Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A piece about celebrity ...

In Richard Dyer’s book, _Stars_ (London: British Film Institute, 1988), he presents the notion of the celebrity and notes that film actors performa as characters; Dyer suggests that one can distinguish between a star’s “total image” and a character he or she plays on the screen. (88) In an earlier discussion, Dyer notes the manufactured nature of the star-image itself. He explains:

"Stars are, like characters in stories, representations of people. Thus they relate to ideas about what people are (or are supposed to be) like. However, unlike characters in stories, stars are also real people. . . . Because stars have an existence in the world independent of their screen/'fiction' appearances, it is possible to believe . . . that as people they are more real than characters in stories. This means that they serve to disguise the fact that they are just as much produced images, constructed personalities as 'characters' are." (20)

While agreeing that “characters are not real people, that they are an effect of the text constructions,” it should be noted that star figures are nonetheless constructed as well. (89) Dyer discusses the notion of the film star, where he or she performs a particular character in the context of a fiction. Dyer’s model of the celebrity may be useful when discussing popular musicstars, although the latter case may prove to be more complex.

It is true that celebrities exist in popular music as they do in cinema, and that a celebrity is constructed by various factors including the music one performs, also not unlike a cinema star. There are notable cases in which musicians perform in specific character: Bowie became Ziggy Stardust in 1973; Marilyn Manson seems to follow in Ziggy’s footsteps; the band Kiss take on individual personas and characteristics apart from their “actual” identities. What is interesting in the case of popular music are those musicians who choose to perform a “fiction” without stepping out of his or her star-image. In other words, a performer does not always enter a character: James Taylor is James Taylor in concert, no matter what song he is singing. Note that the audience is only privilege to a particular image of James Taylor—not the actual person—but neither does he enter into a particular character in the same way that a film actor does.

Dyer’s analysis of Jane Fonda illuminates the manufactured quality of celebrity which, in the case of Fonda, may be based partly on fact. Dyer suggests that her star image revolves around her connection to her father, sex and political radicalism. From her father Henry, Jane carries connotations of left-wing liberalism and a strong sense of Americanness. This national sensibility is reinforced by her physical likeness to her father, her upbringing on a farm, her attendance at a top women’s college and her film portrayals of college icons such as student, cheerleader and majorette. Her film characters inform her star-image, and her star-image informs her characters.

This kind of slippage between star-image and character occurs in a particularly pronounced manner in the case of Frank Sinatra. Keir Keightley, in his doctoral dissertation on Sinatra [“Frank Sinatra, Hi-Fi, and Formations of Adult Culture: Gender, Technology, and Celebrity, 1948-62” (Doctoral Dissertation, Concordia University, 1996)], discusses the singer’s role as Barry Sloan in the 1955 film, Young at Heart. Keightley states,

"Note the slippage between Sinatra and the character he plays in the film: … it is noteworthy that 'Frankie' (as much as the character he is playing) is here seen as “tormented,” experiencing “misery,” and “wearing a chip on his shoulder,” ideas which were commonly associated with Sinatra’s star-image at this time." (204)

Sinatra is an interesting case since he is both a musician and a film actor, conflating the notions of star-image and character.

A fragement I wrote quite a while ago...

Mike Featherstone, in his book _Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity_ (London : Sage, 1990) [I think], begins by asking if a global culture actually exists. There certainly doesn’t exist an integrated global culture (like a nation-state of cultural homogenaety and integration). Featherstone discusses the changes in the world economy in the 1970s and 1980s which have been represented by the de-monopolization of economic structures as well as the deregulation and globalization of markets. This globalization resulted in the formation of a new line of professionals, such as international lawyers and accountants. This, in turn, led to a process of interconnectedness between national legal systems. Featherstone suggests that this destruction of barriers favoured the strongest performers: North America. These professionals work outside of the traditional nation-state framework of commerce and experience difficulties of intercultural communications first hand. They demand the creation of a new form of habitus.

He discusses the global flow of tourism, in which the experience is sanitized and controlled. Neither of the above examples (professionals and tourists) are particularly cosmopolitan. Featherstone adds, “we can posit varieties of cosmopolitanism, such as in diplomacy, in which other culture is largely mastered and there is the capacity to communicate the fruits of this competence to others via third languages, such as diplomatic languages.” (9) He is discussing a kind of capital regarding the assumption of culture. The stranger is a figure which cannot be integrated into the local/cosmopolitan model: the stranger is indeterminate. He concludes:

"The varieties of response to the globalization process clearly suggests that there is little prospect of a unified global culture, rather there are global cultures in the plural. Yet, as several contributors have pointed out, the intensity and rapidity of today’s global cultural flows have contributed to the sense that the world is a singular place which entails the proliferation of new cultural forms for encounters." (10-11)

Featherstone suggests the notion of the local versus the cosmopolitan, and that the global context demands a new global habitus. He throws the stranger into the mix as one who doesn’t fit into the binary model. Where would one place Morrissey? Is he a cosmopolitan or a local, or is this binary problematized when there is only a small cultural change, as in diasporic movement within Western society? Or is he a stranger? He doesn’t seem to fit any of the three figures completely, whether it be local, cosmopolitan or stranger. He forces his audience towards a “slight” cosmopolitanism, a kind of Morrissey “third language,” to use Featherstone’s terminology for diplomacy, and perhaps a greater habitus for those audiences who are latino, or culturally further from the North American experience of England.