As Anna Wintour has put Kim Kardashian and Kanye West on the cover of the American Vogue, that was – let’s say - pioneering. Kim on a cover of a high fashion magazine? And not only a magazine, but THE high fashion magazine… But Anna’s comment on that was only: “I think if we just remain deeply tasteful and just put deeply tasteful people on the cover, it would be a rather boring magazine!”, (Dailymail, 18.11.2014). Now it seems, she actually started a trend. The outcry was even bigger, when Paper put Kim on their cover. Here though, Kim was showing her best bits – naked. Thus, as LOVE dressed Kim in PRADA and put her on to the cover of their magazine, it wasn’t shocking, but rather tasteful! In fact, not very surprising. Kim was photographed by Steven Klein, and styled by Katie Grand.
Kim Kardashian, a star from a reality TV show, seems to have developed from a trash celebrity to a celebrity of high caliber. And whether we like it or not, she is now present everywhere. But what is this obsession with celebrities? Where does it come from? And what does it mean?
Chris Rojek in his book on Celebrity (2001) suggests that “celebrity = impact on public consciousness”. It seems that while the celebrities are having a huge impact on our culture, it is the culture itself, which has fabricated celebrities, (Rojek, 2001). Rojek sees three interrelated historical processes to be responsible for the phenomenon: “First, the democratisation of society; second the decline in organised religion; third, the commodification of everyday life”, (Rojek, 2001: 13). The consequence is that “identities are in crisis because traditional structures of membership and belonging inscribed in relations of class, party and nation‐state have been called into question”, as Kobena Mercer explains (1994: 4).
For a better understanding of the celebrity culture, Rojek underlines that it is linked to commodity culture, which is dominating in our society. The capitalist idea serves the consumer to permanently produce more desires. This is where the idea of turning a celebrity into a commodity begins. As concerning the notion of never ending desire for objects “the human subject may sooner or later begin to realise that, whatever desires s/he may place upon it s/he is engaging with an object only (…) and it is this gap that celebrity walks in”, (Edwards, 2011: 145). Meaning the humanisation of the act of consumption. The circulation of mass media facilitates this consumption. And like mass media is considered to be a phenomenon of modern society, celebrity culture can be considered a modern phenomenon, (Rojek, 2001: 16).
There different approaches to explain the need of celebrity in our society. The first social structure, namely the culture industry, propounded by the Frankfurt School sees the entertaining notion of the celebrity as a form of social control. It is a tool used by capitalism, which aims to exploit the masses to their highest impact. Understanding the society’s pursuit for pleasure to the disadvantage of the economic success, a profitable way of controlling desires has to be found. Herbert Marcuse calls this type of control “repressive desublimation”, (Marcuse, 1964).
The role of a celebrity within this approach is the one of a cultural servant, whose power arises only through the act of projecting our own needs. The projection only shows idealised ideas of ourselves. The emergence of such ideas comes from alienating ourselves from ourselves, an impact which is reinforced by capitalism, (Morin, 1960).
Through the approach of Michel Foucault (1970), David Marshall (1997) identified the celebrity’s political function. Their power lies in delivering suitable role models and morality lectures, which join people to their hypotaxis on the one hand, or on the other hand, help to escape in moments of difficulties. Marshall describes the movement towards urbanisation as a contributing factor to the high concentration of people, which possibly results in civil disobedience and social disorder. Those anxieties coincide with the emergence of celebrities, hence Marshall’s conclusion that “celebrities are attempts to contain masses”, (Marshall, 1997: 243). Doing so by means of signs, they are ‘the star police’ of modern society.
It might be a freighting idea, to imagine Kim’s butt being some kind of a star police of our society. However, her persona is only an example of how relevant celebrities have become and what exact role they are given. So if you ever asked yourself, why we are so obsessed with celebrities, now you can begin to understand why.
- Dailymail.co.uk, Peppers M. (18.11.2014) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2839747/How-Anna-Wintour-REALLY-feels-Kim-Kanye-Vogue-editor-suggests-tasteless-stars-magazine-s-cover.html
- Marcuse, H. (1964) One Dimensional Man. London: Beacon Press.
- Marshall, D. (1997) Celebrity and Power. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Marshall, D. (2006) The Celebrity Cuture Reader. New York: Routledge.
- Morin, E. (1960) The Stars. New York: Grove Press.
- Rojek, C. (2001) Celebrity. London: Reaktion Books.