Why Are We So 'Starstruck'?

Starstruck is a succinct account of the commercial apparatus behind those stars whom we seek to uplift, observe, and emulate.

Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity

Publisher: Faber and Faber, Inc.
Length: 320 pages
Author: Elizabeth Currid-Halkett
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-11

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s Starstruck is a straightforward and succinct account of why some successful people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett are merely famous yet others possess a certain “celebrity residual” that almost compels the public to be obsessively curious about their daily comings and goings. Not limiting her analysis to stars like Jennifer Aniston and Paris Hilton, Currid-Halkett also discusses the artists Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and sports stars Alex Rodriguez and David Beckham, among several others, to illustrate the value of creating that “something extra” in a public persona.

The book, however, is more about the commercial structures that gives rise to today’s celebrities than about why we are so captivated by those who stand before the flashing lights, that is, why we are so starstruck. For a partial answer to this latter question, I refer the reader to Daniel Herwitz’s The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption or work in the recently launched Celebrity Studies journal.

Currid-Halkett uses social network analysis, interviews with leading publicists, and other approaches to probe the business dynamics that seek out and nurture what she calls “the special quality that some individuals possess that propels society to care more about them than about other people.” Rather than try to articulate a new theory of contemporary celebrity, the book’s core conceptual contribution is its idea of a “celebrity residual”, the extra flare in a uniquely crafted persona that strongly resonates with a segment of the public. The author repeatedly returns to the case of Paris Hilton, who seems to work so hard to keep herself in the spotlight despite very limited acclaim for her acting or musical talent. I bristled, however, at the casual lumping together of Paris Hilton with Edie Sedgwick. Although they can both certainly be seen as fame-seeking heiresses, in no way can I imagine Hilton playing Sedgwick’s roles in Lupe, Beauty No. 2, or Face.

A fascinating set of accounts based on empirical research is among the book’s strengths. This includes an innovative attempt to apply social network analysis to the inner circle of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who has proven to be a valuable ally to Zac Posen, John Galliano, and the designers behind Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, and Thakoon. A related analysis of where celebrities are photographed is instructive to the rising stars of tomorrow. Perhaps not surprisingly, 80 percent of the over 600,000 images of celebrity events captured by Getty, the world’s largest photographic agency, are taken in New York, Los Angeles, and London. But hanging around LA hotspots non-stop or spending too much time in Las Vegas will prove detrimental to a would-be celebrity’s ambitions. As the author writes, “A-listers stay on the move. Being busy, important, or in demand around the world, or at least pretending to be, is strongly associated with the top stars.”

Readers seeking analysis of contemporary celebrities like Tina Fey, Robert Pattinson, or Rihanna will not find them here. Instead, Currid-Halkett’s account is unfurled with references to Jervis Johnson of the Games Workshop hobby empire, the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, and famous-for-being-famous individuals like Cory Kennedy and Jade Goody, about whom I knew almost nothing before reading this analysis of celebrity. “Democratic celebrities” like Goody are those “everyperson” reality-TV stars on whom viewers can project their own commonplace identities, in contrast to those who are upheld as icons of glamour. One example of this kind of democratization of stardom is American Idol, what Currid-Halkett calls “one of the most compelling shows in television history precisely because it achieves exactly what it sets out to do: making stars out of seemingly ordinary people.”

Obviously, a whole monograph could be devoted to the question of how social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are changing the careers of cultural producers. As Currid-Halkett writes, they “demonstrate the purest form of cultivation of celebrity because, for the most part, their entire purpose is to feed us unessential personal information.” Having written a dissertation on the careers of the highest ranking “stars” of the Army officer corps, I appreciated the section where a UK-based publicist tells the book's author, “You can be famous, but do you have a career? You can be on YouTube and have twenty million hits—but will twenty million people pay a dollar? Business is what it’s all about. You can’t pay your grocery bill with a cutout from a newspaper.” This tension between online popularity and building a sustainable career begs for the kind of empirically grounded analysis that Currid-Halkett is trying to develop as well as a meaningful theoretical account of why we seek to uplift, observe, and emulate those among us who have that extra bit of sparkle.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.