Star Studies and the Mass Culture Debates

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Star Studies and the Mass Culture Debates

Since the dawn of time, society has always had its own stars that multitudes of people look up to as idols. Today, most of the stars that people flock to are famous people within the entertainment business, most notably actors and actresses. Movie stars have been consumed by the public's eye ever since the film industry took off in the early 1900s. There are certain movie stars that transcend time, and lately, people do whatever they can to find out as much as they can of these stars to reveal who they truly are outside of being in front of a camera. However, some critics of the Mass Culture Debates do find holes in the star system we have today. The critics feel as if the culture of these stars are becoming very standardized, which is greatly affecting the culture of people watching them. To demonstrate my point, I will be discussing how Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer oppose the arguments made about star figures in Richard Dyer's essay, “Living Stars.” I will also explain how Dwight MacDonald takes a very similar stance against Jackie Stacy's “Feminine Fascinations: Forms of Identification in Star-Audience Relations.” Finally, I will finish off by explain how critic David Riseman seeks to mediate the Mass Culture critics' arguments and take the side of Dyer and Stacy.

If Adorno and Horkheimer were to read Richard Dyer's “Living Stars” and dissect it, they would feel that movie stars today aren't original in that they use a very scripted formula to attract themselves to the masses, which is why they become popular in the first place. Throughout his essay, Dyer explains that star figures are representations, like myths, who serve to resolve many of society's vital binary oppositions. He goes on to explain this point by saying, “The private self is further represented through a set of oppositions that stem from the division of the world into private and public spaces, a way of organizing space that in turn relates to the idea of the separability of the individual and society.” (FSR 130) His primary opposition for which he discusses stars and their relationship to the public eye is stars portraying their private selves versus their public serves. Public stars control themselves on screen, and maintain great poise and try not to display their emotions to readily, because they want to keep a sophisticated image of themselves; whereas private stars are much more intense and introverted, they aren't afraid to express their emotions and show who they truly are behind close doors. Martin Scorsese's film The Aviator serves to depict the private and public image of real life filmmaker and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. To the public, Hughes became a larger than life star in directing Hell's Angels and purchasing a major airline of the time. However, his mental health soon began to crumble when his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder began affecting both private and public facets of his life. Eventually, Hughes comes a point where he locks himself in his house and slips into a deep depression. As a result of Hughes manic behavior, Adorno and Horkheimer would believe that if Hughes' private behavior were to ever leak out into the public spectrum, his image would be forever tarnished because the Howard Hughes behind closed doors is not the same man who became a superstar director.

One of the primary arguments Adorno and Horkheimer have with mass culture is that they feel that culture itself is becoming too standardized based upon formulas to streamline mass reproduction. When profitable, these formulas can become reproducible, like the star system of today. “Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears in change.” (FSR 9) It is as if they feel like nothing is original anymore and that everything is scripted and painted with...
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