Issues, Resources & Lesson Plans
COME BACK A STAR: THE CULTURE AND MYTH OF CELEBRITYCatherine Zeta-Jones as Peggyin the West End, UK production 1984Jerry Orbach and Wanda Richertin the Original Broadway production, 1980
STAR-STRUCK: CELEBRITIES AND WHY CARE
Students will examine the phenomenon “celebrity,” reflecting on how celebrity influences their lives, discussing the social norms and motivations behind identifying with and/or glorifying celebrities, and developing critical skills as consumers of popular culture and modern media.
When Dorothy Brock, the star of Pretty Lady (the show being mounted in 42nd Street) breaks her ankle in an out-of-town tryout, director Julian Marsh cancels the production, screaming: “No star - no show!”
The attention we bestow on celebrities -- and the power and influence that they gain - has grown exponentially, especially in the media-rich 21st century. “A star was born” on the stage prior to the 20th Century, when movies and TV quickly became the primary vehicle. Now the internet and social media have become a platform for “celebrification” in our society.
A celebrity is someone who is famous, especially in areas of entertainment such as movies, music, writing, or sports. If a person or thing achieves celebrity, they become famous, especially in areas of entertainment such as movies, music, writing, or sports.
The transformation of ordinary people and public figures into celebrities.
A meta-process that grasps the changing nature, as well as the societal and cultural embedding of celebrity.
“Celebrity Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary.” Celebrity Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary, www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/celebrity.
“The Celebritization of Society and Culture: Understanding the Structural Dynamics of Celebrity Culture.” SAGE Journals, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1367877912459140.
READ AND REFLECT
1. Ask students to read the “Psychology Today” article at the link below.
2. Ensure comprehension among students regarding the evolutionary nature of “the intense interest that we have in other people who are socially important to us,” and how we might (given the relatively recent emergence of celebritization) interpret celebrities as socially important to our lives.
3. In the article, author Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D. argues that celebrities “provide a common interest and topic of conversation between people who otherwise might not have much to say to one another, and they facilitate the types of informal interactions that help people become comfortable in new surroundings.” Ask students when and where this has applied to their lives, and who the celebrities are that provide “common interest.”
4. A research study the author co-authored suggests that “young people even look to celebrities and popular culture for learning life strategies that would have been learned from role models within one’s tribe long ago.” Again, ask students to elaborate on anything they might be learning from celebrities...including Influencers and YouTubers.
TEDx TALK: THE SOCIOLOGY OF GOSSIP
“More than one million people now read LaineyGossip.com every month, making it a leading international celebrity news source. Elaine Lui’s years of experience in the media, celebrity entertainment and blogging space have helped her shape a fascinating TED talk about gossip and it's critical place within modern pop culture.”
ENGAGE (SMALL GROUP DISCUSSIONS, RESEARCH and REFLECTION)
Lesson plans and resources from the New York Times Learning Network encourage students to further explore pop idols and cultural trends to help them hone their analytical skills and encourage them to become more critical consumers of media and popular culture. Lesson plan excerpt:
1. Lead a brainstorm in which students think of criteria or categories for analyzing and critically reviewing pop stars in music or other areas of entertainment. These criteria might include:
- Talent and skill
- Physical attributes
- Magnetism and presence
- Performance genre and style
- Personal style
- Back story
- Business strategy, including management and public relations
- Media coverage
- Influences from past and contemporary artists
- Influence on current culture and trends
2. Have students use their categories as a starting point or framework to act as “cultural critics.” We offer four specific assignment suggestions here, to be tailored to your curriculum or embedded as a unit on media or cultural studies.
- Review the Reviews: Have students look up New York Times reviews of another pop idol or a celebrity of choice in music, movies, television or other areas, noting descriptive words and phrases that match their criteria. Do the articles assess the person’s star quality? How is the celebrity described and evaluated? They might write a “review of reviews,” perhaps adding an explanation of how well the reviews correspond with their own impressions of the star.
- Compare and Contrast Media Coverage: Students use their criteria to analyze media coverage of a single celebrity of their choice – from at least five written sources, which might include entertainment industry magazines, “fanzines,” celebrity news Web sites and mainstream publications. How do the various publications treat the star? What do they say about his or her talent, back story, style and so on? How do the approaches differ in terms of article topics, purpose, focus or slant, tone and other writing elements? How is the star represented in photographs? How would they categorize the sources and the articles themselves – as criticism, information, hype, gossip, entertainment or other?
- Compare Idols and Icons Past and Present: Students create a timeline of at least 10 past and present pop idols from the past, focusing on one category, like female stars. Under what circumstances did they rise to fame? What “trademarks” were they known for? What were their biggest hits? How did they influence the culture, fashion and trends of their times? Students might also include clips from interviews with older friends or family members who experienced the “fever” associated with the idols they are studying.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL LESSON PLAN
See the entire lesson plan here:
- What, do you believe, motivates most political leaders, business leaders and/or media influencers – money, power, celebrity, a cause or the desire to do good? What role does ego play in making your way to the top?
- What is the allure of "fame"? What are the costs of fame and celebrity?
- Why do you think that we as a culture are so celebrity obsessed?
- How do celebrities influence the way we think about ourselves?
- What influence do celebrities have on our daily lives?
- Why does the image -- physical appearance, fashion or material possessions - of professional athletes, models, politicians and entertainers seem to have a greater effect on the way many of us model our lives than does their talent, athletic prowess or overall character?
“AM I REALLY A STAR?”
Students will take a deeper dive into celebrity in 2019, examining the recent emergence of YouTube celebrity culture as a modern platform for stardom. Students will discuss, reflect and analyze what makes someone a celebrity, evaluating celebrity behavior.
42nd Street is set in the 1930s, when breaking into “The Biz” meant hoofing your way to New York City, and landing a featured role in a Broadway show was every chorus girl’s dream. If you made it on Broadway, you became a star - whether as an actress like Peggy or Dorothy or a famed Director like Julian March.
With the advent of film and TV, the idea of celebrity became more accessible. Now, the popularity and access of the internet and social media have created an entirely new platform for talented (and not-so-talented) young people with dreams of becoming wealthy and famous: they don’t even have to leave their bedroom.
READ AND WATCH
“YouTube Culture Creates A New Celebrity Phenomenon”
Ask your students what YouTubers they follow, and why. Do their friends follow the same YouTubers as well? Do any of the students have YouTube channels themselves?
Share Hunter College student Rocco Pita’s editorial on YouTube culture explores the emergence of “YouTuber” celebrity and the influence they can have...for harm or for good. Pita notes:
“It’s interesting to see this dynamic because, especially vloggers and gamers, don’t particularly showcase any talent like famous musicians and actors. It’s interesting that the way these content creators have garnered a following just for following their passions or interests. The near celebrity reaction over these YouTubers has led to even mainstream news outlets reporting on their content and situations.”
3. Split students into small groups to watch the satirical music video that YouTuber Jon Cozart (aka Paint) created that highlights the less altruistic aspects of generating a online following. Lyrics can be found within the description of the YouTube video (warning: there are some adult references, review before sharing).
4. Assign each group a verse of the song to analyze. What is the meaning behind the lyrics? What does the verse say about the YouTube Culture? Do they think it is a valid commentary on YouTube Culture? Why or why not?
5. Assign a solo homework assignment instructing students to take a selfie/write a post or create a video that screams “celebrity wannabe.” Think of ordinary moments in your life – going out to eat, getting coffee with a friend, shopping, cleaning your room – and try to manage, create or amplify a manufactured image of who your followers want to see or believe you to be on Instagram, FB, Twitter or Snap Chat. Share them in class.
Who is your favorite celebrity couple? What makes their relationship so entertaining? Why do we become so obsessed with their personal lives?
How do you identify your personal gifts? What does it feel like to be acknowledged or recognized for your talent, intelligence or natural ability? What responsibilities come with talent and ability? Does hard work and true passion compensate for innate talent? When? How do you define professional/artistic success?
We live in a celebrity obsessed culture. After discussing the allure and power of “celebrity,” invite students to participate in a simple party game in which teams of players try to get their teammates to guess which celebrity they are describing or portraying.
The game is played in three rounds:
Round 1: clues describing the celebrity
Round 2: impersonating or acting as the celebrity (no words)
Round 3: one word clue
- Divide the class into equal groups of 4 – 6 students. Each group is matched to another opposing team of the same size. Each team member is given 3-5 slips of paper where each individual is asked to write down the name of a “celebrity.” Names can range from historical figures (Abraham Lincoln, William Shakespeare) to fictional characters (Captain America, Spongebob) to movie, music and sports stars (Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, LeBron James) to reality TV stars (Kim Kardashian, The Bachelor) etc. Names must not be revealed. All the team members place the folded slips in a container (bowl, hat, bag). Each small group is paired with another competing team.
- Round 1 (Verbal clues): Team 1 begins by choosing a volunteer to start. The 1-minute timer begins and he or she grabs a slip from the hat/bag and uses verbal clues to describe the celebrity name on the slip, trying to get his or her team to correctly guess the name. Once the name is guessed correctly, 1 point is earned. He or she sets the slip aside and quickly grabs another slip. He or she tries to get as many points as possible before time expires. If the volunteer does not know the celebrity name, he or she can “skip” and move onto the next slip, but this causes a -1 penalty for each slip that is skipped. Now it’s Team 2’s turn. They also choose a volunteer and does the same process with the remaining slips in the bag. This process continues until all slips are correctly guessed and no more slips remain in the hat/bag. Add up all the number of slips for each team, and subtract any penalty points. This is the score. The round is complete after all of the suggestion slips have been used.
- Round 2 (Acting as the celebrity): Get all the slips from Round 1 and place them back into the bag. Round 2 is similar to round 1, but instead of verbally describing someone as clues, players act as the celebrity. This round is similar to Charades in which players can not talk at all; they must simply gesture and use non-verbal clues.
- Round 3 (One-word clues): The final round uses the same clues as Round 1 and 2, but this time, players can only say one word per slip. Thus, the challenge is thinking of a descriptive, helpful clue in one succinct word based on what has played out in previous rounds.