In his book, The Image, Daniel Boorstin defined a celebrity as a person who was known for his well-knownness. That was nearly fifty years ago, in 1961. He noted that citizens were increasingly enthralled by imitations of reality, rather than by reality itself. It was Boorstin who coined the phrase “pseudo-event.”
In an article in Newsweek (December 12, 2009), Neal Gabler, the author of Life: the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, brings this notion up to date. In his view celebrity is not an anointment of the media of unworthy subjects. It is actually “a new art form that competes with – and often supersedes – more traditional entertainments like movies, books, plays and TV shows, and it performs, in its roundabout way, many of the functions those old media performed in their heyday, among them distracting us, sensitizing us to the human condition and creating a fund of common experience around which we can form a national community. I would even argue that celebrity is the great new art form of the twenty-first century.”
In that sense, he wrote, being famous was not enough. Queen Elizabeth was famous without being a celebrity. Princess Diana was a celebrity. A person was a celebrity only as long as he or she was living an interesting narrative, or at least one the media found interesting. Once that was no longer the case, the ex-celebrity was relegated to “Where are they now?”
No doubt – this is no longer Neal Gabler speaking – celebrity-narratives can be taught at Celebrity Art Academies. From one such institution the virtuoso Tiger Woods probably graduated summa cum laude. The concept of art, of course, could easily be stretched to embrace this new application. Many people play golf as well as he does, but only he, thanks to his specialized training in creating a narrative, has become the Supreme Master of Celebrity Art.
It would not be hard to devise a curriculum for the Celebrity Art Academies. There would be courses in conventional public relations, cosmetics and sexiness. In graduate school, media-manipulating and scandal-manufacturing would be taught, plus advanced studies in charisma.
Celebrity Art Academies can only prosper in the context of the Internet in which universal attention deficit, rampant shallowness and galloping fragmentation prevail.
Their boards of directors would naturally be drawn from the monstrous regiment of bloggers.