In this course we’ll be looking at how
the lives of the famous come to be represented in various times, through
various media, and in various places.
We’ll begin with some of the earliest Western accounts of the acquisition
and the consequences of fame (Plutarch), then consider how celebrity has been
traditionally been deployed as a strategy of governance (Machiavelli), and move
forward into literary and biographical representations that investigate the
cultural and social implications of notoriety (Henry Fielding, Jonathan Wild.)
It is in
the nineteenth century, however, that the privileges and drawbacks of celebrity
become a major issue for discussion.
Byron’s famous experience of awaking and finding himself famous marks an
important moment when fame becomes a theme for many artists and public
figures—writers, actors, musicians, generals, politicians, inventors—thanks to
the increasing influence of regional, national, and global media. We’ll follow this into the twentieth century,
when radio, film, television, the internet, and various forms of social media
expand the possibilities of celebrity/notoriety in terms of scale, and also in
terms of the kinds of figures who become famous (Snooki? William Hung?
Joe the Plumber?) We’ll bring
things right up to the present—I know we’ll be looking at Steve Jobs.
A series of
weekly postings and papers will be required, as will a very substantial final
paper which brings cultural/aesthetic/political theory together with a
particular case study of a famous figure.
And oh yes,
I do need to make the obligatory reference to Andy Warhol—”in the future,
everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”