On Celebrity

Poster for 'Being John Malkovich'

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, ancient 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 she was right. The average American household now watches eight hours and twenty-one minutes of television a day. 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. (I know more about Tom Cruise’s sexual history than I do about my cousins’.) We confront the mysteries and the terrors of life through them.

Stephen Marche
Consumer Products
Lapham’s Quarterly, Winter 2011

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