Accidental and anti-celebrities
Jo Littler, City University London, UK
‘We are not doing celebrity’ announced Jeremy Corbyn, just before being voted in as the surprise new leader of Britain’s Labour party in 2015. ‘There is a thirst for something more communal, more participative’. Of course, even by the time he had uttered the sentence, Corbyn himself was hurtling further upwards into the celebrity stratosphere. For this is an era of compulsory individualisation: when flexible labour is constantly required to pay neurotic levels of attention to self-branding, when we as academics have to ‘celebrify’ ourselves, when socially mediated micro-celebrity is the norm. Engaging in some measure of celebrification amidst these relentlessly individualising logics of neoliberal culture is hard to avoid, particularly for those becoming leaders of a political party.
Yet Corbyn’s statement undoubtably gestures toward a widespread current of feeling that the top-down technocratic nature of post-democracy, and the celebrity lifeblood making it possible, are unjust and unsustainable. It is also a statement that can be positioned within a much longer history of politicians and activists attempting to bypass the power dynamics of individualised celebrity, one that in recent decades includes the Zapatistas, Pussy Riot and Occupy’s use of Guy Fawkes masks.
This paper proposes that there is a spectrum of anti-celebrity: from the accidental celebrity, through the bored-of-celebrity, to the non-engaged and the celebrity-refusnik. In doing so it asks: what are the zones of possibility, the strategies beyond neoliberal celebrity individualisation, at both macro and micro levels? Are we fantasists to think we can escape its logic — and what elements are worth hanging on to? Might we be entering a post-celebrity era?