Stardom and the spirit of the age

A peer-reviewed academic journal is turning the spotlight on celebrity culture. Zoë Corbyn reports

February 25, 2010

As anyone familiar with the tabloid press, Heat magazine or reality television will know, we live in a world that is obsessed with celebrity.

Now the academy is responding with the launch next month of Celebrity Studies, a peer-reviewed journal focusing on the "critical exploration of celebrity, stardom and fame".

Susan Holmes, co-editor of the Routledge journal and reader in television studies at the University of East Anglia, said it was the first journal dedicated solely to the field.

She acknowledged that there were those who thought studying celebrity was either "extraordinarily amusing" or "alarming in mapping out the decline of academic standards".

"But if you think about the hugely pervasive part that celebrity now plays in the everyday lives of many consumers, it makes logical sense," she said.

"It is more central to understanding the everyday than maths, English or science, and it is certainly not something to be taken lightly."

Dr Holmes said celebrity studies was a "natural extension" of media studies, and took a theoretical and critical approach to the subject.

"We do not sit around saying: 'What do you think of Beyonce?' or 'Did you read Heat magazine this week?' We consider, for example, the messages about gender, class, ethnicity and success that celebrity sends out."

The way you make me think

The journal will be produced three times a year, and the first issue will include articles such as "Avatar Obama in the age of liquid celebrity", which will look at political celebrity, plus a piece on the history and current state of the discipline.

A special edition dedicated to Michael Jackson is planned.

Dr Holmes described the late pop star as "a very rich site for the mining of meanings". Scholarly articles on him will explore a range of issues including racial identity, the celebrity body and the "scandal" of ageing, she said.

However, not everyone is convinced of the merits of studying celebrity. Graham McCann, the biographer and cultural commentator, has said that academics take the subject too seriously and that their findings are "at best banal and at worst misleading".

Another new journal, launched by publisher Intellect last month, focuses on humour.

The first edition of Comedy Studies includes papers such as "Take my mother-in-law: 'old bags', comedy and the sociocultural construction of the older woman".

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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