Skip to content

Celebrity Culture and the American Dream

by Karen Sternheimer

In his now prescient book, Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity, Richard Schickel first wrote in 1985 that celebrities feel like people we know, even members of our extended family (p. 265).

With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, those in the public eye can communicate directly with the public, furthering the sense of intimacy. We can learn of a celebrity’s major announcement as it image happens if it starts as an online post, and hear about the most mundane aspects of their daily lives if they choose to share them with us.

Thanks to social networking, if we sign up for celebrities’ feeds we no longer require fan magazines or other celebrity news source to get information; we are in many ways closer to celebrities than ever.

There’s something about that sense of intimacy that is rather compelling—we can feel connected to people who have attained high status, or at least the status of being known by strangers. It may even help us feel like insiders in the world of celebrity. This sense of intimacy likely bolsters a celebrity’s career and financial prospects (especially if they use their posts to pitch products).

Of course there’s a downside to this constant access. Schickel writes in the beginning of his book that a false sense of intimacy had motivated a few imbalanced individuals to stalk—and in some cases kill—famous people in the pre-internet era. Today stalkers can use tweets to find out a victim’s whereabouts in real time.

The danger goes both ways, as Rep. Anthony Weiner learned recently after his online dalliances became public. Taking the idea of “intimate strangers” to a new level, social networking allows those in the public eye to get themselves into much more trouble while leaving an electronic record. Yes, there have always been politicians who had affairs, but today’s electronic environment allows for a wider variety of instantaneous interactions.

Without the mediation of publicists and other advisers, celebrities might find that an offensive off-handed tweet can create major image problems. It may be harder to maintain as well-crafted an image as celebrities might have had during the days of the Hollywood studio system.

As I write in chapter 9 of Celebrity Culture and the American Dream, the internet age has created more opportunities to become famous. It has also made it easier than ever to become infamous.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: