On Stardom: Media and the Making of Celebrity Culture

Here’s a syllabus for a 10-week course on stardom and celebrity.

On Stardom: Media & the Making of Celebrity Culture

Course Description
Whether you love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny we live in a culture that’s fascinated by celebrities. While stars have long occupied a prominent position within the landscape of US popular culture, today’s celebrity culture, fueled by new technologies, snarky gossip, and a deregulated media economy, begs us to re-consider the histories, meanings, values, and uses of stardom. This course will examine stardom from four primary angles. First, we will study the history of stardom as a mediated phenomenon in order to gain a historical perspective on the social construction of fame. Second, we will examine how star texts come to mean and what they can tell us about the social world from which they emerge. Third, this course will explore the relationships between stars and audiences in an attempt to better understand both the personal and social investments we make in celebrities. Finally, we will think about the power that accrues to celebrity/star status, paying careful attention to economic and political contexts.

Written in the Stars: Histories

The invention of stardom
deCordova, “The Picture Personality” “The Star” and “Star Scandals”

The rise of celebrity culture
Lowenthal, “The Triumph of Mass Idols”
Boorstin, “From Hero to Celebrity: The Human Pseudo-Event”
Sennett, “Man as Actor”

Reading the Stars: Meanings

Stars, meanings, contexts
Dyer, “Stars as images” (excerpts) “Charisma” and “Monroe and Sexuality”

Star systems of representation
Gledhill, “Signs of Melodrama”
King, “Articulating Stardom”
Alexander, “Fatal Beauties: Black Women in Hollywood”
Langer, “Television’s Personality System”

Star Gazing: Audiences

Stars, spectators, consumer culture
Eckert, “The Carol Lombard in Macy’s Window”
Stacey, “Feminine Fascinations”
Murray, “For the Love of Lucy: Packaging the Sitcom Star”

Stars and cultural identity
Turner, “The Cultural Function of Celebrity”
Rodman, “Elvis Culture”
Wilson, “Star Testing: The Emerging Politics of Celebrity Gossip”

Star Power: Economics and Politics

The manufacture of stardom: production, ownership, authorship
Gamson, “Industrial Strength Celebrity”
McCleod, “The Private Ownership of People”
Coombe, “Author(iz)ing the Celebrity”

Celebrity politics
Perkins, “The Politics of Jane Fonda”
Rogin, “Ronald Reagan, The Movie”
Street, “The Celebrity Politician: Political Style and Popular Culture”
Littler, “’I feel your pain’: Cosmopolitan Charity and the Public Fashioning of the Celebrity Soul”

Celebrity selves
Sternberg, “Phantasmagoric Labor: The New Economic of Self-Presentation”
Turner, “The Mass Production of Celebrity”
Marshall, “New Media-New Self: The Changing Power of Celebrity”

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