The Star as Icon

The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption

Daniel Herwitz
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 176
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/herw14540
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  • Book Info
    The Star as Icon
    Book Description:

    Princess Diana, Jackie O, Grace Kelly-the star icon is the most talked about yet least understood persona. The object of adoration, fantasy, and cult obsession, the star icon is a celebrity, yet she is also something more: a dazzling figure at the center of a media pantomime that is at once voyeuristic and zealously guarded. With skill and humor, Daniel Herwitz pokes at the gears of the celebrity-making machine, recruiting a philosopher's interest in the media, an eye for society, and a love of popular culture to divine our yearning for these iconic figures and the role they play in our lives.

    Herwitz portrays the star icon as caught between transcendence and trauma. An effervescent being living on a distant, exalted planet, the star icon is also a melodramatic heroine desperate to escape her life and the ever-watchful eye of the media. The public buoys her up and then eagerly watches her fall, her collapse providing a satisfying conclusion to a story sensationally told-while leaving the public yearning for a rebirth.

    Herwitz locates this double life in the opposing tensions of film, television, religion, and consumer culture, offering fresh perspectives on these subjects while ingeniously mapping society's creation (and destruction) of these special aesthetic stars. Herwitz has a soft spot for popular culture yet remains deeply skeptical of public illusion. He worries that the media distances us from even minimal insight into those who are transfigured into star icons. It also blinds us to the shaping of our political present.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51858-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. one The Candle in the Wind
    (pp. 1-22)

    The funeral interests me most. For it was the culmination of a life known by her admiring public wholly through the media.

    Over a million people lined the route to pay homage as her cortege slowly wound its way from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey, where the church service began at eleven in the morning. Standing in silence, those crowding the edges of the road bowed their heads when the coffin, draped in a yellow and red standard and topped with white lilies, rolled past. Cameras craned above heads to snap photos of remembrance, tears were shed, prayers whispered. Above...

  5. two There Is Only One Star Icon (Except in a Warhol Picture)
    (pp. 23-40)

    As absorbing as the Diana story is, this is not a “Diana” book. I was no part of the “Diana cult,” nor do I have any stake in praising or blaming her. I am not a British “subject,” nor am I a card-carrying member of any star society. To me the only true royals are the Marx Brothers—especially in A Night at the Opera, since I am a fan of opera, both comica and seria. That this silly, overbred, haunted girl became an icon before the masses is as unlikely as the Wagner opera Parsifal, which is so seria...

  6. three Therefore Not All Idols Are American
    (pp. 41-48)

    The icon is as close to an idol as one can get. Diana was an icon. Therefore not all idols are American. Diana was loved in a specifically British way: for being the royal who broke the mold and became the “People’s Princess.” She was a being who brought the aura of royalty to the people and did it by baring her pain—and joy—to the public and by breaking out of the cast-iron role of Buckingham royal. She did it by seeming (and being) human, rather than scripted, by identifying with humanity in a way out of sync...

  7. four A Star Is Born
    (pp. 49-58)

    Aesthetics, especially philosophical aesthetics, has tended to approach its topic singularly, zeroing in on this or that art as if it existed in isolation from others. And yet the modern system of the arts forms just that: a system. Increasingly today the forms of aesthetic appreciation cut across individual media, and are the product of many in particular consort. The world no longer comes pure in the way the abstract expressionists or “absolute musicians” wanted it, but as a series of hybrids. Nowhere is this more true than for the cult icon, and it is time to turn to the...

  8. five The Film Aura: AN INTERMEDIATE CASE
    (pp. 59-78)

    What is this star aura that movies seem to radiate? There are celebrated theories that deny film has an aura at all. The issue is critical for understanding the aesthetics of the star icon, since, whatever else is true of her, she casts—or is at any rate perceived to cast—a glow. The star icon exists in a halo, which seems to derive from her media presence. The question for aesthetics is how best to characterize it.

    What is an aura? An aura is an atmosphere or mood, a halo surrounding something—a ruin, a pile of rocks, a...

  9. six Stargazing and Spying
    (pp. 79-96)

    Although some of the greatest film directors have avoided stars (Tarkovsky, Bresson, Malick), film usually converges around the star, and I mean Casablanca fashion, Bogart and Bergman fashion, Claude Rains and Sydney Greenstreet fashion. The star is an object of glamour that the studios invested millions in building up: about this Benjamin is right. But the star’s magic does not reside entirely in external marketing. Star aura originates elsewhere, in the conditions of film perception that transpose her presence into that of a being suspended in a distant galaxy, magnified through the film frame, dangerously present, hauntingly absent, burning brightly...

  10. seven Teleaesthetics
    (pp. 97-124)

    I shall begin with the tabloid aspects of TV in full swing, with the talk show armed and dangerous, in other words with The Birdcage (1996, film directed by Mike Nichols,). “Today’s contestants will be Yasir Arafat and Kate Moss.” That is from the pen of Elaine May, screenwriter-comic of this masterpiece, a masterpiece concerned with two rightist turns in TV and tabloid: media-generated images of America written in the form of gelatinous one-liners, pseudo-nostalgic platitudes spoken by the senator from the new right, and genuine aggression (also endemic to the republican right, which is in perfect collusion with tabloid...

  11. eight Diana Haunted and Hunted on TV
    (pp. 125-132)

    Among star icons, Diana’s mug was pasted in the TV news on a weekly if not daily basis in a way no other mugs were. The public saw its snippets of her cradling AIDS orphans, lounging in bikinis behind stone walls, shielding her face, every nerve ending strained in fury against the onslaught of the glitterati. The more she was hounded, the more obvious her contempt, the more the voracious British public wanted more. Their sympathy ever profound, they also felt themselves entitled to ongoing royal action: this was a prerogative of their sense of public ownership of the monarchy,...

  12. nine Star Aura in Consumer Society (and Other Fatalities)
    (pp. 133-144)

    And so the rarity of a figure who lives a double life between film star royal and TV tabloid protagonist, a figure whose daily appearances on TV and whose single extended TV confessional interview exalt her aura and serialize her desperate story. She remains ever the star, while also the haggard talk show intimate in news broadcast, and it is as if once, and only once, around her life and persona, film and television alchemize. Aspects within TV, and between TV and film, that are usually antagonistic, synergize royally around her royal person to create her double persona. This is...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 145-150)
  14. Index
    (pp. 151-158)