This book examines American popular culture to demonstrate that celebrities have superseded religious figures as moral authorities. As trust in religious institutions has waned over recent decades, the once frivolous entertainment fringe has become the moral center. Young people and voters increasingly take cues from actors and athletes.
The book begins by offering a definition of celebrity and showing that the profile of celebrities has changed dramatically, particularly since the 1960s. They can now chart their own careers, manage their own personal lives and weigh in on pressing moral issues in a manner that hasn’t always been the case. This can be to the good, it is argued, for some counterintuitive reasons. Very few stars pretend to be moral exemplars, unlike the frequently hypocritical elites they have replaced. Others, however, are seemingly poorly qualified to speak on complex moral issues. In the end, it also turns out that who tells us how to feel about any moral issue counts at least as much as what they tell us.
This is a fresh look at the impact of celebrity culture on contemporary morality and religious authority. As such, it will be of great use to academics working in religious studies and ethics, as well as popular culture and media studies.
Table of Contents
Part One: Coveting
Introduction: The Rapid Rise of Celebrity Sovereignty
1 The Sin of Coveting: What (Supposedly) Makes Celebrity Watching Morally Dangerous
2 Stunning Stars: Celebrity Fascination
3 Why We Ogle: Reasons for Our Fascination
Part Two: Moral Authority
4 Celebrity Moralism: When Stars Stand on Principle
5 Moral Credentials
Part Three: The Ethics of Celebrity Watching (and Bashing)
6 Aging Anxiety and the Burden of Celebrity
7 Privacy: A Plea for Respect
8 Why We Mock: Revulsion to "Weak" Celebrities
9 Celebrity Deaths
Conclusion: A Race to the Bottom
John Portmann is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, USA. He has written seven previous monographs, including Women and Gay Men in the Postwar Period (2016), The Ethics of Sex and Alzheimer's (2013), and Catholic Culture in the USA (2009) and has also edited an anthology on sin.