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New Left Review I/26, July-August 1964

Herminio Martins

The Celebrity Syndrome

The existence in modem industrial society of a category of persons who are the object of intense curiosity and admiration centring round not only their exceptional performance of expressive roles in the entertainment world such as film stars—and also others in sport or ‘show business’—but also their ‘private’ lives, which become articles of public consumption, is not satisfactorily accounted for by any of the current theories. Many of these theories draw attention to the latent (unrecognized and unpremeditated) function of the ‘star system’ and its equivalents in non-cinematic fields in hindering the growth of realistic perceptions of the structures of power in our societies and creating a fantasy world which displaces social tensions without solving the problems that give rise to these tensions. But this approach fails to account for the ambivalence and negative or critical components in public attitudes towards the ‘celebrities’, for the fact that fans in ordinary life-situations do not seem to behave in an unrealistic manner as far as, for instance, the logic of industrial conflict is concerned, and the fact that the celebrities in our society are typically without formal power, i.e. without institutional positions of power. Thus the celebrities form an ‘elite without power’ (although not without influence), combining maximum visibility or observability with the inability to impose sanctions or control the life-chances of the public.

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Herminio Martins, ‘The Celebrity Syndrome’, NLR I/26: £3

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