Celebrity Culture and the American Dream
Stardom and Social Mobility
It is hard to dispute that today there’s a heightened fascination with celebrities and their personal lives. Who cheated on whom, who’s getting married and what celebrity checked into to rehab is the stuff of daily headlines that many of us, willingly or not, follow and know about. Moreover, the line between news and gossip often seems blurred when both the personal failings of politicians and the presidential aspirations of celebrities dominate the 24-hour news cycle.
In her latest book Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility (Routledge, 2010), Karen Sternheimer traces this American fascination across nearly a hundred years of news print/tabloid coverage. What she finds is that the portrayal of celebrity life has often been underpinned by a changing narrative of what it means to succeed, and at times stumble, in modern life. How celebrity stories have been “told” across different periods, Sternheimer argues, reveals how Americans have grappled with the broad economic and social changes of the last century. From the moral anxieties of the roaring twenties to the optimism of the post-war fifties, celebrity culture has offered a space within which Americans can make sense of the opportunities, promises and challenges of our ever-changing world.