“The celebrity is a person who is well-known for his well-knownness”
—Daniel Boorstin

“I love Twitter.”
—Paris Hilton

A few days ago, I cleaned my room. I organized my clothes, swept the floor, cleared my desk, emptied my trash, and cleared my desktop and emptied my trash. First I cleared the physical desk at which I sit to relax, work, think, and then I cleared the virtual desktop which exists within the flat monitor of my computer, a seemingly endless yet peculiarly removed extension of my working desk. At this moment, I realized that I had begun living within two separate yet dependent worlds: I stood as a physical, living, breathing being in the “real” world, and I existed as a compilation of expressions—words, photographs, videos, noises—in the world inside of my computer. I’ve developed a certain level of individuality, distinction, of fame within this cyber-universe.

This seminar seeks to explore what it means to be a celebrity and the cultural half-life of fame in the age of condensing Warhol’s “fifteen minutes” into a single viral moment. We will examine constructions of “digital fame” through theoretical, historical, and practical lenses. We will begin by developing a framework of modern fame, or fame and its existence since the beginning of television. From there, we plan to examine digital renown from three distinct approaches. A broader spectrum of content, a monolithic audience, and an instantaneously aggregating communal opinion have effectively multiplied and widened the avenues to fame. First we will discuss this democratization of fame—e.g. as opposed to the beginning of the film industry in America which was marked by extremely high input costs and an insurmountable barrier to entry, now anyone can post a video on YouTube to be viewed by millions of people. Then we will investigate virtual figurations of the modern celebrity — how various public figures present themselves and how others present them in the more removed mediums of “Web 2.0.” Next, we will examine the various ways in which individuals can transition between these two dispositions (individual/celebrity). How can one establish himself as “celebrity” through production strictly through Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, etc? Finally, each student participating in the seminar will be responsible for a specific “case study” of a cyberpersonality. They will unearth as many exchanges, presentations, formations, pieces of this digital being as they can and present their findings during our last session.

This seminar is intended to appeal to a variety of students across a breadth of disciplines. The syllabus contains philosophical, historical, sociological, anthropological, literary writings, as well as certain films and applicable pieces of art. Certainly students with backgrounds in computer science would bring valuable insight into the code behind these digital spaces, and biology/psychology students could help us understand the physical and mental repercussions of allowing cyberspace to invade our lives. More importantly, though, these are new technologies that almost all students have had at least some experience with, whether constructive or obstructive.

Seminar participants:
Andrew Smith ‘11 (Math)
Patrick Phelan ’11 (English/Economics)
Daniel Connochie ’11 (Psychology)
LinKai Jiang ’11 (Philosophy)
Katie Monroe ’12 (Anthropology/Gender & Sexuality Studies)
Robin Riskin ’12 (English/Africana Studies)
Jacob Horn ’13 (Classics)

Faculty Advisor:
Prof. Gus Stadler (English)

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