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Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity Paperback – October 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Payne (former deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph) offers an erudite and vastly entertaining look at how the Western cultural obsession with and "shared human responses" to celebrity haven't really changed in the last few millennia. He finds analogies between the Trojan War and Nascar, St. Augustine's Confessions and Dollywood. Juxtaposing Britney Spears's shaving of her head with "tonsures of the past"--Anne-Josèphe Théroigne de Méricourt or Joan of Arc--and using Emile Durkheim to interpret her apparent irrational behavior reveals surprising conclusions: in that desperate moment, perhaps Spears was fumbling to communicate something to her ogling and voracious public. And here is the delightful paradox of Payne's thesis: in revisiting ancient sagas and modern sex tapes, analyzing Heath Ledger's death in the light of Goethe's Faust--he reveals more about us than any of our icons--past or present. He reveals our own prodigious appetite for erecting, cherishing, and destroying heroes, for casting out the deficient, for voyeurism as total knowledge and control. A charming, contrarian, and very witty look at how our stargazing can be "something that bonds us, and which expresses something about how our civilization works." (Nov.) (c)
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Review

"Payne's wonderfully witty and erudite study of modern fame in the light of ancient myths and rituals is markedly kinder and more balanced, and yet also more unsettling."--Sunday Times (UK)
 
"Payne takes us through all the various similarities between sacrificial rituals and the world of Hello! and Grazia. . . . He explains these and other ideas with tremendous gusto, humor, and many flashes of self-knowing irony. . . . Fame is a good read."--Mary Beard, The Observer (UK)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312429932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312429935
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #292,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Weissman on September 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Tom Payne knows his classics - not just the ancients, but Goethe and Chaucer and Augustine, too. And he knows how to entertain while conveying knowledge. He's got a good sense of humor, and can write well. He displays his learning lightly. He brings in historical figures too - Marie Antoinette, Byron, and even Saddam Hussein - and relates their lives and reputations to the heroes of the Greek and Roman classics.

His main thesis seems to be that celebrity corresponds to the sacrifices of the ancients. We distinguish heroes or ordinary people, and we give them fame, and we push them off metaphorical or actual cliffs. Along the way, he describes the nature of fame accruing to celebrities ranging from Achilles to one Jade Goody - the latter known only in England, but he explains enough in the text that we non-Brits can figure it out. And if not, there's the Internet to consult.

There are some interesting observations, and some thought-provoking comparisons between the classical world and its culture and the modern world of Demi Moore. The description and analysis of the Roman habit of ostracizing the notorious/famous/politically active is interesting in the extreme and throws light on how we treat some of our more notorious politicians. But I'm not sure how accurately or completely it reflects the actual role of ostracism in Roman society and politics.

Still, the book was mildly disappointing. Many of the comparisons just don't work out, and many of Mr. Payne's observations don't really add up to much. Some of the chapter titles promise more than their chapters deliver. But it is a fun read nonetheless, if you get all or most of the references.

You probably haven't read this far if you're not already interested in the topic and not already equipped with some knowledge of the classics - or at least some nostalgic memory of your knowledge of the classics. Don't expect too much and you'll enjoy the read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Erin Satie VINE VOICE on April 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book proposes to use the classics to inform us about our cult of celebrity, but really it's the opposite: this whole book, his entire argument, really boils down to one simple statement: Fame existed! Even in the past!

He didn't have anything new or interesting to say about our cult of celebrity, because that wasn't his goal. He just connects something in column A (modern fame) to something in column B (old-timey fame), and to be frank, he does it in a lazy way. He says, "As an actor, Kate Winslet is supposed to look like other people," as though he's stating a fact, and then moves on to make irritating pronouncements about all the times when she isn't ordinary enough. Sorry, but - since when is Kate Winslet ordinary? Or someone who looks like other people? The premise is laughable, and so are his conclusions.

Here's another real doozy: "As Anna Nicole Smith declined, didn't Pamela Anderson start looking more like Grace Kelly?" - What do you do with a sentence like that? No, Tom Payne, the answer to that question is NO.

At another point, further along in the book, he launches into a really long, involved discussion about the British Big Brother show. I don't know anything about American Big Brother, let alone British Big Brother, so this didn't make much sense to me - he assumes anyone who would read this book is thoroughly versed in pop cultural trash, that's his starting point - and then jumps right from his entirely British example to, "The principle of making people famous while booing them is now enshrined in the American way of life." It's not that I disagree - it's that he built up an argument about English television and then drew a conclusion about the American way of life, and didn't appear to notice that his example didn't apply.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ellen W. VINE VOICE on September 11, 2010
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I took a course on Latin Satire in college, and though my high school translation skills were a bit rough by then, I enjoyed what I learned about Roman culture, and modern Western culture. I believe that people haven't really changed through the ages, and that there are a lot of parallels between past and present cultures. And while I don't really follow any celebrities myself, I think our "cult of celebrity" is interesting to study.

"Fame" seemed like a promising book, and it did have many interesting ideas. Payne presents arguments that we demand sacrifices of celebreties, that worshipping them makes us feel like a part of something, and that they represent us to ourselves. These are just a few of the points he makes. Some are better than others, of course, but on the whole, they're valid. The problem is the writing. Payne has a relaxed style, and it's pretty entertaining (though sometimes his jokes are a little lame). But what he's trying to say is not always clear. I often asked myself "Where is he going with this?" Sometimes it was a matter of reading a little further, but other times... It's not that his arguments were hard to understand, it's that his examples were too drawn out. It usually took him a while to get to the point, and I sometimes started to forget what the point was in the first place. Sometimes I was never entirely sure how the example related to the argument. Also, though this book was written for American audiences, there are a lot of British pop culture references. His favorite seems to be "Big Brother" contestant Jade Goody. This wasn't so much of a problem, because he explains exactly who she is. More problematic are references to people like Christy Linford.
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