The Labor of Being Famous


How do you make a celebrity? It’s popular to think of celebrities as highly disposable—as cheap and as flimsy as a poly-blend tank from Forever 21, with similarly dubious ethics of production. But the labor involved in the production of celebrity is not only complex, but taxing—on both the body and the psyche.

Anne Helen Peterson writes for The Baffler (yesssss) about Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, and the work it takes to manufacture celebrity. She talks about how we feel about certain celebrities has a lot to do with how they make, or don’t make, that labor visible. It is fun and smart, in typical AHP fashion.

Historically, celebrity labor has become most visible when labor, writ large, has entered the national conversation. Bette Davis was one of the biggest stars of The Depression Era—and it’s not coincidence that her image was built on the constant invocation of her unflappable New England work ethic. Even the rhetoric around Shirley Temple was obsessed with labor—specifically, the absence thereof. Unlike the millions of children who had been forced to labor after the crash, Temple supposedly saw her non-stop shooting schedule, the memorization of lines, and learning elaborate tap-dance routine as “play.”

It makes sense, then, that the visibility of celebrity labor would coincide with a period of fraught, if often sublimated, labor politics—a visibility facilitated by the spread and co-option of social media by a broad array of celebrities. Beyoncé Knowles Carter has arguably done this most visibly and effectively. Her singular name, like Madonna or Cher, is the product of her labor. Her perfectly curated Tumblr, coupled with her equally curated documentary, Beyoncé: Life is But a Dream, advance an image that is equal parts sweat, control, and endurance. This image does not take away from the mystique of Beyoncé, it adds to it: we like her more, not less, because of the supposed transparency: Girl works hard to be the Queen.

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