For over a century, we have lived in a mass-media culture.  In the latter half of the 19th century, the major mass media–books, magazines, and newspapers–took the form of the printed word.  Soon, audiovisual media came to prominence as well–cinema, records, radio, and television.  The internet has brought us digital manipulations of some extant media–particularly those of audio recording, television, and film–but also some complex and exotic interactive media whose reach for individual participants lies on a spectrum from broadcast to narrowcast.  These relatively new media include video posting platforms, social media, and the very blogs used by Slice-of-Life participants.

All media thrive on attention; without it, messages do not reach an audience.  From basic advertising to amassing followers on Instagram, all members of a mass-media culture participate in the attention-gettting or attention-giving dynamic with varying degrees of conscious understanding of it.  For better or worse, this has resulted in a highly contrived, lucrative, culturally consuming, societally powerful, demographically fragmented, and immensely complex media entity that has come to loom over most aspects of modern life.

The cult of celebrity has long prevailed in our culture, and the past two decades have given it particular innovations and nuance.  As film and pop stars have either given way to social media influencers–or also transformed into them in their own right–celebrity indeed prevails throughout the evolution of our media.

We sometimes cannot help but interrogate the value and substance of celebrity.  We should marvel at what passes for genius in the public mind when what reaches a mass audience is instead merely clever.  The validation of exposure seems to confer upon some of our celebrities a distinction of creativity and intellect–and a dubious distinction at that.

And while genius as a concept predates the empirical methods that would seek to define and measure it, the same scientific framework that might define it only seems to delineate the bounds of a particular degree of capacity–of potential.

Kanye West, then, might well have a genius IQ, but cognitive testing would confirm that, rather than his artistic output.  And those who might submit his music as proof of genius might have to accept that any town of over ten thousand people might have three or four people whose musical offerings approach or surpass the merit of Ye’s work.

Imagining that perhaps several hundred from that town aspire to that level of creativity and achievement, might the top percentile reflect in statistical terms a representation of genius cognitive capacity?

What might this suggest about our media culture?  Even looking back through the ages, has fame favored the fortunate?  Those who receive the favor of circumstance and exposure?

And in our age of social media promotion and paid subscriptions, decentralized and accessible on a global scale, we see winners who can amass a list of a few thousand subscribers at twenty dollars a month for their content and quit their day jobs.  We also see masses of individuals lose out on the artistry of dozens in their own home towns–whose artistic output they might enjoy in person in venues that define a geographical, artistic community–in favor of a strictly monetary and digital transaction with strangers they will never meet.

Certainly, digital subscriptions have a place in support of artists seeking an audience and finding the means of supporting themselves.  All the same, some countervailing force might bring some comparable degree of representation in analog form on Main Street in every town.

If we have international broadcast superstars who become billionaires and narrowcast subscription beneficiaries who can purchase McMansions and Bugattis, we should also have local forums in which celebrity arises among people we know–among people we can see up close.

Celebrity should be a cause for celebration–even more so when it is all in person.

Photo credit: Wendy Wei of Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

6 thoughts on “Celebrity

  1. This is a very thoughtful slice. I really enjoyed reading it. AND I love the line, “has fame favored the fortunate”. Very thought provoking.
    Great slice.

  2. Celebrate, more specifically the question of what makes celebrity, is something I think about often, but I don’t fully agree w/ your concluding sentence, unless you intend it S a culminating indictment of influencers and of those who pay for their blue checkmarks. Generally, I’m not a fan of YouTuber celebrity or most Instagram celebrities, many of whom owe their. elebrity more to luck than talent. There’s a home improvement “mom” on IG I began following a couple years ago because I liked her projects, but her account has devolved into product endorsements and lots of personal self-disclosure that’s cringy for me. And forget about reality stars. I miss the simple celebrity of mo ie stars and rock stars.

    1. You have me thinking more about my closing. I live and work in a community that I have fallen in love with. It brims with people who deserve recognition for what they do to make life and work so rewarding here. I suppose I regret that our modern culture causes us to overlook some magnificent people in our own midst.

      Of course, there is a world beyond our town’s boundaries. I have nothing against admiring some people from a distance. I, like you, have my heroes of the screen and the vinyl. I am also conflicted, however, because if the mass culture of fifty years ago had people of all generations recognizing and respecting a shared list of famous people, that list issued from a monolithic media culture. Nowadays, audiences are splintered, as I often say, into myriad demographics, so more performers, artists, and writers can get a share of recognition. But that leaves each demographic group isolated with their own pantheons, so to speak.

      And as I review media-ownership maps, I begin to understand that the monolith lives.

      I appreciate your remarks–and your prompts for me to examine my own writing further. Thanks.

  3. So much to comment on in this post! I kept hearing my inner voice say, “yes” as I read. One thing, a book. “The Attention Merchants” by Tim Wu. History and truth about advertising as an attention getting culture. Excellent. Second thing is I just so hear you on the notion of “celebrity” and am amazed as I watch the definition waver all over the place. Perhaps by making it easier to become celebrated we are watering down the stature of the place it holds. Maybe that’s a good thing? Excellent post, thanks for making me think!

    1. Yes, thank you for confirming that I got one of my points across. Attention is precisely what drives our media–first from an effort to advertise, and now for so many reasons that ultimately relate back to the first. As fame and infamy begin to blur into each other, I am sad to think of the effect it has on our aspirations and our influence on each other. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. I truly appreciate the encouragement.

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