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Star Struck: An Encyclopedia of Celebrity Culture
Pagexiii(14 of 385)
Introduction A celebrity is a famous person who receives heavy media attention, who is popular due to personal qualities that go beyond actual accomplishments, and whose iden- tity is suitable for some degree of merchandising. In today’s America, most, although not all, celebrities come from some part of the vast entertainment industry, which includes sports. Of all that has been written and said about celebrity, the two most oft-repeated remarks came from a historian and an artist. In his insightful 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, historian Daniel Boorstin contended that a celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous—a human pseudo-event. To educated readers, most of whom are not among the famous, this dismissive view of celebrity as something essentially hollow is an appealing notion. On closer exami- nation, however, it does not stand up to reason. To be sure, some celebrities fit Boorstin’s description quite well two recent examples are Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton. But most celebrities have gained their renown by actual, substantial accomplishment. Tiger Woods, for instance, is a major celebrity, and he got that way through hard work that made him the world’s best golfer. Somewhere in between is such an individual as Vanna White. Few Americans would fail to recog- nize her name, even though her considerable renown came by way of looking deco- rative while turning cards on a quiz show—not the loftiest of accomplishments. Yet signs at the city limits of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, proudly proclaim to visi- tors that this ocean-side community is the hometown of Vanna White. Although Boorstin’s ‘‘famous for being famous’’ remark was more glib than insightful, it must be admitted that when people hear someone famous is in their vicinity, they will want to see the celebrity, even if they have no idea why or how that person gained such celebrity. Whenever celebrity is discussed, three terms are bandied about that are used more or less interchangeably: fame, celebrity, and stardom. Of the three, fame has the broadest meaning. Fame comes to any public figure, but celebrity to only some. xiii