A celebrity is someone who has gained fame through their work or appearances in the media. Typically, the most famous celebrities are people that work in the fields of sports, entertainment or politics and are considered to be the highest-profile professionals within their field.
Celebrity culture has always been present in Western society, however it is at its most widespread and pronounced today as a result of the ubiquity of mass media. In addition to a range of social and political leaders, celebrities are also found in the domains of science and technology, music, fashion and literature.
Some celebrities are successful despite having little talent or background in their area of expertise, while others become well known only because of their extraordinary talents and unique styles. Some of the most famous celebrities are singers, actors and actresses.
Most people in late capitalist societies, particularly those that are well educated, have a strong likelihood to become celebrities. Prominent business leaders, financially successful investors, high-ranking politicians, prominent global news and media leaders, top level government officials, and high-profile religious and humanitarian figures are all highly likely to become celebrities.
Often, this commodification of the public face of celebrities can be understood as part of late capitalism’s ‘culturalisation of economics’ (Andrews and Jackson, 2001). The growing intimacy between the audience and their favorite celebrity is often associated with a’sense of familiarity, intrigue and obsession’ that encourages fans to develop a sense of their favorite celeb’s ‘authenticity’ in order to form an emotional connection.
The desire to discover the person behind the public face of a celebrity has been central to celebrity culture since ancient times, with attempts to determine whether a celebrity is real or simply a constructed staged character a primary focus of popular interest. It is also thought that the split between a private self and a public self that occurs when a celebrity is portrayed in the media has long been a fundamental characteristic of human existence, at least in Western society.
Another common feature of the development of celebrity culture is the creation of communities, which largely consist of followers or fanatics who are in awe of the celebrity, and seek to emulate them. Such groups have a variety of functions, including social cohesion and identity formation.
Although most celebrities are popular for their roles as performers or athletes, many of them also play other important roles in society, such as entrepreneurs and businessmen. Moreover, some celebrities are philanthropic or humanitarian and have made a major contribution to their community.
In some regions of the world, local celebrities are more prominent than national ones. For example, a local radio personality or newscaster in the Southwestern US may be more well-known than a celebrity from New York City who is known throughout the rest of the country.
Other examples include religious and humanitarian leaders such as Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and various pastors and activists who campaign for a specific cause. These ‘celebrities’ often attract large numbers of fans and followers, and are seen as role models for a wide range of young people.