Author Archives: stella44

Quick note on Jenkins…

I found Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers to be very relevant and a unique application of the Marxist thought and critiques that we have read this semester. Jenkins’ text brings up many interesting questions about the influence of fan culture, especially on the original work. I always found it somewhat puzzling that the creators of the work would be opposed to fan-created materials because I didn’t think it would have a significant impact on the original work, but Textual Poachers led me to understand that this type of interpretation can actually change its meaning. By reinterpreting the original text, fans influence future interpretations, and the original work will become conflated with the fan text. Jenkins bring up the notion that reading is no longer a passive activity and fans now have the ability to actually change the original meaning. On the other hand, I do believe that many of these fan cultures truly bring value to the original work because we make the meaning. While I am not very familiar with the fan culture surrounding Star Trek, it seems like the show would be nothing without the fans. I also found Jenkins’ thoughts of female social predispositions toward fandom particularly interesting, especially his observation that females are more inclined to interpret the story whereas men tend to stick to the original story.

Korda vs. Fairey

After reading the introduction the first week of class, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the rest of Che’s Afterlife. On account of my research paper topic, the Shephard Fairey image of Barack Obama was at the forefront of my mind while reading Casey. Korda’s image of Che resembles the Fairey image of Barack Obama and both men have essentially become brands that can be bought and sold in a public marketplace. However, Che’s consumer appeal was established primarily after his death, whereas Obama is in the midst of making his own brand and legacy. It is problematic that in both cases, the images of these two extremely influential men do not necessarily stand for their beliefs or causes but have come to represent more of their commercial appeal. Ironically, Che once said, “man really attains the state of complete humanity when he produces, without being forced by physical need to sell himself as a commodity”. While the image of Che is meant to be a symbol of his anti-capitalist beliefs and still partially holds this meaning, the Fairey image serves no other purpose than to market Obama. This explicit difference between two ostensibly comparable images illustrates how celebrity and branding has made its way into politics.

Reading the Romance

Sorry this is so late!

I found Radway’s arguments to be very interesting and unlike any other texts that I have read before. Prior to reading Reading the Romance, I never thought of the publishing industry for romance novels as a sophisticated means of churning out formulaic books that are guaranteed to sell. Radway reveals the many conventions that come together to form either a “good” or “bad” romance novel. I think that most consumers do in fact judge a book by its cover and title, but it seems that this practice is performed most often by readers of romance novels. Using data that she gathered from Smithton readers, Radway analyzes the literary conventions that readers would like to see in a romance novel that they are reading. It is not surprising that most readers are looking for a moderately detailed love story and a happy ending but do not want to read about bed hopping or rape. Radway goes on to connect this information to the idea that we live in a patriarchal society, and romance novels only serve to perpetuate the ideology that women are weaker than men. While Radway’s text is a great introduction to this field, I think that her lack of scientific data and limited sample size restrict the scope of her argument. I also found Radway’s section on escapism to be particularly interesting. Radway argues that these women read romance novels as a means of temporarily escaping their lives. However, I would be more interested to know why these women, and all women, want to escape and what they are escaping from. Is it simply a way to get away from the mundane aspects of their lives and go to a faraway place or is it something more complex?

Strategy vs. Tactic

I found it interesting that de Certeau acknowledges that although social science has a means of studying everything that makes up a culture, it neglects a means of analyzing the ways people reappropriate these factors in everyday life. Based on our other readings, I think this is an original notion and something that is generally ignored. We have read so much about the different parts of cultures, from language to art, that come together to form a society, however, de Certeau is correct in saying that we also need to examine how those aspects play out once they reach the public. Because we do not have a means for looking at this stage in the cultural process, the opportunity arises for people to become complacent and submit to the institutions that seek to pacify them. Failing to acknowledge ordinary people’s vulnerability to received culture will ultimately lead to a society of passive consumers. De Certeau, however, steers clear of labeling these people as “consumers” and instead uses the term “user” to describe those associated with mass culture.

De Certeau begins much like Williams in declaring that culture is common and ordinary and goes on to explain the constant struggle that we face to resist assimilation. In his book, de Certeau puts together key concepts and questions that will help us to understand and discuss everyday “tactical” activities. De Certeau identifies two kinds of behavior, the “strategic”, which is associated with the producers, and the “tactical”, which refers to ordinary people and non-producers. The desired outcome of a strategy is to perpetuate itself through what it produces, leading to a focus on mass reproduction and homogeneity, not only of its products but also of its audience. On the other hand, de Certeau explains that a tactic does not attempt to defeat a strategy because it is clearer weaker but instead meets the needs of the strategy and tries to infiltrate through means other than force. Tactical activity seems far more elusive than strategy and is more difficult to examine because it is not visible through a product; however, de Certeau attempts to provide the necessary tools to do so.

Annotated Bibliography

Boorstin, Daniel J. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

Boorstin’s book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America is a very early and perhaps the first description of hyperreality and postmodernity. Boorstin describes shifts in American culture—mainly as a result of advertising—in which the reproduction or simulation of an event becomes more “real” than the event itself. Coining the term “pseudo-event”, Boorstin describes events that serve little to no purpose other than to be reproduced through forms of publicity. I will probably focus on Boorstin’s explanation of celebrities, in which he states, “a celebrity is a person who is well-known for their well-knownness”. Boorstin’s analysis will help me understand the implications of celebrities’ involvement in political and social causes.

Braudy, Leo. The Frenzy of Renown: Fame & Its History. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. Print.

Leo Braudy’s influential work The Frenzy of Renown: Fame & Its History starts with Alexander the Great and goes on to detail some of the most famous people throughout history, from Julius Caesar to Marilyn Monroe. Braudy focuses on both the celebrities and their audiences and why we are so obsessed. Braudy explores how and why certain men and women have had the ability to captivate the attention of societies from 350 BC to 2009. The Frenzy of Renown will be especially beneficial to my research because of its emphasis on politics as opposed to only looking at celebrity presence in pop culture.

Holmes, Su. Framing Celebrity: New Directions in Celebrity Culture. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Su Holmes’ Framing Celebrity: New Directions in Celebrity Culture explores the sprawling presence of celebrity culture in our everyday lives. Not only does celebrity culture shape the production and consumption of media content but also the social values through which we experience the world. Framing Celebrity is a collective work that analyzes the phenomenon of celebrity from the angles of media, culture, and politics. Holmes’ book fits in with my research because it addresses the issues of celebrity involvement in social and political spheres that I am focusing on. The section entitled “Fame Now” will be particularly informative as it concentrates on celebrity in politics.

Jackson, David J., and Thomas I. A. Darrow. “The Influence of Celebrity Endorsements on Young Adults’ Political Opinions.” The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 10.3 (2005): 80-98. Print.

This journal article details a study performed by David Jackson and Thomas Darrow on the influence of celebrity endorsements on young adults’ political views, which is very applicable to my research. The article talks a lot about how politics and popular culture have become increasingly intertwined over the past fifteen years and what the implications of this phenomenon are. The authors admit that little scholarly research has been performed on the impact of celebrity endorsements on voter turnout; however, they provide a good summary of what has in fact been done. The conclusions presented in this article will provide me with solid evidence for my argument.

Marshall, P. David. The Celebrity Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

David Marshall’s The Celebrity Culture Reader is an 800-page compilation of works encompassing the theories, definitions, historical and current examples, and effects and implications associated with celebrity culture. From scandal to the notion of the celebrity industry, Marshall’s Reader covers essentially everything one could want to explore within the realm of celebrity culture. The broad scope of material within this one book will be incredibly useful, especially the chapters on celebrity involvement in charities and politics.

Pease, Andrew, and Paul R. Brewer. “The Oprah Factor: The Effects of a Celebrity Endorsement in a Presidential Primary Campaign.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 13.4 (2008): 386-400. Print.

Andrew Pease and Paul Brewer’s scholarly study focuses on the effects of celebrity endorsements of political candidates, specifically in a presidential primary campaign. Centering their research on talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Pease and Brewer coin the term “Oprah effect”, indicating that when a big name with a significant amount of media exposure endorses a candidate, it is likely that people will be more willing to vote for said candidate. This study will be very helpful to my research because it will bring in actual numbers and statistics to back up my argument. It is one thing to say that celebrities influence public opinion, however, it is much more convincing to use actual studies to support the claims.

Street, John. Politics and Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. Print.

John Street’s Politics and Popular Culture focuses on the link between the political sphere and popular culture. Street argues that we must understand politics as a form of popular culture and popular culture as a form of politics. He also explores the debate over whether this relationship is a form of manipulation or just a new means of expression and communication. Street’s book will be valuable to my research because it focuses solely on the integration of popular culture, including celebrity, into politics, which coincides perfectly with the questions I am trying to answer.

“Can Angelina Jolie Really Save the World?”

After doing more substantial research and beginning to read deeper into the sources I identified for my preliminary bibliography, I have decided to narrow my topic. I am still going to focus on celebrity culture and its involvement in the political sphere but I want to specifically explore celebrity endorsements of political, social, and economic causes. I want to investigate the influence of this celebrity involvement and attempt to answer some of the lingering questions that I have including:

Is this form of celebrity involvement a new phenomenon? When did it start and how have its effects changed over time? Do public figures like Angelina Jolie and Bono have a greater capacity to influence the masses? Do celebrity endorsements of political candidates sway voters? Do celebrity sponsored campaigns such as “Rock the Vote” actually have an effect on voter turnout, specifically with regard to the youth vote? Why do celebrities get involved in these causes? Is it for their image or do they actually believe they can make a difference? Do politicians appreciate celebrity support or do they attempt to distance themselves, such as with President Obama and Scarlett Johansson? Should celebrities publicly endorse political candidates or are they simply taking advantage of their public image? What would Marx have to say about the use of celebrity in an attempt to influence mass culture? Is it an exploitation of the public? Are celebrity endorsements of charitable and political causes inherently good or bad? And does it matter?

I know that I have many unanswered questions at this point, which makes it difficult to make a definitive argument, but I do have a clear direction of where I want to go. Even though I am including celebrity involvement in social causes in my research, I think that I will probably choose to focus more on the political end of the spectrum. I am going to show the effects of celebrity involvement in politics, specifically around elections, using several academic studies that I have found. I will probably focus on the 2000, 2004, and 2008 national elections. Based on my findings, I will use Marx’s theories to identify the implications of the intermingling of celebrity culture and politics. Any suggestions would be much appreciated especially with regard to how I can incorporate more of Marx’s ideas into my paper.

Wretched of the Earth

I found the Fanon reading to be particularly interesting because rather than being another analysis of Marxist theories, it actually proposed a practical change to how things are being done. Frantz Fanon, as a psychiatrist, explores the psychological effects of colonization on the Algerians as well as the larger implications of colonization. He uses these observations and conclusions as an argument for the decolonization of Algeria.

In addition to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, I also thought that Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Fanon’s work was especially evocative. Sartre’s controversial introduction takes a very specific approach to Fanon’s argument and presents it as an advocacy for violent behavior. While Fanon acknowledges the use of violence as a means in the process of decolonization, he does not, however, point to it as the sole method of achieving the goal. Sartre’s words misleadingly imply that the use of violence is what will ultimately lead to Algerian liberation. In his foreword, Homi K. Bhabha asserts that Sartre’s introduction provides a limited analysis of Fanon’s extremely influential piece and may turn some readers off of the body of the work. Sartre makes it seem as though Fanon’s main argument is that of violence.

Despite the controversial introduction, the influence of Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth is far reaching and has become a sort of handbook for those dealing with or analyzing the process of decolonization. When I looked up Fanon on Wikipedia, I found it very interesting that the Pentagon continues to refer to Fanon’s work as advice on handling the conflict in Iraq.


I found Hall’s comparison between the two major views in Marxist cultural studies, culturalism and structuralism, especially interesting after having read both Raymond Williams’ and Louis Althusser’s works. The term of culturalism is best defined by looking at Williams’ analysis of the concept of ideology and focuses on the “creativity of the cultural process and the active autonomy of human practices”. Williams assumes an identity between class and experience; whereas, Althusser defines cultural studies as a structure of practices. Althusser’s perspective of structuralism focuses more on “the complexity of and the contradictions within the social formation, conceptualized as a structure of practices.”

I thought that Grossberg and Slack’s article “An Introduction to Stuart Hall’s Essay” was beneficial in helping to clarify the comparisons and conclusions made in Hall’s essay “Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms”. Hall takes ideas from each and forms his own theory that falls somewhere in the middle of necessary correspondences and necessary noncorrespondence. Hall’s argument goes back to the definition of ideology, which he characterizes as “the web of meanings and discourses, the strings of connotation and their means of representation, within which social practices, consciousness, identities, and subjectivities are placed” (Grossberg and Slack, 89). Grossberg and Slack’s discussion of Orthodox and Structural Marxist theory was also interesting. While Orthodox Marxist theory sees ideology as false knowledge, Structural Marxism rejects this theory and sees ideology as a part of the social formation.

The Weakest Link

I completely sympathize with what many of you are saying and felt slightly overwhelmed by Althusser’s essay “Contradiction and Overdetermination.” Although some portions of the text stood out to me and made sense, I felt lost while reading others and do not feel like I fully grasped all of the concepts. For one, I know that I would benefit from an explanation of the Marxist inversion of the Hegelian dialectic.

In terms of concepts that did make an impression, I particularly liked Althusser’s reference to Lenin’s theory of the “weakest link”. I think that this passage stood out to me because it was a practical application of the rather dense Marxist concept of contradiction.  Althusser explains, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link. In general, anyone who wants to control a given situation will look out for a weak point, in case it should render the whole system vulnerable. On the other hand, anyone who wants to attack it, even if the odds are apparently against him, need only discover this one weakness to make all its power precarious” (p. 94). Thus, the weakest point in a system is the most important, whether it be from an angle of protection or attack.

Lenin’s application is really hammered home with the example of the possibility for revolution in Russia. In the chain of imperialist nations, Russia was “the most backward country in Europe”, leading to an “objectively revolutionary situation” (p. 95). The fact that Russia was “simultaneously at least a century behind the imperialist world, and at the peak of its development” made revolution imminent (p. 97). The historical contradictions that existed within Russia in the early 20th century led to an unavoidable weakness in the string of imperialist states.


Boorstin, Daniel J. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

Braudy, Leo. Frenzy of Renown: Fame & Its History. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. Print.

Holmes, Su. Framing Celebrity: New Directions in Celebrity Culture. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Kaus, Mickey. “Age of Celebritics.” The New Republic 4 Feb. 1986: 15-17. Print.

Marshall, P. David. The Celebrity Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Pease, Andrew, and Paul R. Brewer. “The Oprah Factor: The Effects of a Celebrity Endorsement in a Presidential Primary Campaign.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 13.4 (2008): 386-400. Print.

Poniewozik, James. “What’s Wrong with Celebrity?” Time 25 Aug. 2008: 21. Print.

Street, John. Politics and Popular Culture. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. Print.

Svetkey, Benjamin. “Celebrity in Chief.” Entertainment Weekly 28 Nov. 2008: 50-54. Print.

Traub, James. “The Celebrity Solution.” The New York Times Magazine 9 Mar. 2008. Print.

West, Darrell M. “American Politics in the Age of Celebrity.” The Hedgehog Review 7.1 (2005): 59-65. Print.