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A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Reexamined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations Paperback – July 1, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Cintra Wilson is a columnist for Salon.com and the San Francisco Examiner as well as a critically acclaimed playwright and screenwriter.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (July 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014100195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141001951
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.5 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,062,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Erin O'Brien on July 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
Cintra Wilson, a former, longstanding columnist for the "San Francisco Examiner" with a substantial cult following, has produced her first book, a series of satirical essays on celebrities and our cultural obsession with them.
Wilson nails down the essential creepiness of true fandom with the inclusion of such artifacts as an entirely genuine boxful of inadvertently deliriously funny fanmail for "New Kids on the Block": the tragically illiterate x-rated writings of desperate, usually suburban, adult women to teenage boys.
Her observations appear in chapter-length discussions of Elvis in Vegas; the ever more bizarre persona of Michael Jackson and its psycho-sexual origins; and the LA and New York commonplace of the rabidly, shamelessly ambitious aspiring actor, who defines degradation down in a quest for fame.
Wilson argues that celebrity culture is not only toxic to the egos and even physical well-being of celebrities, but also to ordinary folk, ceaselessly encouraged to regard their own lives as inherently shabbier and less important, going undocumented in gossip columns and tabloids.
Wilson's rages at celebrity culture are startlingly real, and produce unforgettably, cruelly funny putdowns of figures from divas Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, to Siegfried & Roy, as the quintessence of the degraded Las Vegas performer. One can only wonder at what private events befell Wilson to produce this magnificent fury at the fame machine, and a wild attack on its cogs and wheels.
Easily one of the most uproarious and literate works of pop cultural commentary available. Wilson is a true original.
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Format: Paperback
My, wasn't I surprised to find someone who loathed Celine Dion as much as I do! Cintra Wilson's funny, fearless deconstruction of these so-called icons will surely immunize you against the cult of celebrity. Her chapter on young ice skaters and gymnasts broadens our scope of what this celebrity-thing is that people seek: sometimes involving a search for immortality (via plastic surgery, numerous dye jobs, changes in stage personae) and deification (sometimes resulting in an Oscar, a Grammy, or getting one's face on a cereal box)... Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Barbara Streisand - even Elvis - will never look the same to me again. Her criticism is scathing at times but very thoughtful: these are not random rants.
I was unfamiliar with Cintra Wilson's Salon column when I read "A Massive Swelling," but it doesn't surprise me that the book functions somewhat as an anthology of past writings. It does have that feel to it. I definitely don't think this weakens the book for the newcomer to her writings. I think it's a good sign that folks are mostly upset about not finding newer works from her. It just means we're all looking forward to what she has coming up next.
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Format: Paperback
Wilson's razor-sharp commentary cuts apart why-celebs such as Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand, examining how they became famous at the expense of our culture. Wilson skins musicians, esp. Michael Jackson, as well as fashion models, wannabe film actors, authors, and the theater in her inimitable caustic tone.
At times, Wilson is brilliant in carving new holes in the already-thin fabric of celebrity. Later in the book, however, you can tell that she and her editor have sewn together her columns from salon.com, which, though wonderful as columns, do not come together to form a cohesive argument. In a way, Wilson has become a victim of her own fame, toddling out used commentary and selling it as new, like a remake of a Hollywood favorite, starring Peter Scolari and Molly Ringwald.
This book is mostly enjoyable, however. You'll flag sections of it to read later to your friends, or when you hear Dion's "eye-bleeding" rendition of that awful Titanic song and need your own little way to get back at her.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First reading H.L. Mencken - Prejudices, First Series - way back in grad school, I felt as though I were under rhetorical and ideational assault. Over and over again, ambushed by Mencken's relentless pushing prodding needling stratospheric chthonic ribald mocking joyously playful yet deadly serious language, finding it so jaw-droppingly, startlingly funny that I'd be howling out loud at 2 a.m., waking wife, kids, to whom I'd try to read his inimitable raillery against mountebanks, poltroons, Comstockery, "uplift," and the full panoply of the sins and sinners of his age. Mencken's rhetorical excessiveness, his superabundance of sinuous, surprising, jazz-like prose (he wouldn't have liked that simile) thrilled me, made me want more, made me a devotee for life. And after pondering long and hard, the only writer I can today imagine comparing to Mencken is Cintra Wilson - but as a Mencken on a delirious cocktail of speed, acid, extra bile for a less genteel audience, and pther mystery elixirs that may be swirling through the stream of her imagination. But, my God, this is simply startling, uproarious, deadly accurate journalism.
It begins with a brilliance of eye. Wilson sees segments of the spectrum that the rest of us are blind to - great journalism begins in great observation. I would quote, extensively, but I don't want to diminish the pleasures of discovery for any who might pick up this book. Let me simply say that Wilson has a long skewer and, impaled like stacked shishkabob, are a long list of deserving (and deservingly easy) victims, icluding Cher, Bruce Willis, Ike Turner, the dancing-singing-boy groups, and Keanu Reeves; surprising appearances by Jack Nicholson, Jack Palance, and others, and, perhaps most unforgettably (and a most timely inclusion), Michael Jackson and "the nose.
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