- Hardcover: 230 pages
- Publisher: Praeger (June 2, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0313377642
- ISBN-13: 978-0313377648
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dead Celebrities, Living Icons: Tragedy and Fame in the Age of the Multimedia Superstar
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"Ebert, an independent scholar, examines the myth of media celebrity by looking at the lives of its archetypes: celebrities who have been transformed into icons after their deaths, many who died tragically. He looks at the lives of famous people from the 1930s to the present―Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, John F. Kennedy, Andy Warhol, the Beatles, Ronald Reagan, Gianni Versace, Princess Diana, Heath Ledger, and Michael Jackson―how they illustrate the recent rise of the electronic media superstar in US culture, and why our society is obsessed with them, as they are slowly turned into modern equivalents of saints." - Reference & Research Book News
"This book is a superb, often startling meditation on contemporary celebrities and the dual effect of their electronic identities: self-destructive avatars for actors who simultaneously seduce audiences to advance the interests of machines we have learned to worship."
John Shelton Lawrence, co-author of The Myth of the American Superhero
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The basic premise is that psychological creations, both by individuals and Western culture as a whole, have more tangible reality than reality itself.
The celebrities profiled did not achieve mythic status by dying; rather they were killed by their own creations, by the mythic doppel-gangers who haunted and hunted them until the flesh-and-blood people behind the masks simply could not coexist.
How did the celebrities create these personae when others failed? Did they have unique insights into the media? Were they born with special access to spiritual and psychological realms? It's not clear.
But it is clear that what distinguished these icons was the degree to which they were willing to sell themselves for fame. Where others stepped back from the abyss, they stepped forward. The steps leading up to their cultural sainthood is the subject of the book.
It's easy to see how mass adulation can corrupt. But what some might call madness, Ebert sees as very real angels and demons almost looking for the right host to then photosynthesize to life through the artificial light of the media.
If you are a strict materialist you might find Ebert's whole premise (and freqeunt digressions)a little "out there." Yet seeing is believing, and Ebert shows you the celebrities exercising--and exorcising--their powers. For example he observes that Elvis "literally" makes the convex tv screen bend behind his enormous energy when shot from the waist up on Ed Sullivan. Come to think of it, Elvis did just that, if only in terms of his psychological impact. For Ebert, the physical is a pale shadow of underlying reality. Thus his neoplatonism.
It would be useful to hear Elvis' own views of how he "bent" the screen, of his own spirtual experiences, etc. Instead all the celebrity lives are surveyed and the rest is merely conjecture -- but what wonderful conjecture! In the end I felt I was under a spell, one where reality is malleable and I could feel the possibilities and dangers that the celebrities themselves must have felt.
Mr. Ebert bills himself as an "independent scholar," but he is more so a kindred spirit to the very people he profiles, a word wizard for the (admittedly small) circle willing and able to speak his language.
In the land of the new tribalism, when literature continues to lose its meaning and function in civilization Ebert comes along as a visionary to show us a long lost tradition: the text as weapon of self-defense. It is not that we don't read these days, but, as Neil Postman has suggested in the past -- when we do read we should like to only be entertained and amused. Make no mistake, this book is blast to read. The prose is effortless and it flows like pure poetry. But Ebert means business and he is no academic. His text refuses to cater to the "all verbs no content" method that so many writers of elite academia like to employ today. It is for the general reader (not the specialist) without the sacrifice of deep, lasting and timeless content. The book itself is on its own island, it is so far away from anything you will ever encounter on the subject that it comes across like an alien reading of a lost and consequently doomed culture. That culture is ours.
Like some of his own major literary influences (William Irwin Thompson and J.G. Ballard come to mind) Ebert forces us to open our eyes to the horrors and atrocities that are present in an age when the Soul can dissolve into the 2-D Avatar of the electronic image. He reveals celebrities for what they have become: a creation of an electronic saint. When fame speeds up the hands of time, it crushes the human spirit forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Ebert passes through the looking glass so we can view how truly surreal our 21st century earth has become. It is to look with new eyes. He also reminds us that the timeless truths of mythology are a means of staying sane in an environment of continual mass-media saturation, one that represents the Real less and less as each day fades away into the hands of time. At one point in the book, he quotes the great french cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard who has said that:
"We are becoming specialists in the crime of murdering off reality and replacing it with hyperreal duplicates."
There is thus an apocalyptic fervor in the book that is not without warrant. The text itself functions in the same way that certain mythologies in apocalyptic literature have in the past: to shake us up and make us feel human again. Our tragedy occurs continually because we do not recognize it as such. We have ceased to feel. In ancient Hindu mythology, the iron-age is depicted as the loss of all spirituality and true values in human life. Instead we seem to care only of the things we shouldn't (money, fame ect.) Our hearts become hard and our minds become narrow. The Soul dies at the speed of light. "Dead Celebrities" is a mythology of the Kali-Yuga.
The numbing that has occurred when the human senses have been extroverted and colonized by corporations who own the human imagination and manipulate consciousness itself is an entirely new phenomena in history -- this is certain. It is one of the main things that separates us so radically from our ancestors. And this is not simply an abstraction. Ebert gives concrete evidence of lives shattered to death and prime techno-manipulators long lost (like Walt Disney). What "Dead Celebrities" has is not merely a theory but a concrete and occult investigation. Ebert is the archetypal detective par excellence.
And his answers to our own private horror show, (the videodrome of ultraviolence and hyper primitive behavior blasted inside the subjectivity of every human being on the planet) is to revel in the doom itself. He does what few writers can ever fully do: accept the nightmare, look it in the face, and render it transparent with the Great Refusal. Ebert thus enacts the most profound "no" and non-participation in the new religion and cult of the Spectacle that one can possibly muster.
It is a must read for anyone who considers themselves hip to the new Atrocity Exhibition (by J.G. Ballard), as "Dead Celebrities" is its updated non-fiction equivalent and far easier to understand.