(Extra)Ordinary?

The Concept of Authenticity in Celebrity and Fan Studies

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Edited by Jade Alexander and Katarzyna Bronk

Questioning what “makes” a celebrity and how celebrity is controlled, dispersed and received are aspects branching out of (Extra)Ordinary’s debate over celebrities as ordinary/extraordinary. Jade Alexander and Katarzyna Bronk, together with the authors whose chapters make up this inter-disciplinary discussion, not only utilise the existing research on celebrity and fandom, but they also go beyond the often-quoted theorists to engage in multidirectional analyses of what it means to be a celebrity, and what influence they have on the consuming public. The present book provides an avenue for exploring not just what celebrity is as a discursive construction, but also how this involves a complex interplay between celebrities, the media and the audience.

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Amber Anna Colvin

Abstract

Michael Collins, Irish revolutionary and political leader, was assassinated in 1922. After his death, his image remained recognisable, a type of “brand” that represented the Irish nation, both at home and abroad. The physical space left vacant by Collins created a vacuum that allowed new, post-mortem representations of his body to become famous. Collins was a celebrity during his own lifetime, but his fame truly grew when he was no longer alive to lay claim to his own image. Collins’ image served as a means of continuing and contributing to the nationalist discourse in Ireland, particularly between the Irish and the British. The question should be asked: why, and how, is Collins still famous? This chapter discusses three sources for studying Collins as a celebrity martyr, and as his own personal “brand.” First, placement of articles about Collins’ death in both Irish and British newspapers evidence the spatial relationship between Collins and other news of the time, physically placing his textual image in particular spaces, allowing people to “see” his death, funeral, and influence through the mass media. Second, images of Collins after his death and of his funeral demonstrate the nationalist propaganda that came to surround his corporeal body. Finally, I examine the ways Collins has been represented since his death and the importance he still holds as a national celebrity and popular icon.

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Mira Moshe

Abstract

Societies tend to honour their prominent citizens for unique contributions to the community by means of awarding various prestigious prizes. The prize-giving ceremony has much symbolic value since it is an attempt to cope with cultural relativism and preserve functionalism and social structuralism. Israeli society honours its prominent sons and daughters by means of awarding the Israel Prize to citizens who excel in their field and make ground-breaking contributions to society. The prize-giving ceremony is held each year at the culmination of the Independence Day festivities in Jerusalem. At the exact same moment, an alternative ceremony takes place every year on the “Gossip and Entertainment” internet site, which honours Israeli celebrities by bestowing the “Israel Celeb Awards” to denizens of the swamp who show outstanding accomplishments in the entertainment world. Whereas in the first instance the prize symbolises respect and gratitude for activities performed in the highest scientific and cultural echelons of the country, the second instance involves a vehicle for making fun of local celebs This chapter will show how what began as an attempt to sarcastically emphasize the gap between “high culture” and “low culture” ended up inspiring a conceptual dialogue between “admirers” and “objectors,” replacing a discussion of cultural quality with an internal squabble among fans.

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Edited by Jade Alexander and Katarzyna Bronk

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Sandra Mayer

Abstract

Regardless of Roland Barthes’ forcefully proclaimed “death of the author,” authorial agency has remained a controversially discussed concept in contemporary critical debate, and the sphere of literary production continues to exploit the reputational capital and star potential of literary brand names. The proliferation and intense media coverage of literary prizes, in particular, attest to the firm ties between cultural and economic capital. By taking a close look at the lectures delivered by two successive Nobel Laureates, this chapter seeks to explore the ways in which the publicity generated by high-profile literary prizes provides authors with a powerful platform for self-fashioning. Both the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek and the British dramatist Harold Pinter, respective winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004 and 2005, have a career history as astute left-wing intellectuals, political activists, and cultural critics, sharing a larger-than-life public image that has been shaped by an intricate interplay of art and politics. A comparative analysis of their Nobel lectures aims at highlighting the multi-medial forms and strategies of authorial self-representation and thus ultimately touches upon some of the core debates of celebrity studies, such as the dichotomy of public vs. private self, negotiations of absence and presence, and the political power of celebrity.

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Samita Nandy

Abstract

This chapter examines ways in which online fame expresses offline constructions of a nation. These expressions are often articulated through ordinariness of a nation in contrast to the extraordinary talent or heroism of a celebrity. Since maintenance of territorial boundaries has been the traditional premise for a unifying national identity, the global reach of online fame may threaten national interests of media corporations. Nevertheless, corporations often reclaim national identity of celebrities for development of national and transnational brands. The expression of a dominant national identity also helps fans to identify with celebrities, both online and offline. This chapter maps the relation between fame and nation, and uses a case study of pop star Justin Bieber to show specific ways in which his national identity is accepted, negotiated or subverted in online and traditional media. In particular, this chapter shows how the tensions between Bieber’s extraordinary talent and the ordinariness of his nation unfold questions of authenticity. The use of Justin Bieber’s authenticity not only maintains his fame but also Canada as his homeland and a frontier nation in a colonialist context. To understand organisational and corporate ways of articulating national identity in fame, the chapter recognises the need to focus on industrial production as well as the discursive construction of celebrities.

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Anna Fomichenko

Abstract

Although Oscar Wilde and his elaborate self-fashioning techniques were a product of the late Victorian era, they have undoubtedly created a basis for the phenomenon we call modern celebrity. I have previously looked at the concept of celebrity as a fictional character, brought into a real social context by combined efforts of the actual person (e.g. Oscar Wilde) and a number of “co-authors”: publishers, producers, managers, and, most importantly, the audience. Together they can be considered a complex “author function” (to borrow Michel Foucault’s term), which is controlled and kept alive by means of publicity and various self-fashioning strategies. However, this is only possible as long as the public persona remains visible—the absence of a mirror means the death of celebrity, its “expiration.” In case of Wilde, the expiry date could have come after his legendary trial and exile, if it had not been for his final attempt to recreate himself in “De Profundis”—a love letter and an incredibly deep philosophical essay which provided a starting point for his long and colourful cultural afterlife. In the following chapter, I am going to explore the modernity of Wilde’s self-fashioning, and demonstrate how it has been appropriated by one of the most strikingly Wildean celebrities—David Bowie.

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Edited by Jade Alexander and Katarzyna Bronk

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Jade Alexander

Abstract

The contemporary version of flat track roller derby is commonly regarded as a highly theatrical sport that disrupts traditional sporting and gender norms by providing a space for women to experiment with their gender performance, physicality, and desirability. Existing research on roller derby predominantly focuses on either the sport’s history, or on skaters’ performance of gender and sexed embodiment. As roller derby becomes increasingly popular, however, there is an opportunity to analyse experiential aspects of celebrity and fandom at the local level. Drawing on data gathered through a mixed methodology, including observation, semi-structured interviews, and roller derby media and promotional material, I propose that skaters in Sydney’s roller derby scene achieve “local celebrity” status–although some inevitably achieve more fame than others. In this chapter I explore skaters’ negotiation of the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary” as they grapple with growing fame, often resulting in assertions that they are just “regular,” “ordinary” and/or “average” people. By examining participants’ representations of fan/celebrity contact, this chapter foregrounds the importance of touch, exploring how this aspect in particular both defines fan/celebrity encounters and effectively separates roller derby from other, more mainstream and/or professional sports and sporting events.