Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Can I wrap that for you? Consumerism and celebrity worship in Rojek's 'Celebrity and Religion'

By Jessica Hudepohl

Rojek C. 2007. Celebrity and Religion. In S Redmond and S Holmes. Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Celebrity and Religion explores the relationship between fan and celebrity. Rojek investigates what attracts a person to a certain star and offers reasons as to why they begin to worship them. He continues to draw connections between religion and the culture of celebrity through applying Emile Durkheim’s theory of ‘collective effervescence’. Unlike Durkheim, Rojek believes that the importance of religion has not been surpassed by science and an emphasis on rationality, and has instead been restructured around nature and culture. He argues that a similar religious experience can be felt through participation in spectator sports, animal rights, and ecological movements. It is also suggested that “celebrity culture is secular society’s rejoinder to the decline of religion and magic” (173).

Within the first half of this work, Rojek focuses on the mass consumerism of celebrity culture. He discusses the market of celebrity belongings and compares them to the belief in religious relics. Rojek argues that for a fan, these reliquaries reduce the distance between their celebrity and themselves, with some willing to spend large sums of money; auctions regarding President Kennedy’s possessions fetched upwards of $450,000 each item. However, it seems the real money is made after a star dies. Celebrity cemeteries are major tourist attractions, and the owners of these sites have cashed in on this, charging entry fees and offering funeral packages for burial near one’s idol. The homes such as Graceland have become the centre of pilgrimages for the more dedicated fans, and those who owned them reaching supernatural or divine status.

The second half of Celebrity and Religion deals with the religious and/or divine attributes given to the rise, fall, and redemption of celebrities in general. Rojek discusses aspects such as elevation, magic and immortality in relation to the rise of mass media and the influence of the silver screen. Various examples are given surrounding the descent of celebrities and how both the media and star in question were responsible for their downfall. Lastly, Rojek explores the ritualised attempts of celebrity redemption. He argues this process is not always successful, and that the celebrity may never regain the same level of elevation they once experienced.

While recognising that celebrity culture is no substitute for religion, the idea that celebrity idolism maintains aspects of religiosity is successfully explored within this work. Rojek offers an insight into the world of fandom and attempts to explain the social phenomenon that is celebrity worship.

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