Sunday, January 16, 2011


Celebrity, an important element in the history of fandom, is the theme of the Winter 2011 issue of Lapham's Quarterly. While I remain suspicious of theories that describe fan behavior as a mere byproduct of the cultural machinery of celebrity (with the associated hand-wringing about the superficiality of consumerism, modern life, etc., etc.), any historical understanding of audiencing needs to take into account the workings of public performance and fame. 

The issue collects some intriguing historical passages: Plato on Protagoras's "entourage" in 432 B.C., Heinrich Heine on Lisztomania in 1844, John Dos Passos on Rudolph Valentino's death in 1920, the "fan base" for Jesus in 30, Charles Mackay on Mesmerism in 1795, Charles Dickens on the readers hounding him in 1842, and other topics. No theorizing, really, except for Lewis Lapham's introductory essay, which tends to rely on the artificiality-thesis of Daniel Boorstin's The Image (1962). In its historical scope, the issue reminds me of Leo Braudy's The Frenzy of Renown (1986), which I would recommend (and which I should re-read!).

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