Celebrity: Exploring Critical Issues

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The Dark Side of Celebrity

This year we are promoting a special stream within the larger Celebrity conference which asks for proposals and performances to addresses a serious, interdisciplinary and multicultural analysis of the phenomenon of celebrity and death, or the dark sides of stardom.

Richard Dyer, in his Stars as Images, states that “[s]tardom is an image of the way stars live,” (154) but what happens with the value of the celebrated individual when they die? Does it increase or diminish? Does the way of passing away affect how we keep or stop celebrating particular people? How strong is the myth they have become, and who benefits from the death of a celebrity? Does fame guarantee immortality? Is death just a beginning?

These questions are nowadays more valid than before. The world has recently lost quite a few celebrities – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Walker, Cory Monteith, Nelson Mandela, Shirley Temple, Peter O’Toole – and their deaths are analysed in many public and private discourses, not only among the grieving fans. The way celebrities are remembered depends not only on the way they lived and how they affected the world, but also the way they died and at what particular moment in their lives. The passing of Mandela, Temple or O’Toole signifies the end of an era and initiates nostalgic or revisionist discussions on the past. Sudden deaths of the ‘younger’ celebrities, however, are rarely seen in terms of a closure.

Conspiracy theories, for instance, arise. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon in the ‘celebworld’ – think of the deaths of Bruce Lee, President Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Princess Diana, and Michael Jackson. Investigations concerning their deaths seem to prolong their stardom, give it a new shape, and, despite the disappearance of the celebrated individual, they ‘live,’ for instance, in the films they haven’t finished, as they are often resurrected by CGI or change in the script. They exist in gossip; in personal stories of friends and fans; and in commemorative merchandise, such as biographical accounts, biopics, etc. After death, their lives are once again ‘dissected’ by scholars, and become a springboard for discussions on the darker side of celebrity. Their demise is announced as a warning for other celebrities, although this call is heard more by researchers of celebrity culture, sociologists and psychologists than the stars themselves. The media, after all, find enough room for both criticising the contemporary culture of ‘celebritydom’ and the juicy reports on the dangerous, if not life-threatening, shenanigans of the younger generations of celebrities. Once can ask, then, is playing with death part of celebrityhood? Have lessons on the dangers of celebrity not been learnt?

We encourage both an in-depth criticism of the state of contemporary culture as well as a legitimate recognition of celebrities’ and fans’ cultural value in the context of the lives and deaths of stars.

Core themes to be be explored are:

  • Definitions of celebrity-hood, stardom, fame, iconicity, charisma, uniqueness/singularity, mass culture/pop-culture, popularity
  • ‘Consuming’ celebrities and their deaths in the past, present and predictions for the future
  • The response of fan communities, the press and social media to the deaths of their idols
  • Notorious celebrity/fame: The anti-heroes and anti-stars
  • Ethics of fame

The project will centre around an annual conference,  The work of the project is to be supported by an email discussion group, ISSN ejournal, ISBN publication series and and evolving research and resource centre.

Please contact the Project Leaders for further information.