Celebrity and fame: a process analysis, ft amy Winehouse and the Queen

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Celebrity and fame: a process analysis, FT Amy Winehouse and the Queen

1. Introduction

Hollywood, Bollywood, awards, A-list: all names associated with the notions of fame and celebrity in the entertainment industry, an industry that builds its success and profits around such notions. In this article I explore these concepts, developing the thesis that fame and celebrity are engineered constructs that are embodied in specific individuals and representations and disembodied in broader cultural, economic and performative categories. Both embodiment and disembodiment operate in counter-point or synergy, as immanence and transcendence. This interaction of the various elements of fame and celebrity are theorised using the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, the British-American philosopher and mathematician. The case example of Amy Winehouse, the late British folk rock singer and composer, is used to illustrate the function of celebrity, fame and knownness, and the economic, cultural and performative categories, together with the Queen, the British Monarch..

2. Elaborating the terms, constructing an ontology

What is the difference between fame, celebrity and what I term ‘knownness’? The term ‘knownness’ means tacit public knowledge about and appreciation of a performer, usually gained through a body of work and accomplishments, and a set of affirming interactions, networks and relationships accumulated over time. Celebrity and ‘known-ness’ overlap and have common features but are not the same. ‘Celebrity’ I take to mean a particularly striking prominence and recognisability in the various media forms, including Twitter and other social media. It is especially palpable and concrete, imbued with an individual’s personas, and linked to public reception and resonance in consumers’ visual mindstreams through facial, name and brand recognition. Celebrity is thus a collocation of embodied phenomena with a disembodied set of mediatised images which become distributed and a commoditized in global media outlets. Thus, at least partially, celebrity is manufactured and constructed in response to public taste and target markets. Its semantics also revolve around the associations of the word itself with particular public figures and it designation to certain types of people. Fame, however, is a state of being famous or having renown forged in a society’s collective consciousness, by which I mean a society’s sense of itself that is shared by individuals and groups within that society. It is a conceptual category that centres on enduring notions of public success or an attribution of particular valuableness that emerges from what a society deems as important. One can speak of a person having fame as a state of being sustained in a particular cultural matrix; but one can also postulate fame as a meta-cultural frame of valuing within a society. Thus, the notion of fame forms the socio-cultural ground in which celebrity is actuated.

It is entirely possible for an individual performer (whether in the media, the Arts, sport or public life) to embody and be manufactured as celebrity, to be known tacitly as performer with accomplishments, and to be attributed with notions of fame as a state of being that evokes a certain consciousness.

3. Considering fame and celebrity as embodied performance

Fame and celebrity

-performance ability

-codification of performance expectations, performing celebrity

-reception as desire: to-be-like, to-be-with

4. Considering fame and celebrity as disembodiment

-set of

5. Fame as an economic category (the media and fame)

6. Fame as a cultural category

-interesting how fame and celebrity are most associated with film and TV, not theatre, and is linked with the 20th century emergence of media in consciousness and cultural expression

-perpetuation of the grand narrative of success. Success stories.

7. The notion of visibility

The term ‘visibility’ can be conceived as one indicator of the the degree of celebrity. This term is taken to mean both the overt representations in media forms and the reception of such representations by consumers, leading to how heightened the celebrity is in a consumer's consciousness or a distinct conjuration associated with a celebrity. It is this coming-together or gestalt of representation and reception that creates visibility. The term implies five dimensions which are understood as operating synergistically:

  1. Frequency. How often the representations and products of a performer are seen in mainstream media. This suggests demand and so a strong positive reception for the person.

  2. Scatter. The scatter or spread of representations and products across media outlets, including online media forms

  3. Earnings generation. The direct and indirect earnings potential of the person and how cashable representations and products are in the media

  4. Persistence. The enduring nature of representations or their persistence in consciousness. This can be related to the notoriety of the person behind these representations.

  5. Recognisability.

what makes someone famous (is it the sheer ‘visibility’ of someone) or is it the coming together of an assortment of factors that coalesce into a profile of fame

In terms of these five dimensions High, medium and low visibility

8. Whitehead’s process philosophy

In consideration of the factors and processes involved in the construction of celebrity and fame, there is indubitably a complex inter-play of essential and contingent elements, some of which have already been noted above. These elements come together to form a unique, non-repeatable whole that begins in potentiality and concludes in actuality. Theorising about this ‘coming together’ requires a comprehensive philosophical platform. I find such a compelling and useful platform in the work of mathematician, astronomer and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (Lowe, 1985). Whitehead formulated a process philosophy or process ontology about how phenomena in the universe are formed and the patterns of their ‘coming together’ (see Hosinski, 1993). It is my contention that this cosmic or universal scale of conceptualisation about formation has direct application to other phenomena, including those at the level of the social and cultural, as seen in the notions of fame and celebrity. In other words, the formation of complex clusters as described by Whitehead is useful, analogously, to complex social phenomena, including celebrity.

While his primary vision was the physical sciences (Epperson, 2004), I am applying his ideas, phenomenologically and culturally, to the especially human and creative context of celebrity and fame. Whitehead’s terminology, such as “creativity”, “novelty” and the principle of “concrescence”, is particularly useful, I argue, in theorizing processes involved in manufacturing celebrity. Whitehead conceived the universe in terms of events rather than particles. This suggests a happening, a space and a time as integral features of his analytics, features that, in my view, have this wider socio-cultural application. His is a descriptive generalisation about the nature of the universe that contains within it useful ontological categories, though he does not appear to speak explicitly to human existence and experience.

However, scholars such Van der Veken (2000) point especially to Whitehead’s notion of ‘prehension’ as revealing the existential potential of his ideas. Van der Veken takes prehension to mean the givenness of a something, together with an ability as humans to be consciously aware of and grasp events in the physical world causally. It is this link between the intentional relation of an object to a person and its causal antecedents that is quite unique in Whitehead. While Whitehead’s primary concern is with an ontological understanding of the physical universe through a set of definitive categories, he does provide a distinctive epistemological conjunction between humankind and nature. The idea of prehension provides a means of understanding the causality that constructs nature while at the same time accounting for human experience and intentionality, but without implying a deterministic world.

One of Whitehead’s most important categories is “novelty”. According to Whitehead, in Process and Reality (1978, PR hereafter), the “production of novelty”, and creativity as the “principle of novelty”, is a category for understanding the function of entities (objects or states of being that exist or potentially exist). Through novelty the many become differentiated by the “one actual occasion” and creativity introduces novelty into the unity of the many (PR, 21). By “novelty”, Whitehead is referring to the intrinsic property of elements to form in unique patterns and be constituted in creative formations. This is part of his category of the ultimate, where Whitehead is expounding on universal principles about entities. Together with this “principle of novelty”, which implies the “one actual occasion” and distinguishes the one from the disjunctive many, Whitehead also suggests the term “togetherness” (PR, 21) to describe the conjunctive occasion in which many entities come together or experience togetherness in what Whitehead suggests is a complex unity. So, the many are unified as a whole but also differentiated by the principle of novelty or creativity. Moreover, the unity of entities has a novel togetherness in being uniquely together, a concept that Whitehead calls “concrescence” (PR, 21).

What a celebrity embodies become the “one actual occasion” (PR, 21) based on novelty and difference from the ‘many’. This concept suggests that each express of celebrity is unique, but at the same time there is a complex unity of broader social factors, representations and discourses about fame that binds the many entities together and is itself unique and novel. In effect, the unique and the individual of celebrity are also juxtaposed and in opposition to the composite and the whole, and both make up the idiosyncratic nature of celebrity. ***Any examination of the phenomenon of an actor’s performance experience should also be described with recognition of the contingency of the whole. One of the implications of Whitehead’s work for understanding performance is that the “one actual occasion” of an individual actor and that which is contingent to it and part of the ‘many’ (the other human and non-human entities in the performance space) are seen as both dependent and in a differentiable relationship. The phenomenon of-itself and the influences that shape it can thus be identified and described.

Whitehead establishes in his “twenty-seven categories of explanation” (PR, 22—30) another concept that also seems to have significant application to performance. He states that “the actual world is a process…the process is the becoming of actual entities” (PR, 22). In their potential for unity in an actual concrescence (in the many) there is a ‘becoming’, whether or not a particular entity is actual or not actual. However, to be ‘actual’ means that an entity “has significance for itself” (PR, 25). It is self-functioning and has its own identity, which in turn allows it to experience the immediacy of its own subjectivity. This process of moving to actual identity constitutes the category of ‘becoming’. The condition that surrounds or causes this process of becoming for an entity of itself and in concrescence (as part of the many) is what Whitehead calls an “ontological principle” (PR, 24). Furthermore, one actual entity can cause another actual entity to form and each can be objectified in terms of the other, not as subject-object but as subject-subject.

When an actor creates a character and takes on a role in performance, there is a becoming (a bringing into perceptual existence) of a creative entity that has the potential for transformation, change and serendipity. In theatre, the event of a performance causes a becoming of this creative entity: a perceptual object, which we might call ‘a performance’ or ‘a character’, finds its self-identity in the performance itself because the performance is the ground of this ‘becoming’. Rehearsal could be conceived as a preparation of this ground such that ‘becoming’ is given its substance. Before an actor enters the space of the performance the role of the actor is not yet ‘actual’. It only becomes such in performance, and ceases to be actual when the performance finishes. More broadly, the actual world (the world of the stage) is a system of entities that are ‘becoming’, and while each entity of performance finds its own subjectivity and its own ‘becoming of itself’, there is also a ‘becoming’ of the ‘many’ (the concrescence). The ‘becoming’ of each role and the ‘becoming’ of a performance itself are distinctly co-dependent, yet differentiable. The process notions of actuality and potentiality that constitute what Whitehead conceives as ‘becoming’ are thus more than useful as categories to describe the actions of an actor juxtaposed with the constitution of an ensemble in a performance space.

In practical terms, an ensemble (through co-presence) in performance creates a unique existence and state of being in performance because actors (and by extension the non-human components) combine in a process subject to novelty and unexpected combinations. The unique existence of an ensemble is contingent on the inimitable existence of each actor as they create the entity of a role on stage. In effect, the process of ‘becoming’ for an acting performance leads to an idiosyncratic state of being in the actual performance both on the level of the whole and in the case of each component (each subjective part) of the whole. One cannot see the subjectivity of the individual without also seeing the being of the whole. In performance we do not have a set of objects in a performance space but a set of subjectivities that react and interact to create the new and the novel. This creation of the new and the novel is inextricably a process of ‘becoming’.

From the previous discussion, the following possibilities of Whitehead’s analytics for theatrical performance emerge:

  1. It is the novel and unique performance and experiences of each actor as a single entity that are essential for the formation of a novel and idiosyncratic composite entity that is a performance of a dramatic work.

  2. The singular entities of an actor’s experiences while performing, and the work of an ensemble in performance, are differentiable from but also in unique juxtaposition to the composite entity of a whole performance event. Nothing exists for itself and of itself, but it has uniqueness only as it is positioned in relation to the other.

  3. There is a process of becoming in performance that implies the coming into being of a unique set of entities in subjective relationship that creates a distinctive experience and formation. Each entity (a role, for example) has a distinct subjectivity, but there is a collective subjectivity especially contingent on the individual, which is prehended in a physical space through an ensemble.

  4. In considering an ontology of conditions that create performance, we must account for the role of experience and what emanates from experience. The notion of prehension suggests that experience is the core of the novel and the creative that are the constitutive ground for making performance. Put simplistically performance does not exist without experience and awareness of experience.

Whitehead’s usefulness to my phenomenological analyses is especially seen in his notion of juxtaposition. Through an understanding of a performance as a novel event I have come to appreciate each performance as being constituted creatively with many inter-dependent aspects, including the formative role of human experience and the co-subjectivity of the ensemble. While I acknowledge the differences of Whitehead’s approach with phenomenology, existential claims must also be claims that encompass a human relationship with nature. Indeed, much of the nomenclature of Whitehead’s naturalism implies a link between inner human expressiveness (creativity, novelty and the like), awareness and action (in prehension) and the external world. The contiguity of humans with the world is to me a compelling position. Finally, Whitehead’s focus on processes as events implies a close affinity of performance and the Arts with its natural expression in event.

9. Whitehouse. A process analysis

Winehouse as a novel and idipsyncratic pheomenon containing a collocation of

-her distinctive style and voice

-connected soulful music

-the archetypal story of the working class girl made good—the rags to riches

-celebrity as a caustic phenomenon that shaped her subjectivity

-notoriety and

10. The Queen. A process analysis

fame built on the

11. Conclusion


Celebrity and power: fame in contemporary culture P. David Marshall

Claims to fame: celebrity in contemporary America Joshua Gamson

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