Dialectic of Celebrity Politics: Identifying Public Personalities and Political Performers in Twenty-First Century America

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Serizawa, Molly M
celebrity; politician; culture industry; Horkheimer and Adorno; mass media; Barack Obama; Angelina Jolie; Sean Penn; American Material Culture; American Politics; American Popular Culture; Film and Media Studies
thesis / dissertation description
‘Celebrity’ has become a growing field of critical inquiry and cultural interest in twenty-first century society. Celebrities embody a host of meanings and engender larger ideological and discursive practices, in which they articulate expressions of social, cultural and political power that attach meaning to public individuals. Beginning with the late-twentieth century, celebrities have come to occupy spaces that exist beyond popular culture platforms, most notably in politics and international diplomacy. In spite of its typical association with superficial discussions of gossip and cheap entertainment, celebrities have become the site of anxiety in a capitalist society. To come to terms with these growing anxieties concerning celebrity and its accoutrements, this thesis explores the embedded complexities and consequences of the celebrity system within the framework of what has dubiously been called ‘celebrity politics.’ Through a detailed examination of this phenomenon, this thesis explores the coalescing spheres of Hollywood and the White House, where ‘celebrity’ and ‘politician’ have become interchangeable monikers. In addition to examining the historical conditions that have given rise to the phenomenon, this study examines contemporary articulations of the ‘celebrity politician,’ focusing on Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn and President Barack Obama. Discussion of these figures is framed by critical theory and media studies to better understand their location within the contemporary Western landscape.