Friday, November 11, 2005

More on Academic Celebrities

At the Celebrity Culture conference, we very nearly had that panel on academic celebrity. On the Monday morning drive down to Ayr, Phil, David P. Marshall (Keynote) and I debated the potential merit of raising this subject in the programme, which is implict of many debates surrounding the public intellectual.

However, as the conference kicked-off, Phil and I became embroiled in the media frenzy, David lost his luggage, Diane couldn't get into the country, the fire-alarm went off and, in any case, we didnt really have enough time on the programme to put it together.

So, perhaps a follow-up meeting on this subject is in order? I mention this now after having seen Prospect Magazine's list of Global Public Intellectuals.

Noam Chomsky
tops the bill followed by:

Position Name Total votes

2 Umberto Eco 2464
3 Richard Dawkins 2188
4 Václav Havel 1990
5 Christopher Hitchens 1844
6 Paul Krugman 1746
7 Jürgen Habermas 1639
8 Amartya Sen 1590
9 Jared Diamond 1499
10 Salman Rushdie 1468
11 Naomi Klein 1378
12 Shirin Ebadi 1309
13 Hernando De Soto 1202
14 Bjørn Lomborg 1141
15 Abdolkarim Soroush 1114
16 Thomas Friedman 1049
17 Pope Benedict XVI 1046
18 Eric Hobsbawm 1037
19 Paul Wolfowitz 1028
20 Camille Paglia 1013
21 Francis Fukuyama 883
22 Jean Baudrillard 858
23 Slavoj Zizek 840
24 Daniel Dennett 832
25 Freeman Dyson 823
26 Steven Pinker 812
27 Jeffrey Sachs 810
28 Samuel Huntington 805
29 Mario Vargas Llosa 771
30 Ali al-Sistani 768
31 EO Wilson 742
32 Richard Posner 740
33 Peter Singer 703
34 Bernard Lewis 660
35 Fareed Zakaria 634
36 Gary Becker 630
37 Michael Ignatieff 610
38 Chinua Achebe 585
39 Anthony Giddens 582
40 Lawrence Lessig 565
41 Richard Rorty 562
42 Jagdish Bhagwati 561
43 Fernando Cardoso 556
44= JM Coetzee 548
44= Niall Ferguson 548
46 Ayaan Hirsi Ali 546
47 Steven Weinberg 507
48 Julia Kristeva 487
49 Germaine Greer 471
50 Antonio Negri 452
51 Rem Koolhaas 429
52 Timothy Garton Ash 428
53 Martha Nussbaum 422
54 Orhan Pamuk 393
55 Clifford Geertz 388
56 Yusuf al-Qaradawi 382
57 Henry Louis Gates Jr. 379
58 Tariq Ramadan 372
59 Amos Oz 358
60 Larry Summers 351
61 Hans Küng 344
62 Robert Kagan 339
63 Paul Kennedy 334
64 Daniel Kahnemann 312
65 Sari Nusseibeh 297
66 Wole Soyinka 296
67 Kemal Dervis 295
68 Michael Walzer 279
69 Gao Xingjian 277
70 Howard Gardner 273
71 James Lovelock 268
72 Robert Hughes 259
73 Ali Mazrui 251
74 Craig Venter 244
75 Martin Rees 242
76 James Q Wilson 229
77 Robert Putnam 221
78 Peter Sloterdijk 217
79 Sergei Karaganov 194
80 Sunita Narain 186
81 Alain Finkielkraut 185
82 Fan Gang 180
83 Florence Wambugu 159
84 Gilles Kepel 156
85 Enrique Krauze 144
86 Ha Jin 129
87 Neil Gershenfeld 120
88 Paul Ekman 118
89 Jaron Lanier 117
90 Gordon Conway 90
91 Pavol Demes 88
92 Elaine Scarry 87
93 Robert Cooper 86
94 Harold Varmus 85
95 Pramoedya Ananta Toer 84
96 Zheng Bijian 76
97 Kenichi Ohmae 68
98= Wang Jisi 59
98= Kishore Mahbubani 59
100 Shintaro Ishihara 57

Friday, August 05, 2005

Science & Celebrity (CFPs)

Details of a CFPs for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference in 2006. This relates a little to the previous post. I wonder if 'What the Bleep..' will come up or the whole range of celebs who openly endorse Scientology. Even though I did walk out after 30mins (which was generous), it is certainly an interesting case study for this theme.

(I just googled this to see whether it would pick up this posting and came up with a Wikipedia entry on Scientific Celebrity).

Call for Papers: Panel on Science and Celebrity
SCMS 2006 (Vancouver)

Abstract submissions are welcome for papers that explore the
crossroads between science and celebrity in film and media. In recent
years, the field of critical science studies has offered rich new areas
of inquiry for visual culture and cinema studies. In particular, there
is renewed interest in the early history of scientific cinema, the role
of visual technologies in the culture of medicine, and the sublime
force of science fiction media. This panel will take these concerns
further by examining specifically the way in which the visual cultures
of science are themselves creating new star systems. Whether it is the
scientists or their discoveries, the visual representation of science
creates a distinct celebrity culture that builds upon ideologies of
science as the hero or saviour of the future. Topics may include:
* representations of scientific discovery * the scientist as hero in film and media * science fiction icons and fan cultures * the place of visual technologies in the culture of science

Please submit a 200-300 word abstract, including your name,
affiliation, and contact information to:

Dr. Rebecca Sullivan
Associate Professor
Faculty of Communication and Culture
The University of Calgary

Deadline to submit is August 15th.

Dr. Rebecca Sullivan
Faculty of Communication and Culture ~ The University of Calgary
2500 University Dr NW ~ Calgary, AB ~ T2N 1N4
Tel. 403.220.3397 ~ Fax. 403.282.6716 ~

Sunday, July 24, 2005

I'm an academic, get me out of here

While programming the conference, we have thought about whether there should be a panel on academic celebrity. Perhaps Germaine Greer's brief appearance in UK Celebrity Big Brother is really at the furthest end of at least one scale and there is surely a lot to discuss about her alone. However, there are other questions, perhaps closer to serious issues for academics that are worthy of debate.

For example, does increased stardom for an academic lead to alienation from the academy and colleagues? I have spoken to some colleagues concerned about perceived jealousy from other colleagues, as their 'star' ascends, not that they put it quite like that! For me, it begs the question as to what relationship academics have with the media/public. A lot of my work is about science dissemination and these questions arise a lot. In this area, there seems to be a renewed interest to think through these matters and address public engagment through the media, perhaps as science questions seem more and more serious for the public. Institutions such as The Wellcome Trust and the British Association for the Advancement of Science seem keen to address the public-scientist divide.

The recent RAE statements on broader dissemination, perhaps, urges academics to think about how they relate to the media and communicate their work. Equally, scientists have been criticised for approaching the media, before their findings have been peer reviewed. It seems to me that media scholars play a crucial role in these discussions.

It does not seem satisfactory for academics to remain within their ivory towers, dismissive of wider dissemination. However, I doubt their are few academics in the humanities and, perhaps, the social sciences, who write a press release each time they have a new article published. Admittedly, I am not convinced that they should have to either. Writing press releases can be incredibly dull and is better done by those who have the skills for this sort of task.

Clearly, academics are perhaps not celebrities in a broader sense, though scientists such as Robert Winston, Susan Greenfield and others are certainly in the public eye a great deal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Olympic 2012 Celebrity line-up

I was just reading an article in The Telegraph, which mentions that Aboriginal-Australian athlete Cathy Freeman is going to be a major ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic team. The Telegraph reports that she was a big hit in Singapore during the final bid presentation where "It was noticeable during the build-up to the vote how many IOC members approached Freeman to be photographed with her." (Hazel, 2005, Jul 18, Daily Telegraph, London)

I didn't really see much of the final day presentation broadcasts leading up to the International Olympic Committeee decision on 6 July, but I do recall seeing a press conference where journalists were surprised by the lack of celebrities in the Paris bid team. Something along the lines of 'but,where are your celebrities?'. I was told by some colleagues that there were, in fact, some celebs there for Paris, but, nevertheless, one might wonder how much the celebs really nailed it for London. To London's advantage, there seemed particular merit in having David Beckham alongside, specifically because he self-identified as a native of the east London region that would benefit from the regeneration the Olympics would bring.

(image, Cathy Freeman in Athens media centre during the Olympics)

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Live8, g8, Geldof, Bono, and Others

It seems important to blog something about the Live8, G8, Bob Geldof activities. I read this in one of Mick Hume's columns in Sp!ked OnLine, which captures the tensions well i think:

"No doubt the pop stars and other celebrities involved in Live 8 and the Long Walk to Justice campaign see themselves as radical troublemakers, holding the politicians' feet to the flames. Yet in a sense they are more like unwitting stooges of the political class, helping to give the politicians more credibility in getting their message across. That is why government ministers and politicians of all parties have been falling over themselves to express support for Live 8. It is why chancellor Brown, not a man one would ever associate with street activism, has called on people to support the mass demonstration in Edinburgh planned to coincide with July's G8 summit of world leaders in Scotland. It is worth recalling that the Commission for Africa, which issued a highly critical report on the international community's attitude to Africa and is now commonly referred to as 'Bob Geldof's Commission', was actually set up by Blair to perform that role." (link to article)

With the G8 protests just around the corner, I doubt this will be the only entry on this subject. We still don't know how easy it will be to get to Edinbrugh on Saturday, though it seems likely that getting to Gleneagles will either be impossible or pointless. There also seems to be considerable confusion about what is happening on each day. The 'Geldof' day of the 6th is unrelated to the 'Make Poverty History' day of the 2nd.

It can be quite difficult to discern how 'important' Live8 and the G8 is for the rest of the world. We have spoken with people in Spain and the USA who have certainly not heard much about 'Make Poverty History' campaign. Over the last few weeks, the multiplex cinemas have been screening a new Orange advert featuring Ewan McGregor and the MPH work. The format is consistent with the recent Orange cinema adverts, where the celebrity makes their film pitch to the Orange funding committee.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Taking the Michael

So, Michael Jackson has finally been found not guilty this week on all counts in his trial on child molestation charges, ending a two-year legal case. However the question of how he is to resurrect his previously celestial pop career remains unanswered. Jackson's stunned response denied the world's media with hoped-for footage of a jubilant star, and wall-to-wall media pundits queued up on television news to speculate as to his recovery plan (a show at Vegas? Touring Asia? Setting up a theme park in Africa?)

Meanwhile the real star of the trial was Jackson's defence attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr. (nicknamed 'The Mez') became his official mouthpiece and something of a celebrity in his own right. With his flowing white hair and tenacious cross-examination of witnesses, plus an intriguing past: an amateur boxer, defending celebrities such as Robert Blake and Mike Tyson, recently acquitting (without fees) a man on Death Row, it is surely not long before The Mez joins the celebrity chat-show and book promotion circuit.

Jackson's trial undoubtedly dominated the news agenda of the last few weeks. I suspect that most people thought he would ultimately be acquitted, not least due to an increasing cynicism in the legal process that has led to a number of celebrities - from O.J. Simpson to Kobe Bryant and Robert Blake - walking free from serious crime allegations. However Douglas Gomery has suggested that by not having cameras in the courtroom Jackson may have got a fairer trial, less influenced by his celebrity status. Of course, despite the lack of a live feed from inside the court, there was no shortage of television crews outside and following the daily vigil of his fans at Neverland.

The lack of media access to the proceedings created, for me, the most fascinating part of the trial: Sky News' television reconstruction of the events of the day each night. Turning the celebrity trial into a compulsive soap opera, as a viewer I felt compelled each day to check up on the day's events. Part of this fascination, of course, lies in the simulation of the real: marvelling at 'Jackson's' performance (played by impersonator Edward Moss) and that of The Mez (a gripping performance by Rigg Kennedy) overseen by Judge Rodney Melville (Star Trek veteran, Jack Donner). Watching the nightly performance, followed by 'expert' commentary and, online, by a discussion group, allowed us to speculate about the case in ways that reading a court transcript could not. How did Jackson look when witnesses took the stand? How close did the actor that played Culkin resemble the former child star? How did the evidence presented stack up?

Although Sky emphasised the programme was a 'reconstruction' and not a 'dramatisation' , and emphasised the meticulous copying of the actual court-room, the presentation of events, often complete with cliff-hanger ending, inevitably led me to look forward to the next 'episode'. It seems that the Jackson story will be continue to run and run. Today I read in the Hollywood Reporter that a television project featuring Michael Jackson and some of his relatives is being pitched to media companies. A prospective six-episode series revolving around the Jackson family (a kind of 'Meet the Jackson's') has been touted, with exclusive footage promised from during the trial.

Doubtless one might see these programmes as some kind of postmodern mediatisation of celebrity, where the simulation replaces the real. However all celebrities are mediated - this is the nature of our para-social contract with them - and the authenticity of Jackson may ultimately be no more demonstrable than that of his impersonator. And yet, the promise of the 'real me', the revelation of the authentic celebrity remains, for us, as consumers of media, as alluring as ever.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

How Arnold Won the West

A couple of weeks ago, the local art cinema screened this documentary made by Alex Cooke. There was a brief introduction from a local journalist who was, not suprisingly, a little alarmed at the state of California. The documentary seems to pursue this peculiar charcater, deliberately highlighting its wackiness - somehow it makes sense that The Terminator is Governor here. In fact, in one of the crucial candidate debates, Arnie even throws in a few one liners from his movies. Aside from the prostitute candidate, that guy from Different Strokes, and a range of superheroes who were interviewed for the documentary, this is a really regular film! Actually, it seems a little too gratitutious, as if some commissioning editor has just experienced a Eureka moment when realizing that Arnie might one day become Precident.

The celebrity as spectacle finds its paradigmatic case through this film, but it also feels a little like the bottom has dropped out of protest-documentary making, which was disappointing. There is no protest here, message here, except 'weird, huh?'.

I much preferred the Spike Lee short 'We Wuz Robbed', which was 10 times shorter (and not about Arnie's governorship). Watchable, if only to witness how lazy documentary making might become, though I am sure it was not an easy film to assemble.