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Course Description
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The Cult of Celebrity: Mass Media and Idolatry in the Digital Age 1LIB413
University of Westminster
London, England

Subject Area(s) Level(s) Instruction in Credits Contact Hours Prerequisites
Liberal Arts and Sciences 200 English 4 50 N/A

The class aims to provide students with the understanding that the current media obsession with ‘celebrities’ is not a 21st century phenomenon but a social need that has occurred throughout the ages. Students will explore the role of the celebrity from Helen of Troy via Lord Byron and Lillie Langtry to Oscar Wilde and, more recently, Princess Diana, and the Beckhams. They will understand when and why the cult of celebrity flourishes as well as being able to analyse how and why publications with different target audiences report on the same celebrity (in word and images) to appeal to their readership. Students will be able to identify news or features that are generated by public relations offices/press agent hacks. They will learn how to conduct successful interviews as well as analyse how and why journalists use interviews to manipulate public opinion about public figures.


By the end of the class, students are expected to be able to:
· demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the history of ‘celebrity’ and the role
it has played in shaping cultural values;
· explore and dismantle the social construct of ‘celebrity’ and analyse its interrelation
(in Britain or America) with the media and wider society in the past century;
· analyse the ways in which various media publications project the idea of ‘celebrity’ in
light of their target audiences;
· draft and assess celebrity interviews and features for a specified target audience.


· The history of society's need to create (and often destroy) celebrities;
· The role the media plays in creating celebrities;
· Gossip-mongering from Cicero to Defoe;
· Celebrity ‘mania’ from Byron to the Beatles;
· Celebrity in the 19th and 20th centuries;
· Celebrity and gossip columns in the USA in the inter-war period;
· Contemporary media and the cult of the celebrity.


This class is delivered via lectures and seminars. The class leader expects and encourages a great deal of interchange with the students in analysing media as well as discussions of issues raised in the lectures. There will be teamwork in groups and there will be guest lecturers whose areas of expertise are germane to the class, e.g. public relations experts and actors, as well as visits to newspapers which keep the rivers of celebrity gossip flowing.

Assessment is designed to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of the history of ‘celebrity’ and its interaction with society and the media. It is also intended to allow students to demonstrate their skills at media analysis, and to practice working and writing
skills relevant to the world of celebrity journalism.


The class is assessed via coursework as follows:
Essay (1500 words): 40%
Media Analysis (1000 words): 30%
Practical Exercise (Media Feature) (800 words & 200 word self-critique): 30%


In the essay, students are expected to demonstrate that they can:
· understand the question set;
· select, utilise and synthesise appropriate secondary sources;
· formulate and structure an essay which directly addresses and answers the question
set and which is based upon accumulated knowledge and developed understanding;
· use appropriate academic conventions and apparatus, including a notation system
and bibliography.
In the media analysis, students are expected to demonstrate that they can:
· select an appropriate celebrity feature for analysis;
· provide a summary of the ‘personality’, ‘voice’ and readership of the publication;
· analyse the image of the ‘celebrity’ being presented;
· identify and assess the stylistic and presentational techniques being deployed;
· provide an overarching critique of the feature as a case-study in the study of
celebrity, society and the media.
In the practical exercise, students are expected to demonstrate that they can:
· draft a ‘celebrity’ feature for an existing popular or serious periodical;
· select an appropriate real or fictional ‘celebrity’ for presentation;
· make use of appropriate techniques and stylistic written and visual devices;
· and make use of an appropriate ‘voice’ for the chosen publication;
· effectively convey a convincingly positive or negative image of the ‘celebrity’;
· communicate in appropriately informative and entertaining English;
· append a reflective and self-critical commentary on his or her own feature.


Essential Reading
A variety of tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, as well as ‘celebrity’ publications such as HEAT, HELLO, OK and CLOSER.
Further Reading
WALTER WINCHELL by Neal Gabler, Picador Press
TABLOID NATION by Chris Horrie, Andre Deutsch Press
GOSSSIP, a History of High Society from 1920 - 1970 by Andrew Barrow, Pan Press
OPRAH WINFREY and the Glamour of Misery by Eva Illouz, Columbia University Press
LIFE, THE MOVIE -- How Entertainment Conquered Reality by Neal Gabler, Amazon
WHEN WILL I BE FAMOUS? by Martin Kelner, BBC Press
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