“Starstruck”: How vapid celebrity took over the world

Paris Hilton
Cover of Paris Hilton
‘Over the past decade, “celebrity” has undergone a massive transformation: The rise of reality television, the Internet and social networking have meant that more people are becoming famous, for shorter periods of time, for doing less than ever before. Two decades ago, it would have been unthinkable that a woman like Snooki — a woman of no discernible talent or taste — could become a household name. And yet, there she is, waving for the camera and launching her own personalized slipper line.

As Elizabeth Currid-Halkett explains in her fascinating, well-researched new book, Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, recent developments in the celebrity industry can tell us a great deal about our changing global culture. In an era in which more and more people are feeling alienated from their peers, stars give us a common language and allow a greater degree of social cohesion. They also fuel enormous industries — celebrity-driven occupations generate $1.5 billion in salary in Los Angeles alone. Elsewhere in the book, Currid-Halkett, the author of The Warhol Economy and an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, uses party photographs and Google to draw fascinating conclusions about the geography and social stratification of the celebrity world (Note to Angelina Jolie: Getting photographed in Las Vegas might actually hurt your fame).

Salon spoke to Currid-Halkett over the phone from Los Angeles, about our changing star culture, our obsession with celebrity minutiae, and why Paris Hilton actually deserves our respect.’ (Salon.com).