Nothing shallow about Obama the liquid avatar

June 3, 2010

Bill Clinton may have had his moments with Monica Lewinsky, but Barack Obama is the "epitome of runniness" in an "era of disembedding without re-embedding", according to the inaugural issue of Routledge's Celebrity Studies journal.

The journal's unveiling earlier this year provoked claims in the media that it was another example of the dumbing-down of the academy, particularly after co-editor Susan Holmes told Times Higher Education that celebrity studies was "more central to understanding the everyday than maths, English or science".

The first article in the inaugural edition, which was launched last week, addresses this controversy. Co-written by Dr Holmes, who is reader in television studies at the University of East Anglia, and Sean Redmond, director of the film programme at the University of Wellington, New Zealand, it predicts that Celebrity Studies' readers "will have little difficulty in accepting that this is not shallow but deep, not lacking and empty but ethically and politically purposeful".

Celebrity "is key to the way the social world organises and commodifies its representations, discourses and ideologies, sensations, impressions and fantasies", it adds.

The magazine's forums editor, James Bennett, head of media, information and communications in the department of applied social sciences at London Metropolitan University, said at the launch event that it was the only academic forum for the analysis of concepts such as talent and fame.

"If the journal has a project, it is to engage with the question of the modern values portrayed by celebrities," he added.

Many of those, it seems, are embodied by Mr Obama.

Dr Redmond's paper, "Avatar Obama in the age of liquid celebrity", argues that the "post-human" US president's "auratic iconicity and message of hope and renewal is ultimately liquid or transient". This, he says, defines "the condition of late modernity".

The first issue of the journal, which is free to download, also includes an article that considers Chinese-American actor Jackie Chan as a "test case" to "explore ageing, race and masculinity in transnational action". The publication has already attracted several thousand downloads.

Future, subscription-only editions will cover the death of Michael Jackson, female celebrity ageing, and the Olympics and celebrity.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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