January 20, 2014

Where Celebrity Used to Leave Off and Everything Else Would Begin

William Macy tin type Victoria Will

Rednecks might sometimes play golf, but rednecks do not go on golf outings with their entire family. They do not pose with golf clubs and all of their brothers at the country club after a great game.

from: Duck Decoy: How the entertainment industry made the Duck Dynasty family into rednecks (Washington Monthly)

Somedays, I wonder if celebrity and fame has become the plasma driving public culture. Whether we’re talking about hard news or the increasingly pliable space that is entertainment news, it seems media is becoming more celebrity laden and culture more celebrity obsessed. At the same time, it also feels that celebrity news, celebrity images and celebrity PR is becoming more unbound. It feels, in other words, like the role and phenomenon of celebrity is bleeding into other areas, such as hard news, or it is blurring perceptual lines, such as those between reality and fiction or, in the case of this William Macy photo, even present and past.

Here are three very recent instances — two, in fact, published yesterday — where celebrity photos (or photos of celebrities) could be seen to confound these distinctions.

TV Duck Dynasty JPEG 0541c

Concerning Phil Robertson and the redneck family that stars in the reality show, Duck Dynasty, photos released of the family recently by Washington Monthly (Phil, far left above, and his kids, some above, and below) exposed the lives of the Robertsons as a complete fabrication.

Phil Robertson sons

The question is, however, whether their public is going to take this as an act of bad faith, or continue to honor and enjoy the hillbilly characterizations as if pretend (and isn’t this what PR has most blatantly become, at this point?) has its own integrity?

In the case of the photos from Sundance, photographer Victoria Will (an offspring of the famous columnist, George Will) documenting the film/celebrity event, the Sundance Film Festival, garnered major attention from the pop culture mag, Esquire, for capturing film stars as if they were straight out of the 1860’s.

Klitschko Ukraine protest

And then, we have a photo of boxing champion Vitali Klitschko in the middle of Ukranian protests that may well determine the fate of the government. In this case, Klitschko’s fame not only helps popularize and legitimize the people’s movement, keeping it front and center in the news, but invariably brightens Klitschko’s star as visibility (not to mention, drama and character) are the name of the game.

Beyond just a topic, a category or a professional designation now, it’s like celebrity has become its own medium, and allusion.

(photo 1: Victoria Will/Invision/AP via Esquire.com. 21 Sundance 2014 Old-Fashioned Portraits – Sundance 2014 .photo 2: AP Photo/A&E, Zach Dilgard caption: “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson, far right, not aiming for the House.. photo 3: Washington Monthly. photo 4: Efrem Lukatsky/AP caption: Opposition leader and former WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, center, is attacked and sprayed with a fire extinguisher as he tries to stop the clashes between police and protesters in central Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Hundreds of protesters on Sunday clashed with riot police in the center of the Ukrainian capital, after the passage of harsh anti-protest legislation last week seen as part of attempts to quash anti-government demonstrations. A group of radical activists began attacking riot police with sticks, trying to push their way toward the Ukrainian parliament building, which has been cordoned off by rows of police and buses.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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