CMCS 8th International Conference Bridging Gaps: Re-Fashioning Stories for Celebrity Counterpublics
In the recent past, there has been an increased interest in exploring intersections of life writing and studies of celebrity culture. Storytelling is central to effective branding in fame. Furthermore, the use of biographical elements has been recognized as a rhetorical device in writing op-eds, personal essays, and public speaking that often raise awareness on critical issues in popular media. Biography, as Lola Romanucci-Ross points out, is mainly a useful symbolic tool for reflecting, rotating and reversing real-life situations. Like biography, autobiography, memoirs, and testimonials play crucial roles in mapping social facts.
The impacts of glamorous forms of storytelling in scandals, gossip, and rumor become so crucial that they are often studied as sociological data, regardless of whether they enable actual social change. For pop culture enthusiasts and social observers, celebrities may or may not be actual role models in telling meaningful stories and constructing subjectivity. Yet, fans and students often invest affective and intellectual labor when it comes to accepting, negotiating or contesting what appears to be significant in understandings of popular figures. Celebrity scholars are equally familiar with the complexities of engaging with and researching “glossy topics”. As Sean Redmond (2014) has shown, acknowledging one’s own celebrity attachments can produce innovative ways of (re)writing fame. Conversely, these first-person accounts may also contribute to the celebritisation of individual academics. What is the critical and pedagogical potential of personal takes on fame within the field of celebrity studies?
Celebrity narratives are perceived to have real power whether or not celebrities are “important” people in the academic or moral sense. Drawing on current affairs, celebrity politicians have used personal claims and outrageous stories to push political agendas in divisive ways. Many other famous personas use extravagant fashion as expressions of their luxurious lives and build persona brands at the cost of ethics. For Elizabeth Wissinger, the “glamour labor” involved in self-fashioning, surveillance, and branding is often an inevitable and unfortunate outcome in the production of consumer values and desirable bodies in fashion industries. Public personas still self-fashion themselves and promote their brand by extending text(ures) of language that sells to consumer tastes. However, the challenge remains to sell the values of social justice. Can public intellectuals learn narrative strategies from celebrity storytelling and fill this gap?
What appears to be a shared reason behind the success of most popular narratives, verbal (including oral) and non-verbal, is a persuasive ‘strategy’ to effectively tell life stories. If studying celebrity biographies/autobiographies, best-selling memoirs, and other popular forms of life-writings and self-expressions carry cultural worth, then biographical elements of rising and celebrated public intellectuals, academics, critics, and activists are equally important to consider in disciplinary and interdisciplinary practices and understanding of fame. For instance, real-life first-hand accounts, such as testimonies and visual evidence, together with literary/artistic representations of gendered oppression provide meaning for progressive thinking and practice. Anecdotal accounts of famous sports personalities, actors, best-selling authors, and top models among other public figures are often useful rhetorical tools that help us to understand popular culture better. With this in mind, we need to extend popular storytelling beyond celebrity culture and persona branding, and use it to empower social change in academia, politics, and other spheres.
The Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) Bridging Gaps conference series uses a reflective practice paradigm and asks an urgent question: Can we learn popular strategies and re-fashion celebrity stories into tools for public intellectualism and social transformation, in addition to studying them? What enables or disables the public to tell personal stories in studies and practices of celebrity culture? Can different forms of storytelling from the lives of rising and celebrated academics, public intellectuals, critics, and activists enable urgent social change? The conference problematizes what it means to be a popular “storyteller” and invites all academics, journalists, publicists, activists and models and guests to attend, collaborate and publish valuable and purposeful work around this key question and related topics in our conference.
The format of the conference aims at being open and inclusive of interdisciplinary academic scholars and practitioners involved in all areas of celebrity culture, fandom, fashion, and journalism. The conference combines paper presentations, workshop panels, roundtables, slideshows, and interviews that aim to bridge gaps in celebrity activism, persona branding, and fashion education. Working papers, media productions, and personal stories will be considered for the conference.