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A celebrity (or celeb) is a person who is famously recognized in a society or culture.

Generally speaking, a celebrity is someone who gets media attention and most frequently has an extroverted personality. A celebrity that shies away from the public eye or keeps a very separate private life is called a reluctant celebrity.

There are a wide range of ways people can become celebrities, from their profession, appearances in the mass media, beauty or even by complete accident or infamy. Instant celebrity is the term that is used when someone becomes a celebrity in very short period of time. In some places, someone that somehow achieves a small amount of transient fame through hype or mass media, is stereotyped as a B-grade celebrity. Often the stereotype extends to someone that falls short of mainstream or persistent fame but seeks to extend or exploit it. In the 21st Century, the insatiable public fascination for celebrities and appetite for celebrity gossip has seen the rise of the gossip columnist, tabloid, paparazzi and celebrity blogging.

The rise of international celebrities in acting and popular music is due in large part to the massive scope and scale of the media industries, enabling celebrities to be viewed more often and in more places.

Regional or cultural celebrities

Each culture and region has its own independent celebrity system, with a hierarchy of popular film, television, and sports stars. Celebrities who are very popular might be unknown abroad, except in cultural groups, such as within a diaspora. In some cases, a country-level celebrity might command some attention outside their native country, but not to the degree that they can be considered a global celebrity. For example, singer Lara Fabian is widely-known in the French-speaking world, but only had a couple of Billboard hits in the U.S., where as singer Celine Dion is well-known in both communities.

Subnational entities or regions, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic, religious) also have their own 'celebrity systems', especially in linguistically or culturally-distinct regions such as Quebecmarker (a French-speaking province in Canadamarker) and Walesmarker (a constituent country of the UK). Regional radio personalities, newscasters, politicians or community leaders can be considered as local or regional celebrities.

A local celebrity can be more of a household name than a national celebrity and may often experience the same type of attention from the public as a national celebrity albeit in the confines of their particular region. For example, while journalist Lin Sue Cooney is a well known television reporter in Arizonamarker, she is little known outside the Southwestern US.

In a smaller country, linguistic or cultural community, a figure will be less likely to gain a broader celebrity, as reflected in such mocking terms as world famous in New Zealand. Shakira was known largely in the Spanish-speaking world before becoming popular around the world by performing English language songs. Similarly, Spanish actors Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, Paz Vega and Xoel Pamos who were country-level celebrities in their native Spain, were able to become global celebrities only after they became Hollywood actors in English-speaking films.

Another example of celebrity can be merely cultural or unique to a particular diaspora. Tehran Ghasri has a highly celebrated Iranian television program accessible by Iranian satellite. His program is mostly in Persian, restricting his viewers to those around the world who speak that language. Though his celebrity may be deemed worldwide it only reflects a small fraction of people.

English-speaking media commentators and journalists will sometimes refer to celebrities as A-List, B-List, C-List, D-List or Z-List. These informal rankings indicate a placing within the hierarchy. However, due to differing levels of celebrity in different regions, it is difficult to place people within one bracket. A Nicaraguan actor might be a B-list action film actor in the US, but be an A-list star in the Czech Republic. An objective method of placing celebrities from any country into categories from A-List to H-List based on their number of Google hits has been proposed, but while this method is quantitative, it only works for individuals with distinctive names, e.g., Jason Mewes, not Kevin Smith.

It's hard to measure someone's fame. Even worldwide celebrities might still be obscure to certain people in isolated countries like North Koreamarker, villagers without access to international news media or people who are simply uninterested in celebrities. Certain phenomena have however been called "definitive proof that someone is really famous." Usually these are things only famous people get access to or are featured into. Examples are appearing on the cover of Time Magazine, being spoofed in Mad Magazine, having a wax statue made of you in Madame Tussaudsmarker, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker, in the 1980s and 1990s appearing as a puppet in the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, being "special guest voice" or a reference in The Simpsons, being honoured with a bronze statue of yourself, having a street or building named after you,...

Niche market celebrities

Just as one may become a regional or cultural celebrity, one may also become a celebrity in their niche market and have limited fame apart from it.

One may argue that all celebrities are niche market celebrities, some niches are simply much bigger than others and many celebrities gain fame apart from their niche market as well. The highest level of professional athletes, for example, are well known even among people who do not follow sports.

Certain celebrities are famous even to people who are not familiar with the niche market. Pablo Picasso 's style and name are famous even to people who are not interested in art. Harry Houdini is the archetypal illusionist, people who don't use computers know who Bill Gates is, the most famous scientist is Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig von Beethoven are the most famous classical composers and if someone has to name a famous opera singer Luciano Pavarotti might as well be the first name to come in mind. And globally almost everybody knows the name and face of the current American president, even if one isn't that interested in politics. Since World War II America's role in international politics has been so massive that every American president immediately becomes world famous as a result.

The same phenomenon is true for fictional characters. If one has to name a famous wizard Merlin or Gandalf will be first to come in mind. Mickey Mouse is perhaps the most famous cartoon character and fictional mouse in the world. The most famous movie monsters are King Kong and Godzilla, the archetypical detective is Sherlock Holmes and most people's idea of a spy is James Bond. In many cases, the character is more well known than the name of the creator. Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman are superhero celebrities while the comic book artists and writers who created them are well known only within fandom circles. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Bob Kane are examples of figures whose celebrity status is limited to a certain genre fandom rather than the general public.

Careers that produce celebrity

Some professional activities, by the nature of being high-paid, highly exposed, and difficult to get into, are likely to confer celebrity status. For example, movie stars and television actors with lead roles on prominently scheduled shows are likely to become celebrities. High-ranking politicians, businessmen, national television reporters, daytime television show hosts, supermodels,successful athletes and chart-topping musicians are also likely to become celebrities. A few humanitarian leaders such as Mother Teresa have even achieved fame because of their charitable work. Some people have achieved fame online and thus are Internet celebrities.

While some film and theatre director, producers, fashion designers, artists, authors, trial lawyers, scientists, journalists and dancers have achieved celebrity status, celebrity is not necessary to success in these fields and in general they are less notable than actors of equal professional importance to the business.

Individuals with their own television show (or sections of television shows) often become a celebrity, even when their profession would not normally lead to celebrity status: this can include doctor, chefs, gardeners, and conservationists on shows like Trading Spaces and The Crocodile Hunter. However, fame based on one program may often prove short-lived after a programme is discontinued. In areas of the world where the relevant programme is not being broadcast, a such person is very likely not to be known. In order to reserve themselves the possibility to have a private life, some local celebrities prefer to live in a part of the world where they are rather unknown; thus, an entertainer who is well known in the German-speaking world could chose to live his private life in the U.S. and fly into Germany to perform his shows (as Thomas Gottschalk actually does), and on the other hand, a U.S. celebrity could decide to privately live in Europe.

Certain people's names have become famous, due to the fact that their name has become a trademarked product name: Disney, Ford, Stradivarius,... or an eponym, like in the case of Marquis de Sade (sadism), Alois Alzheimer (Alzheimer's disease) and Charles Lynch (lynching),... . Other people are world famous for their deeds and name, while the majority of the public wouldn't be able to recognize their faces, like Neil Armstrong for instance. The other way around is also possible. The Marlboro Man, the man standing in front of Chinese tanks at Tiananmen Square and Vietnamese girl attacked with napalm during the Vietnam War have iconic and instantly recognizable faces, but almost no-one is able to tell what their names are. The same is true for actors famous for playing a certain role. Most people might know the name of the character these actors play, but not the name of the actor. Examples are J.R. Ewing who is more famous than Larry Hagman who portrayed him and James Gandolfini, whom most people will recognize as Tony Soprano instead of his real name.

Ensuing political career

Celebrity may offer advantage in attaining high-ranked political offices that are elected among the public. This offers a lateral entrance, in contrast to the career ladder approach of starting at minor positions and gradually ascending. Actors in India and the USA have thus benefited from their celebrity, and so to a lesser degree have sports celebrities. Businessman-celebrity has given less advantage.

Celebrity families

Another example of celebrity is a family that has notable ancestors or is known nationally (or internationally) for their wealth and/or influence. Examples would be the Barrymore family, Chaplin family, or the Jackson family.

Celebrity as a mass media phenomenon

In the 1970s, academics began analyzing the phenomenon of celebrity and stardom. According to Sofia Johansson the "canonical texts on stardom" include Daniel Boorstin's The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961) and articles by Boorstin (1971), Alberoni (1972), and Dyer (1979) which examined the "representations of stars and on aspects of the Hollywood star system." Johansson notes "more recent analyses within media and cultural studies (e.g. Gamson 1994; Marshall 1997; Giles 2000; Turner, Marshall and Bonner 2000; Rojek 2001; Turner 2004) have instead dealt with the idea of a pervasive, contemporary, ‘celebrity culture’."

In Bob Greene’s article “The new stardom that doesn't require paying any dues,” he argues for “most of man's history...people of talent would work to create something--something written, something painted, something sculpted, something acted out--and it would be passed on to audiences.” With the rise of reality TV shows, Greene points out audiences have been turned into the creators. He argues the “alleged stars of the reality shows "Survivor" and "Big Brother,"have become famous not for doing, but merely for being.”

Greene says “You simply have to be present, in the right place at the right time.” Whereas “...public[ly famous] people were once defined as such based upon the fact their remarkable skills had brought them to the attention of the public,” Greene states with reality TV, “one can become a public person just by being a person, in public.”

"Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty," claimed notable author Micha Frydman. As a result, there is a strong public curiosity about their private affairs. Celebrities may be resented for their accolades, and the public may have a love/hate relationship with celebrities. Due to the high visibility of celebrities' private lives, their successes and shortcomings are often made very public. Celebrities are alternately portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, when they garner awards, or as decadent or immoral if they become associated with a scandal. When seen in a positive light, celebrities are frequently portrayed as possessing skills and abilities beyond average people; for example, celebrity actors are routinely celebrated for acquiring new skills necessary for filming a role within a very brief period of time, and to a level that amazes the professionals who train them. Similarly, celebrities with very little formal education can be portrayed as experts on complicated issues.

Tabloid magazines and talk TV shows bestow a great deal of attention on celebrities. To stay in the public eye and make money, more celebrities are participating in business ventures such as celebrity-branded items including books, clothing lines, perfume, and household items.

Chapter 1 of Chris Hedges's Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), entitled "The Illusion of Literacy," is an extensive critique of what he calls "celebrity culture." Citing authors like Daniel Boorstin, Neil Gabler, James Bradley, and C. Wright Mills, Hegdes argues that celebrity culture is a exemplified in media exaltations of superficiality, cosmetic surgery, New Age spirituality mysticism, pop psychology, motivational speakers, success gospel evangelism, and TV shows like American Idol and The Swan. Hedges criticizes the "moral nihilism" inherent in celebrity culture, in which human beings become commodities while those who possess true power — corporations and the oligarchic elite — are veiled and rendered invisible.

Fame in the 20th century

Clive James, the Australian writer, broadcaster and performer, wrote a book on the phenomenon of fame in the 20th century (Fame in the 20th Century). Since the book and the accompanying TV series made their debut in 1993 the series examined fame from the 1900s until the 1980s. James contended true fame was almost unknown before the 20th century, because of lack of global mass media. He called Charlie Chaplin the first truly world famous 20th century celebrity due to the universal impact of his films in the 1910s and beyond.

James points out celebrity eventually became distinctly different from fame, resulting in the phenomenon of people who are famous for being famous. He cites Elizabeth Taylor as an early example, whose private life made her more of a celebrity than her film career had. He also contends fame sometimes backfires on those who seek it by depriving them of their privacy for life, a point illustrated by the rise of the paparazzi and their fanatic desire for pictures and personal stories about celebrities.

He argued achieving great fame requires frequent self reinvention, as exhibited by Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Madonna. Death does not necessarily end fame, in fact the opposite may happen, as in the cases of certain luminaries of the stage and in music, such as American singer Elvis Presley and actress Marilyn Monroe.

15 minutes of fame

Andy Warhol fabricated the phrase "15 minutes of fame." “Celebrities” in the 21st Century can now be famous simply by being in the right place at the right time. These “celebs” are the nobodies, turned somebodies, and are often turned into somebodies based on the ridiculous things they do. An example of a nobody turned somebody is reality TV contestant Tiffany Pollard also known as “New York,” from VH1’s Flavor of Love. “In fact, many reality show contestants fall into this category: the only thing that qualifies them to be on TV is that they’re real (and real average).” Other “15 minutes of fame” celebrities can be average people seen with an A-list celebrity, who are sometimes noticed on entertainment news channels such as E! News.

Warhol also hinted that these people would be famous for "15 minutes", or in other words "a really short time until the fad or trend has died out.' This also explains why certain people can be world famous in a certain century, decade, year,... but already obscure soon after. Lorenzo de' Medici was a famous Florentinemarker statesman during the 15th century, but today only people who are familiar with history might know his name. Film actors like Harold Lloyd and Louise Brooks, who were world famous in the 1920s are not as well known by the general public nowadays as they were back then. MC Hammer is famous to people who were young in 1990, but later generations are less familiar with his name or music.

The opposite can be true as well. Painter Rembrandt van Rijn and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who were succesful during their lifetime both died almost forgotten. Their reputation grew only a few decades later. Vincent van Gogh was obscure during his lifetime and only sold one painting in his life. Only several years after his death was he regarded as an innovator and artistic genius and did his fame grow to international proportions. Blues singer Robert Johnson only recorded a handful songs in the 1930s and then died, being only well known in the vicinity of the state where he used to live. He is now much more famous and respected as an artist, due to the legends surrounding his life.

Certain people are only remembered today because of a movie portrayal, certain story or urban legend surrounding their life and less for their accomplishments. Antonio Salieri was a famous and well known 18th-century composer, who sank into obscurity the next two centuries. He was rediscovered thanks to the musical and film Amadeus , but his fictional portrayal as a antagonist is since the end of the 20th century more famous than his music. Cleopatra lives in the memory of most people as a beautiful woman according to our modern tastes, while she didn't look like a modern thin photo model beauty at all. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and O.J. Simpson are more notorious for the murder scandal in which they were involved than for their respective movie and sports careers. Ronald Reagan is more famous as a politician today then as a movie actor. Andrea Mantegna is centuries after his death nowadays better known as the mentor of Leonardo Da Vinci than for his own paintings. Catharina II of Russia is remembered by many people because they assume she died after trying to have sex with a horse, while this story is completely untrue. Most people know Richard III of England because they believe he once said "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse", while this is just a line from Shakespeare's play about the king.

See also


  1. E. Schulman, " Measuring Fame Quantitatively. III. What Does it Take to Make the 'A' List?,"Annals of Improbable Research Vol. 12, No. 1 (2006), 11.
  2.'s Icons - 5-1
  3. Page 82: Celebrity Politicians Elections American style. By James Reichley. Contributor James Reichley. Published by Brookings Institution Press, 1987. ISBN 0815773811, 9780815773818. 291 pages
  4. B. Greene, " The new stardom that doesn't require paying any dues,"Jewish World Review, September 14, 2000.
  5. Maasik, Sonia, and Jack Solomon. Signs of Life in the USA. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.


External links

Celebrity Look Alike Contests on Celebrity Happening - A Celebrity entertainment website

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