanthropy and event management'

Abstract: Celanthropy refers to the involvement of celebrities as figureheads in humanitarian work. It is allied to a switch in emphasis from government solutions to social issues and global emergencies to stateless solutions. George Clooney (Darfur), Bono and Bob Geldof (Live Aid, Live 8), Angelina Jolie (UN), Madonna (Raising Malawi) are all prominent examples. Celanthropists operate as the public face of global events, usually telecast live to provide relief to emergencies, like famine or tsumani devastation, or to raise funds and consciousness for more entrenched issues, like famine and pollution. Events produce 'event consciousness' - an orientation to social and environmental questions based in an emotional 'can do' approach. Hand in hand with emotionalism is exhibitionism. It is not enough to give in a global event, one must be seen to give. The discussion raises some of the paradoxes of celanthropy and event management. Are stateless solutions better than state solutions? What are the psychological attractions of associating with George Clooney or Angelina Jolie in giving? Who elected these 'big citizens'? And to whom are they accountable?

Professor Graeme Turner (University of Queensland): ‘Understanding Celebrity revisited’

Abstract: As part of the process of writing a revised version of his Understanding Celebrity (2004), Graeme Turner examines the key changes in the production and consumption of celebrity, and in celebrity studies, since that book was written. Among the key changes has been the substantial growth in the online presence of celebrities, creating quite distinctive forms of engagement and carrying new kinds of risks; increased attention to the expansion of fan behaviour particularly online; a substantial development of the literature around celebrity and the proliferation in reality TV formats; a growing interest in writing the history of celebrity; and an emergent thread of feminist analysis of female celebrity. From initially serving as a side bar for a range of already established media and cultural studies approaches, celebrity studies is now developing interests in its own right.

Associate Professor Frances Bonner (University of Queensland): ‘Celebrity interviews: the persistent shape of a television staple’

Abstract: Celebrity interviews are a pervasive part of ordinary television, both in dedicated programmes and as components of a range of other shows. It might seem that the range of sites and of interviewers would lead to a variety of different approaches to the practice, but analysis conducted for my recent book, Personality Presenters demonstrated that the structure proposed by Philip Bell and Theo van Leeuwen in 1994 still describes almost all of them. Bell & van Leeuwen do not concern themselves though with the way in which the interviewer disavows his or her own celebrity in these situations, nor with how this practice is mirrored by some, but not all, of their subjects. The paper will demonstrate pervasiveness, structure and disavowal as well as some other features of celebrity interviews through a couple of examples.

Dr Anthea Taylor (University of Queensland): ‘Germaine Greer’s adaptable feminist celebrity’

Abstract: The celebrity feminist is perhaps one of the most under-examined forms within the field of celebrity studies. To help redress this critical imbalance, this paper attends to Germaine Greer; not only is she one of the most renowned feminists, she has worked to adapt her celebrity, and thereby remain in the public spotlight, over the past decade or so. Greer’s public voice is a highly controversial one, and not just around matters gender related. A seasoned media player, Greer is obviously provocative – itself a key element in her continuing celebrity allure – but her ongoing media presence cannot simply be attributed to her ability to generate controversy. Her celebrity, and her relationship to the mainstream media, has shifted and evolved over time (and now includes appearances on Celebrity Big Brother and comedies like Extras). It therefore provides an important case study into the operations of celebrity as well as the feminism-media nexus itself. What are we to make of the fact that, despite postfeminist proclamations of the redundancy of feminist critique, this particular iconic feminist continues to culturally reverberate? What might this tell us about the operations and logics of celebrity? What of Greer’s agency in using different media forms to help sustain and transform this celebrity? Here, I attend to a number of examples of her adaptable feminist celebrity, concluding with some suggestions regarding the future of celebrity feminism, both publicly and within celebrity studies itself.

Professor David Marshall (Deakin University): ‘Persona: the extensions of celebrity culture’

Abstract: Celebrity can be seen as an elaborate system of representative individuality that provides a flow of meaning around identity, publicity and privacy. This paper explores the various ways that celebrity has been explored over the last 15 years and investigates how its constitutive display of the public self has helped inform an extended proliferation of persona into everyday life as the debate of the public and the private becomes flattened and made mundane in the uses of online social media and communication.  Celebrity is individuality par excellence in representational culture; persona can be thought of as a way to understand the constitution of the public self pandemic in our emerging presentational culture that inhabits a cultural space alongside and in an intercommunicative way with its more powerful representational system.

Associate Professor Sean Redmond (Deakin University): ‘The creative art of celebrity’

Abstract: One of the criticisms of celebrity culture is that it has negatively impacted on all aspects of contemporary life. Seemingly one cannot bear to exist without having its under currents and ripples shape the liquid self. And like a tidal wave, the artifice and emptiness of celebrity is imagined to have swamped even (especially) the higher forms of culture, washing away an artform’s integrity, beauty, and power as it does so. Contemporary artists are often celebrities, and an increasing number employ their art to explore celebrity figures, fantasies and desires, and this – so the conservative critique runs - is a terrible modern condition. The art of celebrity has been deconstructed, relatively read, understood as a commodity fetish and narcissistic bent, and placed within a context of end of days’ apocalypse. What’s left to be said? Rarely, if at all, has the art of celebrity been read in terms of its creative practice, its poetic textures, or its phenomenological, confessional weight. In this paper I want to explore the creative and affecting art of celebrity through looking at the work of Tracey Emin, Elizabeth Peyton, Daniel Edwards, Annie Leibovitz, and Sam Taylor Wood.

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