Is Celebrity Going Stale?

Inevitably there comes a point when any market gets over-supplied.  Cheap goods flood in, and buyers gradually disappear.  Is that what’s happening to Hollywood stars?

According to a story in The New York Times, the fees that Hollywood stars are receiving are way down:  “Most of the three-dozen or so top-billed actors in the 10 films up for best picture in this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony . . . appear to have received relatively minuscule upfront payments for their work.”

The underlying problem, of course, is that earnings in the movie industry are generally down.  Moreover, in a depressed economy, they’re unreliable.  But Peter Dekom, a film industry lawyer, linked “the general devaluation of movie stars to a lack of interest among younger viewers.”  As he put it:  “Stars don’t resonate with the ‘what’s next’ crowd.” (See, “For Movie Stars, the Big Money Is Now Deferred.”)

There is a psychological dimension to this.  The consumer has to cooperate in creating the magic of stardom.  The object of fascination has to be veiled with an allure denied to most of us, set apart, idealized.  If we do not allow ourselves to be awestruck, it doesn’t work.

But it may simply be that, in an age awash with celebrities, we have too many of them.  Too many are getting too much attention too easily to sustain the magic.  It may not be true, as Andy Warhol predicted, that all of us will have our 15 minutes of fame, but what did “Joe the Plumber” do to earn the attention he got?  What is really required of the “stars” of reality shows?

And those who actually act on the screen, the original “stars,” so many of them have been all too frequently arrested for drunken driving, racial slurs, domestic abuse and other forms of vile behavior that it is not longer possible to believe they live on a different plane.

The emotional capital of fame has been squandered.  Now we have to get our thrills from the special effects the studios are able to manufacture – not our minds.