Our conference is enriched by the contributions of our precious keynotes speakers. In the Rome 2018 edition we will have:
Lucy Bolton, Queen Mary, University of London
Lucy Bolton is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London, and is on the editorial boards of the journals Film-Philosophy and the Iris Murdoch Review. Her main areas of research are film philosophy and film stardom, and increasingly the relationship between the two. She is the author of Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women (Palgrave, 2011; 2015), and the co-editor of Lasting Screen Stars: Images the Fade and Personas that Endure (Palgrave, 2016), which won the BAFTSS award for best edited collection in 2017. Recent publications include the special double issue of the journal Film, Fashion & Consumption, #Marilyneveryday, on the enduring cultural iconicity of Marilyn Monroe, and a special issue of the Iris Murdoch Review, on Iris Murdoch and Visual Culture. She has recently published articles and book chapters on Melanie Griffith, Vivien Leigh, and women in the films of Clint Eastwood. She is editing a special issue of the journal Film-Philosophy on philosophy and film stardom, co-editing a book on Globalised Screen Ethics, in which she is writing about Carol Morley’s film Dreams of a Life, and planning a book chapter on the sinister shoe as worn by the criminal female in Marnie. She is currently writing a book on contemporary cinema and the philosophy of Iris Murdoch to be published next year.
Beautiful penitent whore: the desecrated celebrity of Mary Magdalene, Superstar
Marina Warner writes: “The Magdalene, like Eve, was brought into existence by the powerful undertow of misogyny in Christianity, which associates women with the dangers and degradations of the flesh”. (1994: 225)
Mary Magdalene is a superstar: a perennial character of cultural fascination in the East and the West, embodying the classic dichotomy of virgin and whore. In this paper, I will examine her as a celebrity and a film star, using the way in which star studies examines the sources of meaning in a star image, in order to encompass and analyse her contradictory elements. This will be an interdisciplinary encounter with Mary Magdalene, from the perspectives of theology, church and art history, feminist film and media studies, celebrity and pop culture. My aim is to provide a means for productive analysis of her unique complexity, when notions of ineffability and confusion sometimes obscure her.
Films are the most common way the world experiences her, not the verses in the Gospels or the processes of biblical interpretation and revision. She is a movie star, playing an integral role in the Jesus biopic, and has been played by many star actors: Anne Bancroft, Barbara Hershey, Debra Messing, Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci, and now Rooney Mara. These roles and performances have variously perpetuated the myths and misrepresentations of the Magdalene which were promulgated by Pope Gregory in the 6thCentury, most of which have now been revealed and discarded.
So how has her desecrated celebrity played out in art, cinema and pop culture? In this paper I will analyse the incarnations of Mary Magdalene and explore the themes and tropes that pervade her star image, both visual and conceptual. I will argue that there is a thirst for a dilution of the popular images of the patriarchal masculinity of Christianity and for recognition of the personality of Mary Magdalene. The new film directed by Garth Davis shows a Mary who has a cerebral, spiritual life as well as a practical one, and a brain as well as a body. How does this latest depiction work to offer a revised understanding of Mary, and what does the reception of this film tell us about her celebrity today?
Misha Kavka, University of Auckland
Misha Kavka is Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Auckland. She is the author of Reality Television, Affect and Intimacy(Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and Reality TV(Edinburgh U,P 2012), and has published widely on gender, celebrity and affect in relation to film, television and media technologies.
Taking Down the Sacred: Fuck-me vs. Fuck-you Celebrity
The time has come for those of us who study celebrity to talk about fucking. That, after all, is what everyone else is talking about, in an effort to name, dissect and desacralise the toxic tangle of power, gender and sex that has upheld the hallowed halls of Hollywood-built celebrity. Even beyond the strict sense of having sex, celebrity has always been libidinal, organised around fantasies of fucking-who as well as fucking-with. Not so long ago, in June 2015, Caitlyn Jenner was unveiled in the pages of Vanity Fairas the hot new babe of L.A., all eyes upon her as she channeled Hollywood glamour to achieve the height of ‘fuck-me’ celebrity. Her poses and poise were perfect, so much so that Jon Stewart (then of The Daily Show) ironically praised her for winning the TV commentators’ game of ‘comparative fuckability’. The fact that Caitlyn is a transwoman, however, exposed the rules and norms of ‘fuck-me’ celebrity at the same time as she became its newest poster-girl. Far less visible, although at least as loud, have been the fight-the-system proponents of ‘fuck-you’ celebrity, from the self-conscious punk aesthetic of Courtney Love to the visual and verbal resistance campaigns of model Tess Holliday (who launched Instagram site #effyourbeautystandards). Now the celebrity system, which has heavily favoured the fuck-me over the fuck-you, is beginning to shift: the sudden desacralisation of the Weinstein star-making apparatus, followed by the seismic effects of the #MeToo movement, have radically shifted the old balance between fuck-me and fuck-you celebrity, as women such as Rose McGowan and Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, (re)build their own celebrity by talking back to the celebrity men who have used and abused them. Whereas fuck-me celebrity requires a demure agreement not to talk about what we’re really talking about, which is to say that the disempowered must bear the shame of sex in exchange for the pay-off of celebrity, fuck-you celebrity talks openly about sex and its imbrications with power, and cannot be shamed. This talk will address the economics and dynamics of celebrity and fucking to ask whether celebrity as we know it has in fact been desacralised, or only momentarily desecrated.
DOUGLAS KELLNER , UCLA
Douglas Kellner is George Kneller Chair in the Philosophy of Education at UCLA and is author of many books on social theory, politics, history, and culture. Kellner’s latest published books include Cinema Wars: Hollywood Film and Politics in the Bush/Cheney Era (2010); Media Spectacle and Insurrection 2011 From the Arab Uprisings to Occupy Everywhere, published in 2013; American Nightmare: Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism (2016); and TheAmerican Horror Show: Election 2016 and the Ascendency of Donald J. Trump (2017). His website is at http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/kellner.html which contains several of his books and many articles.
Donald Trump as (Bad) Celebrity and President
Donald Trump is the first US president of modern time, maybe in US history, to win the presidency purely as a celebrity and without any political experience. I will interrogate the role of celebrity in US culture, society, and politics and will discuss how one of the key factors in Trump’s surprise victory was his manipulation of his celebrity status. Then, looking at the first 18 months of his presidency, I’ll discuss how his lack of political experience and knowledge has produced what many judge to be a (bad) celebrity presidency based in part on an authoritarian populist base. Finally, I’ll take up whether the term fascism can be applied to Trump’s base and movement.
PRAMOD K NAYAR, University of Hyderabad
Among Pramod K Nayar’s recent works are Bhopal’s Ecological Gothic (2017), The Extreme in Contemporary Culture (2017), Human Rights and Literature (2016), besides essays on graphic auto/biography, genomic cultures, colonial discourse and others in Biography, a/b: Auto/biography Studies, Asiatic, South Asia, and others. His work on celebrity cultures have appeared in Seeing Stars (2007), The Blackwell Companion to Celebrity, and the journal Celebrity Studies.
Desecration and the Politics of ‘Image Pollution’: Ambedkar Statues and the ‘Sculptural Encounter’ in India
Indian newspapers often report the desecration of statues of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the man who drafted the constitution of India. Ambedkar was responsible for the political rights being made available to the historically oppressed castes, the so-called ‘untouchables’ in post-Independence India. His statues now dot the Indian landscape, even as he serves as the icon of ‘Dalit’ (the term now used to describe the historically oppressed communities) consciousness, political campaigns and assertion. He is now, therefore, a significant constituent of the visual culture of India’s new modernity (Sandria Freitag 2001). Within this visual culture, contemporary representations of Ambedkar depict him as a statesman, a boddhisatva (one who is ready to acquire nirvana), a figure of authority, and is now clearly in the pantheon of Indian leaders (Johannes Beltz 2015) even approximating to a ‘mythicization’ by the Dalits (Debjani Ganguly 2002). When desacralization of the sort mentioned here occurs, it is this membership in the pantheon that is interrogated, and may be seen as an attempt to once more throw out, banish, Ambedkar beyond it, just as members of the ‘lower’ castes were ostracized.
I first examine the rhetoric of celebrity statues, such as those of Ambedkar, in the renewal of Indian public culture and public histories. These monuments, I suggest, are at once the symbol and body of the now-dead famous man, which moves Ambedkar beyond the temporality of mortals (Katharine Verdrey 1999). I then argue that the statue’s pervasive presence and ‘critical passivity’, its ‘stillness’ (David Gesty 2014), embodies the resistance of the community itself, to continuing oppression. It is these two key features of the celebrity Ambedkar that the act of desecration alters, at least symbolically. The attempt at desacralizing Ambedkar’s atemporal, embodied form, I suggest, is an instance of ‘image pollution’ (I use the term from Schölzel, cited in Axel Philipps, 2015, advisedly, since pollution and taboo are key elements of Dalit oppression at the hands of upper-castes). Further, in the process of defiling the atemporal Ambedkar statue, they also imply that social hierarchies are atemporal: beyond and before time.
Instead of battling the newly emancipated and politically empowered classes – the Dalits – those resisting equality of rights for all engage in a ‘sculptural encounter’ (Gesty), which results in the desecration. This sculptural encounter serves as a direct address to, a trigger for social tensions, the demographic segment of India that Ambedkar represents: the Dalits. (As the Merriam Webster informs us, to desecrate also means ‘to treat irreverently or contemptuously, often in a way that provokes outrage on the part of others’.)
To desecrate or profane the Ambedkar statue is to question the pure/impure distinction as well, founded on sectional interests. As Robbie Duschinsky (2010), following Durkheim and Bourdieu, argues: ‘the pure may appear to symbolise the order and benevolence of society, and the impure its anguish and disequilibrium’. Ambedkar symbolizes a sustained interrogation of the caste-identities founded on this very premise of purity (the upper-castes as ‘pure’), and his statue is a reminder of this historical interrogation of artificial constructions of the pure/impure binary. To profane the statue of the man who questioned the foundations of the sacred/profane binary, as these acts suggest, may then be read as an instance of social revanchism and attempted reversal of public histories.
MARTIN SHINGLER, University of Sunderland
Martin Shingler is Senior Lecturer in Radio & Film Studies at the University of Sunderland. In addition to publishing numerous essays on Bette Davis, he is the co-editor of the BFI Film Stars series and the author of Star Studies: A Critical Guide (2012) and When Warners Brought Broadway to Hollywood, 1923-39 (2018).
Bette Davis: Actor, Star & Celebrity
Bette Davis (1908-89) operated throughout her long film career as an actor, star and celebrity. A distinguished and award-winning screen performer, she developed her own unique acting style with a highly visible set of mannerisms. During the 1930s, she became a major film star at Warner Bros. with a distinct screen persona and a name which, when placed above the title of her films, could draw sufficiently large audiences to first-run cinemas to ensure the profitability of her star vehicles. In the Thirties, her publicity typically stressed her talents as a film actor, her capacity for hard work, her professional rivalry with female co-stars and her frustrations with the restrictions of her contract with Warner Bros. In subsequent decades, however, various details of her personal life were disclosed. This included potential affairs with male co-stars and directors, the reasons behind the failure of her four marriages, her volatile temper, wicked sense of humour, controlling behaviour, as well as an increasing dependency on alcohol. Consequently, Davis emerged much more fully as a celebrity during and after the 1960s, whilst becoming a cult star for a younger generation of audiences and a gay icon. Live public appearances and TV chat show interviews took on an increasing importance for Davis in the 1970s, when film work proved hard to come by for an actress in her sixties. In the Seventies, some considered her to be a living Hollywood legend, while others regarded her as a has-been. Yet in the early 1980s, Davis proved her worth once more as a dramatic actor in a series of socially conscious TV movies about old age. This proved short lived, however, when ill health and the ravages of age severely undermined her ability to act, speak and move, hampering her attempts to secure film work after suffering a major stroke and breaking her hip in 1983. To sustain her career and maintain her public profile, Davis published a second set of memoirs and embarked upon a grueling round of live appearances and TV chat shows during the last three years of her life. By the time of her death in October 1989, she had transcended cult status to become a popular cultural icon with a strongly defined brand image that included her trademark eyes, brightly painted red lips and a gloved hand holding a smoking cigarette. After her death, a flurry of biographies and plays transformed her life story and her personality into something much more forceful, passionate and complex than any of the strong, independent and rebellious heroines that she had performed on screen throughout her long film career. Increasingly fictionalized accounts of Bette Davis have subsequently lent her star persona even greater force and complexity. Public fascination with her has so far shown no sign of subsiding. In 2018, the 110th anniversary of her birth, Bette Davis seems to be more relevant than ever when it comes to understanding the dynamics of stardom and celebrity.