The Evolution of Celebrity Culture
How has 21st-century American celebrity culture built upon and departed from earlier forms, and with what significance? This highlights what is arguably the most prominent development in American celebrity culture over the past two decades: the decisive turn towards the ordinary. As opposed to earlier periods, when American celebrities were a class of people perceived as extraordinary and treated to extraordinary lives—a “powerless elite,” as Francesco Alberoni (1972) once called them—celebrity culture is increasingly populated by unexceptional people who have become famous, and by celebrities who have been made ordinary. What are the roots and contours of this cultural transformation? What are we to make of the triumph of the ordinary celebrity, of what Graeme Turner has called the “demotic turn” in celebrity culture?
Joshua Gamson is Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco, where he moved in 2002 after nine years on the Yale University faculty. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America (California, 1994); Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity (Chicago, 1998), winner of the Kovacs Book Award from the Speech Communication Association and the American Sociological Association Culture Section Book Award; and The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, The Music, The Seventies in San Francisco (Henry Holt/Picador, 2005), winner of the Stonewall Book Award and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. He has also written for magazines such as The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The New Yorker, and The American Prospect. In 2009, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. His most recent book is Extraordinary Kin: Inside the New World of Unconventional Family Creation (New York University, 2015).