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Claims to Fame

Celebrity in Contemporary America

Joshua Gamson (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 270 pages
ISBN: 9780520083530
March 1994
$29.95, £22.95
Moving from People magazine to publicists' offices to tours of stars' homes, Joshua Gamson investigates the larger-than-life terrain of American celebrity culture. In the first major academic work since the early 1940s to seriously analyze the meaning of fame in American life, Gamson begins with the often-heard criticisms that today's heroes have been replaced by pseudoheroes, that notoriety has become detached from merit. He draws on literary and sociological theory, as well as interviews with celebrity-industry workers, to untangle the paradoxical nature of an American popular culture that is both obsessively invested in glamour and fantasy yet also aware of celebrity's transparency and commercialism.

Gamson examines the contemporary "dream machine" that publicists, tabloid newspapers, journalists, and TV interviewers use to create semi-fictional icons. He finds that celebrity watchers, for whom spotting celebrities becomes a spectator sport akin to watching football or fireworks, glean their own rewards in a game that turns as often on playing with inauthenticity as on identifying with stars.

Gamson also looks at the "celebritization" of politics and the complex questions it poses regarding image and reality. He makes clear that to understand American public culture, we must understand that strange, ubiquitous phenomenon, celebrity.
Joshua Gamson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University.
"Gamson has brilliantly analyzed the complexities of celebrity as a cultural form. He gives us an insider's account, without going native. He provides us with a critical overview, without overlooking the messy details of celebrity-making and its central place in American society. Claims to Fame is a must for all those who seek to understand American public culture."—Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, author of The Cynical Society: The Culture of Politics and the Politics of Culture in American Life

"The most thoughtful and thoroughgoing sociological analysis I know of this strange and ubiquitous phenomenon, celebrity. Intricately argued and elegantly written, frequently amusing and properly alarming, Claims to Fame deftly avoids either undervaluing or overvaluing the gullibility of the consumers of celebrity. Gamson—to use his own words—'mines . . . superficialities for their depths' and gives us more insight into the culture of entertainment than a dozen treatises on the 'resistant' potential of Madonna."—Todd Gitlin, University of California, Berkeley

"The best general account we have of the economic and representational parameters of contemporary celebrity. Claims to Fame would be worth reading simply for its lively and wonderfully detailed description of the 'celebrity industry' in Los Angeles. Yet, by tying this description to a compelling argument about the nature of our investment in celebrity images, the book does much more. It should have an important place in future discussions of the mass media and American culture."—Richard deCordova, DePaul University, author of Picture Personalities

"Insightful, well-written, replete with telling anecdotes, Claims to Fame demonstrates how one can critically analyze American culture without sneering at the American people."—Gaye Tuchman, author of Making News

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