How can I speak to a celebrity


Julia Wippersberg

To person

Priv.-Doz. DDr., Born 1976; Senior lecturer; Deputy Head of Studies, Institute for Mass Media and Communication Studies, University of Vienna, Währingerstraße 29, A-1090 Vienna / Austria. [email protected]

Everyone knows them, many talk about them: celebrities. Celebrities are becoming an increasingly important factor in our societies: celebrities are guests on talk shows and adorn the covers of magazines, they are used as testimonials in advertising, books about their pets, favorite recipes and burial sites are published. And nobody knows exactly what "celebrity" actually is. Is celebrity an exclusively media phenomenon? Have these celebrities actually performed anything apart from their media staging, and if so, what? How does celebrity come about? And who needs celebrities?

The theoretical discussion of these questions is sparse. In 1965 the sociologist Gertraud Linz stated that the term "prominence" was "used frequently, but rarely discussed". [1] This is still true today - almost 50 years later. And the (few) authors do not agree on how celebrities define themselves. Nevertheless, some common characteristics can be identified: Celebrities are in public, have a high level of awareness and are known by more people than they know themselves. Differences can be found in the justification of celebrities, in the ways to get there and in the evaluation of celebrities. [2] Most definitions have a rather negative rating of prominence; Fears of the decline of the elite, culture and specialization resonate. An exception is the philosopher Georg Franck, who sees prominence as a "quite distinguished quality" [3]. In some cases, the status of the celebrity is discussed in relation to the distinction from the star: Most see a decline from star to celebrity, whereby the former is viewed as a genuine appearance, the latter, however, is only considered to be an artificially bred being by the media.

Definition of prominence: P - P - P

For further engagement with celebrities, a definition is first required that takes into account that the term must be applicable to many manifestations, different social groups, careers, origins and characteristics: politicians can be just as prominent as actors or society greats, athletes as well like ecclesiastical dignitaries or unusual law breakers. Reasons for prominence range from holding an office to professional qualifications and outstanding professional performance to birth, marriage, death - and good staging.

"If I wanted to be precise to the point of pedantry, I would have to say that the celebrities actually do not exist, that they are not a sociologically circumscribable group, but an idea", formulated the journalist Friedrich Sieburg in 1954. [5] And so, prominence is actually less of a definable group than an attribute that can be added to other characteristics of a person - and in some cases can even exist on its own. Therefore, the term prominence should go back to its original meaning: protruding. [6] Prominence then simply means that Familiarity of a person. This factor can lead to others - e.g. performance, staging, elite position - join. Prominence should be used neutrally, without any evaluation and regardless of performance, recognition, origin, career, potential for influence, approval, sympathy, appearance or expression. It depends on medial communication, acceptance by an audience (not to be equated with consent) and a certain durability. With this, one can speak of a symbiotic relationship between celebrities, press and audience, which is immanent to the term prominence and constitutes it. [7] This also results in the formula P - P - P.

Prominence is a factor that can only arise through audience acceptance. Without a public there is no such thing as celebrities. But celebrities do not always have to be based on appreciation and respect. People who are not valued can also become prominent, perhaps because of this or because of a polarization that emanates from them. Furthermore, celebrities are not necessarily "important" to society or a group as decision-makers, employers or the like.

Celebrities and elite

Prominence is often associated with elite. Is the elite always prominent? Or are the celebrities always elitist? Can the two phenomena be equated? The relationship between prominence and elite has dealt extensively with research, [8] however, there is no final solution to this tension.

According to the definition introduced, prominence and elite must not be equated, even if they have some similarities: Both phenomena can arise in all areas of society, are based on individual performance, arise through selection from the rest of society, have open access and often serve as role models and influence on society. The greatest differences lie in the constituent factors, above all in the fact that membership of the elite is usually associated with top positions, direct power and decision-making authority as well as a claim to leadership and is often related to structures of rule. [9] Another form of achievement comes into question for the development of celebrities: the ability to stage oneself. This is not sufficient for the formation of the elite - although the ability to (self) staging does not harm here either.

Even if groups of people can overlap, not every celebrity belongs to the elite. Elites can, but do not have to, become prominent, and elite status can be conducive to prominence. Conversely, celebrities can sometimes lead to an elite position (for example, as a career changer in politics). The relationship between elite and prominence is to be understood as the juxtaposition of two social phenomena that can also be achieved by people at the same time and that are not mutually exclusive. Prominence is a more general phenomenon of notoriety that can join the elite. However, elite cannot replace or abolish prominence.