Sharon Marcus | August 19 | Five Books

Why are so many of us fascinated by the lives of celebrities? When did interest in the dark side of celebrity become mainstream? Sharon Marcus, author of The Drama of Celebrity and a professor at Columbia University, recommends books to better understand the phenomenon of celebrity.

You’ve recommended books to help us understand the phenomenon of celebrity. Before we get to those, an initial question: at the beginning of your book, The Drama of Celebrity, you ask, ‘Why do so many people care so much about celebrities?’ What do you think, ultimately, is the answer to that question?

The typical answer is that people have a prurient curiosity about other people. Sometimes that curiosity is difficult to satisfy when applied to people we know, because they might resist being gossiped about. When we can satisfy that prurient curiosity with total strangers, we are disinhibited. Celebrity allows us to surrender to our voyeurism, our need to pry into other people’s lives, our need to judge them.

But our interest in celebrities is not all negative. We also need to admire people. Celebrities are figures that we idealize out of all recognition, and even elevate into the role of demigods and demigoddesses. Academics have tended to answer the question ‘Why do we care about celebrities?’ by arguing that celebrity is a seductive deception. Various powerful entertainment industries create stars who embody norms in order to get us to identify with society’s dominant values. Many cultural critics consider celebrity to be a form of propaganda: we’re fooled into caring about these fake people.

Originally published by Five Books. Read more here.