The Strange Power Of Celebrity

From Chaplin and Brando, to the Kardashians, a fresh take on the strange and ferocious power of celebrity.

Kris Jenner, left, with Sofia Vergara, center, and Kim Kardashian during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner headlined by late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel, Saturday, April 28, 2012 in Washington. (AP)

Kris Jenner, left, with Sofia Vergara, center, and Kim Kardashian during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner headlined by late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel, Saturday, April 28, 2012 in Washington. (AP)

Here’s an information age conundrum:  the more media and info-means we get, the more we stare at celebrities.  Polar ice cap melting?  What’s up with Lindsay Lohan?  Wildfires in the West?  How’s Tom Cruise?  The movies made our biggest modern celebs.  Icons.  But it goes all the way back.  Gods and goddesses.

Archetypes.  We still almost worship.  We find our identities in their poses.  And now, with Facebook and You Tube and Twitter, we’re all little celebs in our own minds.

This hour, On Point:  Movie maven Ty Burr on the strange and ferocious power of celebrity.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ty Burr, film critic for the Boston Globe, and author of the new book Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame. He’s also author of the 50 Movie Starter Kit.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “Any Hollywood history can describe a star’s X factor. But not many film historians can see the whole equation as Ty Burr does in “Gods Like Us,” his lively and provocative chronicle of the genesis of movie stars and the metamorphosis of movie stardom. He offers original thinking about the audience factor.”

Wall Street Journal “Montesquieu accused the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes of implying that if triangles had gods, they would be triangular. A later wit remarked, “Yes, but they would also have one more side than ordinary triangles.” The 20th century’s deification of movie stars depended on the public’s idea that they were just like everyone else, only taller and more beautiful.”

Boston Globe “We misunderstand Tom Cruise at our peril. We have recast him, in the movie of our minds, as a couch-jumping, Scientology-pumping, Katie-Holmes-kidnapping buffoon, a living symbol of the rot of celebrity.”


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