In this talk I will explore celebrity through the lens of sensory aesthetics. My position will be that instead of simply understanding celebrities as constructions and commodifications, or as neo-liberal bodies made in the service of liquid modernity and late capitalism – as a great deal of the literature suggests – one can and should make sense of them as certain types of experiences; composed of, and involved in circulating, clusters of affects and intensities.
One can sense celebrities into carnal existence, and while representation may often shape the way they are encountered, senses and sensation are not simply irreducible to semiotic signs, discourse, and ideology (Redmond, 2014). The senses, I will argue, can be wilder, freer, more intense and transgressive than that (Massumi, 2002). In fact, I will contend that celebrity culture is one of the defining spaces for heightened experiential encounters, and for the circulation and transmission of intense affects that are often empowered and empowering. They are part of the ‘distribution of the sensible’ but in ways that can challenge the ‘police order’ (Ranciere), and as I will go onto argue, they can enact and embody ribald instances of the contemporary Bahktinian carnival (1984).
Finally, in this talk I will argue that to properly understand the way celebrities make sense-based meaning one also needs to recognise the role of auto-ethnography in the consumer/fan relationships with famed images. One needs to listen to the micro-narratives of everyday life to make real sense of celebrity culture today.