where it came from


The late anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously defined culture as an “ensemble of stories we tell about ourselves.” By that reckoning, the tales of “Entertainment Tonight” are as much a part of culture as a Shakespeare play, and potentially just as meaningful. It is not an altogether happy thought and one that, in minds less discerning than Geertz’s, helped license a parade of academic folly marching under the banner of “cultural studies.” From analyses of the power dynamics of Madonna to deconstructions of “Gilligan’s Island,” the field has produced work to make even the forgiving reader want to reach for a gun. “A Short History of Celebrity” is in part a work of cultural studies, written by Fred Inglis, an ardent Geertzian and a self-confessed backbencher in the “herbivorous old Labour Party” that continues to rue Margaret Thatcher’s ascendance and socialism’s demise. One will find in its pages predictable indictments of the shortcomings of contemporary democracy and rants against the “international rich.” Yet for all that, Mr. Inglis is more even-handed than many of his colleagues, and sager too, able to see beyond the ephemera of the moment to take a more expansive view. He asks not simply what the culture of celebrity means today, but where it came from.

more from Darrin M. McMahon at the WSJ here.