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The History Of Celebrity

Feb 18, 2008
We dote on celebrities because they are larger than life, more famous, more charismatic, and richer than us. It seems like our celebrity obsessed society cannot get enough of the daily lives of such star celebrities. Newspapers boost their sales by splashing these celebrities across their front pages, many magazines feature celebrities within them.

How did celebrities become such an important force in our culture?
Have we always been so awestruck by the lifestyles of the rich and the famous?
Does something larger than life always catch our attention?
Is there a common theme throughout history?

Perhaps we can find some of the answers by looking at celebrity in history. First let us remind ourselves of the importance of being awestruck. An old tale of a mouse who boasts of her huge litter of babies to a lioness illustrates the point of why we find celebrities fascinating. The mouse asks the Lioness proudly "how many young have you the great cat given birth to? The Lioness replied "One, but he is a lion,"

The First Celebrities in History.

The first celebrities of the ancient world were almighty powerful Gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons. Citizens of these civilizations believed the Gods had a direct influence on their lives and it was, hence, important to know all about the Gods' own lives. As people in the ancient world spread information about the Gods, myths were created. Such myths involved the Gods in ancient celebrity scandals that excited and teased the common people. We have all heard of how the ancient Greeks believed the Gods were angered during some unexplainable event like a volcano erupting or an earthquake.

Besides the ancient Gods monarchs and political leaders were also celebrities of the time, however their fame could not possibly compete with that of the Gods. They could not move the earth or cause the heavens to open. Thus the ancient Gods had exposure everywhere. There were statues and temples named after them, sacrifices and holidays in their honor. In other words the ancient Gods had lots of exposure.

The Celebrity Sportsmen of the Olympics.

Another group of celebrities that had great exposure to the public were, in fact, winners in the ancient Olympic Games. These athletes were widely talked about, and were given the equivalent of modern day red-carpet treatment. After a victory at the Olympics a winning athlete on returning to his city, part of the city wall was demolished so they did not have to use the gates like "ordinary mortals". These athletes also won the right to lifelong free meals, the equivalent of the vast sums of money that modern celebrities earn nowadays.

The Celebrity Gladiators.

Ancient celebrities were known to the masses because they had their faces plastered all over the place, on sculptures and pictures. Julius Caesar also realized this and was the first Roman to appear on a coin in his own lifetime, he became instantly recognizable and more powerful at the same time. Another group of people who were recognized were the Roman Gladiators, whose bloodthirsty contests drew thousands of spectators to the gladiatorial battles. News of their battles spread by word of mouth, and little boys idolized them, often asking for fighting lesson at gladiator schools. Many women were also known to have illicit affairs with the muscle-bound fearless fighters.

Celebrities in The Middle Ages.

When we think of the middle ages most people think of brave warriors and heroic knights in shining Armor, killing dragons and rescuing damsels in distress. While this is the image that many of us think of when we talk about knights in shining Armor the reality was a little different.

Thousands of years ago, one of the best ways to gain fame was through the fortune of birth. The first step to become famous was to become a squire. Such squires were only drawn from the families of the nobility, they might be sons of knights or lords or even princes. Once a squire became a knight he was an instant celebrity. He would be given a coat of arms which he could pass on down through the generations.

Knights also became famous in their treatment of women. In medieval Europe the idea was born that men should treat women not as a possession but as a person to be admired. This idea led to the fashion that knights should do heroic deeds just to win a smile from a lady. The knights and squires were taught to worship beautiful women and do brave things in her name. A very public display of their bravery was seen at medieval tournaments.

Medieval tournaments were originally a form of military training, but soon became popular public displays for brave knights to win favor of a special lady, often a countess or even a princess. Jousting was the main form of competition and many a knight could show off in front of the large crowds at these public events. Celebrity status was thus guaranteed, for the winner of these popular competitions. These competitions were a way for Knights to win fame and fortune. Not only did they become popular with the masses, but the winners often took the losers horse and Armor and even the lady who might be an heiress to some vast fortune. Over time a different kind of event became popular. The play.

Rise of the Arts and William Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare began his career as an actor with a London theatrical company--perhaps in 1589--for he was already an actor and playwright of some note in 1592. Plays were a popular form of entertainment for all layers of society in Shakespeare's time. This may explain why Hamlet feels compelled to instruct the traveling Players on the fine points of acting, urging them not "to split the ears of the groundlings," nor "speak no more than is set down for them."

William Shakespeare's plays were popular because the stories are timeless and beautifully written. Shakespeare's plays are timeless in the lessons that are learned from them. Think about what is learn from "Macbeth"

1. Meddling in dark magic is dangerous.
2. Absolute power corrupts.
3. Loyalty is a good thing...being so power-hungry that you're willing to kill is a bad thing.
4. "To thine own self be true." Don't let yourself be influenced by other people - don't let their name-calling push you into doing things you're not comfortable with (Lady Macbeth and how she taunted her husband).

Shakespeare became a celebrity in his own time because he wrote plays about universal themes that are true for all humanity, regardless of time period, gender, race, religion, or continent. We have all experienced, love, hate, forgiveness and revenge. We are all interested in the paranormal, salvation, ambition, success and juicy gossip--why else would movies, sitcoms, reality TV and soap operas be such a huge entertainment value?

These are all great reason why Shakespearean plays like Macbeth endured, they certainly have stories with staying power. Shakespeare was also good with his representations of imagery, alliteration, irony, analogy, soliloquy, monologue, aside, figurative language like metaphors, extended metaphors, similes, personification, symbolism. But it was the plays that made him a celebrity in his own time, not his writings. For the plays were attended by the vast populace and news of what they saw spread by word of mouth, and with the stories, Shakespeare's name and fame was spread too.

Celebrities in Print.

While the celebrities of the ancient world were able to achieve moderate and sometimes lasting fame, mass celebrity as we now know today would not begin until the invention of the printing and publishing industry in the late eighteenth century. With the rise of printing a need to learn to read was recognized. There was a huge increase in the literacy rates of common people, allowing printed celebrity news to reach a mass audience for the first time. Suddenly, the lives of authors, political figures, war heroes, and other celebrities could now be read by people all around the world. Print gave average people the chance to become intimately knowledgeable about the celebrities they most admired. Charles Dickens first started serializing his books in newspapers as short stories. The resulting media attention helped him become more widely read celebrity of his time.

Celebrities in the 20th Century.

From the print media came the visual media of film and radio. In first part of the 1900s, movie stars began to be the true A-list celebrities. The bright lights and warm sun of Hollywood became a perfect setting for the city of the stars. As radio began to make its way into the average home in the 1920s and 1930s, celebrities became more interesting to regular people. Professional athletes also began to take on star status, as their games and exploits could be also be broadcast live over the air for an entirely new audience. In the 1950s television only further promoted the premier celebrity that film stars, professional athletes, and television actors of today shared. Not to miss out, political and religious figures sought to take advantage of the new medium. Such celebrities would still become famous but their fame was dwarfed in comparison to the new Hollywood Celebrities of the 20th Century.

Technology and the modern Celebrity.

In the twenty-first century, the rise of the Internet has only continued to nurture a culture

That is obsessed with celebrities. It is now possible to know intimate details about a famous person's life by simply entering a few keywords into an Internet search engine. In the late 1960s, Andy Warhol, an artist, filmmaker, and diarist fascinated by Hollywood culture, claimed: "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." That is now a fact with emerging reality television shows. These shows have made it possible for average people with little talent to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame on the television reality shows.

Where we are and how we got here.

One common theme throughout celebrity history is that all the big celebrities were marked out to be famous because they were part of a larger than life event. In Ancient times the event was the Olympics that made winning athletes famous celebrities. The Romans gave us the Gladiators who fought to the death in front of a bloodthirsty audience, another large event. In the middle ages it was the Knights who again in front of large audiences won at Tournaments and became famous traveling warriors, again a large audience event. In William Shakespeare's time the event was live theater where audiences could vicariously watch struggles of fictional but believable characters. Before we knew it newspapers, radio, cinema, television and the Internet brought these live larger than life events into our own living rooms. Whether we are watching a live football match, or listening to a live concert on the radio. One thing is for sure while there are audiences out there, thirsty for live larger than life events, then there will be celebrities out there that seek to entertain them.
About the Author
Silveral observer of mankind. http://celebrity-news.biz/?page_id=130
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