It may seem peculiar, annoying, disconcerting and disturbing when pop culture artifacts, including garbage and facial hair, material with no intrinsic value, sells for substantial sums of money. Why? Do they belong to the spirits that guide us through the stages of modern life? Is it something deep-rooted and pagan or simply commodity fetish for disposable plastic deities?
The use of the term “celebrity” in its current English definition as that of of “a famous person” dates only from the mid nineteenth-century,not long after the invention of the Daguerrotype process and other photographic advances. Pop culture then became entrenched as an art of the pose, the inevitable response image reproduction, the printing press and mass distribution. However, The prehistory of celebrity is identical with the genealogy of mass-produced faces.In effect, the present dominance of celebrity culture is the long triumphal march of image over substance.
The personality of a celebrity is inherently a contradiction. There cannot be genuine intimacy exactly because he or she offers mass intimacy. The basis of our intimacy with celebrity is exactly their retreating when we try to see them. Their very resistance is why we can’t stop looking. “Who are these people really?” is the question that we can’t answer, but once into this vortex, we can’t stop asking; as a part of vicarious existence these archetypes, which likely are recessed memories from an ancient past are transformed like manufactured junk food into pallid imitations just enough to satisfy the vicarious desires of any and every Walter Mitty.
The recurrence of certain themes in movies suggests that each generation wants romance restated in slightly new terms, and of course it’s one of the pleasures of movies as a popular art that they can answer this need. And yet, and yet — one doesn’t expect an educated generation to be so soft on itself, much softer than the factory workers of the past who didn’t go back over and over to the same movies, mooning away in fixation on themselves and thinking this fixation meant movies had suddenly become an art, and their art. ( Pauline Kael )
The link between what people see and what people know is never settled . Any effort to institute a social premise regarding visuality seems to be hindered by paradox. Within the Western society,we have been conditioned through sight as providing the immediate access to the external world. But beyond this, and perhaps because of this belief, visual ability has become conflated with cognition, and in a series of very complex ways. On the one hand, vision is lionized among the senses and treated as wholly autonomous, free and even pure. Yet on the other hand, visual symbols are experienced as mundane and necessarily embedded, and their interpretation is regarded as utterly contingent.
Looking, seeing and knowing have become perilously intertwined.Almost everyone is a “visual” , which may be a way of asserting they are “manual” or of peasant mentality in the digital age. Listening is irrelevant. Hearing silence is abstract, watching is concrete in a strange rationale based on the seductiveness of the image in motion. Thus the manner in which different individual have come to understand the concept of an “idea” is deeply bound up with the issues of “appearance”, of picture, and of image. The content and form of things is to be approached in terms of how they”look”.Almost anything is acceptable as long as the aesthetic is considered pleasing. Modern power has the deft touch of a ‘look’ in interaction. It no longer requires the hard-edge and the explicit realization of the ancient regime, through a ‘look’ it can absorb all and do so without being noticed, or say all without ever revealing its true intentions. Modern power is pervasive, though not omnipotent, because it cautiously acts on and in relation to the skeptic regime; but it is not in its sway. The “gaze” and the conscious manipulation of images are the dual instruments in the exercise and function of modern systems of power and social control.
Celebrities are not appendages of our society anymore; they are the basis of our communal lives. Literature and architecture, art and politics, are at most sidelights—small, obscure alleyways down which fewer and fewer minds wander. Pop culture has long since left the word culture behind to become the primary way we understand the world. Just before she died, the film critic Pauline Kael told a friend,”When we championed trash culture, we had no idea it would become the only culture,” and for the most part, her argument is plausible.
The average American household now watches eight hours of television a day. Why? Television’s true role, its great accomplishment, is showing us, in endlessly surprising and richly detailed ways, who we are. The more television develops, the more accurately it reveals the essential us, at our
and worst. Its true subject is the human comedy. To deplore television is to deplore the way we live now.If we want to understand ourselves, if we want to understand the civilization to which we belong, we have to understand celebrities, because the modern world of freedom and loneliness has produced them as the primary communal experience. We confront the mysteries and the terrors of life through them.
“… the medium continued to broaden our understanding of human nature. Consider the people on television reality shows who attempted to get sober, get thin or buy a wedding dress. Or the young people who tried, in their hysterical and often drunken way, to celebrate their limited lives on the Jersey Shore. Or those who set out to save obsessive packrats in their families from living in houses stuffed with hopelessly unmanageable junk. To know them, even if only for a few minutes on a screen, was to discover something otherwise unavailable about the bizarre (and not always likeable) incongruities that are crucial elements in the human personality. These programs managed to shape grotesque data into stories that mattered, week after week.
They placed before us such naked human frailty that it was impossible not to be touched, particularly if we realized that we were watching magnified versions of our own failings. Television of today grows steadily more capacious and welcoming, its account of personality richer. ( Robert Fulford)
The owners of Esther’s Haircutting Studio, the salon in Tarzana, California, where Britney Spears shaved herself bald in 2007, knew immediately that the relics of her breakdown were sacred. The sweepings from their floor, along with a blue lighter and the half can of Red Bull the star had left behind, went on auction a few days later with a reserve of one million dollars. The bidding may have started too low. Photographs of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s twins—images with a shelf life of less than a week—sold to a transatlantic consortium of People and Hello magazines for fourteen million the next year.
It has been forcefully argued that modernity’s project was most effectively achieved through the privileging of “sight” and that modern culture has, in turn, elected the visual to the dual status of being both the primary medium for communication and also the sole ingress to our accumulated symbolic treasury. The modern period is considered as a “seen” phenomenon. Sociology however, itself in many senses the emergent discourse of modernity, has been rather neglectful of addressing cultural ocular conventions and has subsequently become somewhat inarticulate in relation to the visual dimension of social relations.
Due to the previous of works of different individuals in the past, people in the modern world are being more knowledgeable and comprehensive in viewing different perspectives including the contemporary visual culture. One of the most recognized individual who had become famous because of his significant literary pieces is Walter Benjamin. In his classic literary piece, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, 1936, which argued for the epochal significance of the mechanical means of modern visual reproduction- from lithography to film-, Benjamin highlighted the material role of mass mediation as a modern invention and drew attention to the ideological performance of images in the politics of modern culture. Benjamin’s premise was that the development of the mechanical reproduction of images undermined the “aura” of the cult image, that is, its uniqueness and authenticity.
Fascinated as a Marxist by the decay of proprietarily status that the democratizing power of mechanical reproduction entailed, Benjamin theorized that the uniqueness or essence of the original cult age was eliminated as the object was replicated and appropriated to contexts for which it was not originally intended. Deprived of its sensuous presence and its authorization in the religious rite, the authenticity of the work of art was compromised. Benjamin believed that mechanical reproduction would liquidate heroes; myths, gods, and cult figures, since reproducing them in film eliminated the “traditional value of the cultural heritage” by adapting the image of the original to the period and place of subsequent viewers. In a sense he was correct, and simultaneously totally off.
“In movies, the balance between art and business has always been precarious, with business outweighing art, but the business was, at least, in the hands of businessmen who loved movies. As popular entertainment, movies need something of what the vulgarian moguls had — zest, a belief in their own instincts, a sentimental dedication to producing pictures that would make their country proud of their contribution, a respect for quality, and the biggest thing: a willingness to take chances. The cool managerial sharks don’t have that; neither do the academics. But the vulgarians also did more than their share of damage, and they’re gone forever anyway. They were part of a different America. They were, more often than not, men who paid only lip service to high ideals, while gouging everyone for profits. The big change in the country is reflected in the fact that people in the movie business no longer feel it necessary to talk about principles at all.”
In the twentieth century, aristocracy by image emerged from aristocracy by talent. The invention of film took the magic of brand-name people and gave it world dominance. Film is celebrity, a something-nothing, a cloudy and vague gloss over reality. The earliest audiences were entranced not by the plots of her films but by Greta Garbo’s face, maybe the purest form of ecstasy the modern world has produced. The experience is both plural and singular, the transmission of an image that spreads everywhere but seems directed at each individual viewer. The illusion of mass intimacy changes celebrities into works of art felt so deeply that they are no longer art—Greta Garbo becomes more interesting than any movie in which her face appears.
When I started writing for magazines in the ’50s, I was dissatisfied with the studied, academic tone of my first pieces. I hated fancy writing, and I tried to write as simply as possible. I was conscious of the fact that I was writing about a popular art form. I don’t think I would have written in the same way if I had been writing about classical music. How can you deal with movies truthfully, in terms of your responses, if you don’t use contractions, if you don’t use “you” instead of “one”? I mean, I’m not a goddamned Englishman. I don’t say, “One likes this movie very much.” (Laughs) I was trying for the freedom of an American talking about the movies, but it took me awhile. What broke me loose from academic writing was that I wrote a lot of advertising copy anonymously — and unsigned notes for theaters I managed. Writing in an unsigned form frees you of the inhibitions of academic writing. I was just trying to reach the public as directly as possible. And I found I was doing it more naturally. It’s mainly a kind of courage you need to in order to write the way you think instead of writing the way you’ve been taught. ( Pauline Kael )
“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, which is written by Walter Benjamin in 1936, is a seminal essay. It puts popular culture on the map by singling out what makes it structurally and socially distinct from other kinds of high art. By focusing on the technology’s transformation of the methods of production and reception of art, Benjamin creates a set of standards by which to judge popular culture on its own terms. Before it, writers on aesthetics considered mass culture a deficient version of classical art. After it, even those who disagreed with its proposals had to take popular culture seriously at least on the level of intellectual argument. In his essay, Benjamin brings to light many of popular culture’s implications for political life, implications evident in, for example political campaigns, lobbying and marketing.
It was Benjamin thesis in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” that just as the infrastructure of capitalist society is constantly transformed by technological development, so is the superstructure, the difference being that the pace of change is slower in the super- structure
The recent technology of mechanical reproduction has inaugurated a new epoch in sense perception analogous to that brought on by the printing press. Benjamin’s models were radio and newspaper, film and photography, because they were the most advanced instances of the trends he was describing. Since the processes he distinguishes, however, persist into the present, our examples will not be limited to what was available to Benjamin.
Benjamin’s brief survey of past techniques of mechanical reproduction (coinage, woodcutting, lithography) should not detain us as much as his central trope: the aura. The aura of a work of art is its presence in space and time, its distinctive existence at the place where it happens to be. Authenticity is one meaning of aura. Mechanical reproduction’s indiscriminate replication of the art object, its dispersion of it into “a plurality of copies,” dispensed with authenticity as a measure of value or even a meaningful concept in art. It did this by destroying the work’s temporal and spatial individuality, by causing it to lose its context and ‘place on line’ in the continuum of tradition . No longer moored to a specific physical location, the work of art could be activated through its image in places having nothing to do with its origins, usual environs or customary social uses and receptions.
The rise of mass culture thus coincided with the propagation of countless simulacra of precious works of art as well as their free-for-all dissemination to the public. Benjamin calls mechanical reproduction’s influence on classical culture “a far-reaching liquidation.” This liquidation or “catharsis” came about as a result of culture coming to be composed of free floating images that could be concatenated without regard for received meanings or past affinities. The technique of radical juxta-positioning, as practiced both by the early twentieth-century Surrealism and modern-day advertising, is ultimately the exploitation of a license inherent in culture’s material construction.
To differentiate the new art from the irreplicable art of the Classical era, Benjamin invents the concept of the aura . Aura that mysterious sense of presence that an image often possesses when it is wrapped in the mantle of rite, reputation, or cultural prestige, vanished with the rise of mechanically reproduced images, according to Walter Benjamin . The cult status of Benjamin’s essay has only encouraged the ease with which his thesis has been accepted by people interested of art, film, and modern visual culture. The significant investigation of the past or history of photography has been regarded by literary scholars who discovered in Benjamin one of the useful connections between photography and text required to position their work within the rapidly expanding field of cultural studies. Walter Benjamin writes that the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction loses its aura of originality, of genius, through its sheer re- producibility. But he finds that early photographs transferred “cult value” from works of art -which are only valuable as “originals”- to human faces: “The cult of commemoration of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture”.