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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fame, celebrity & mass media in the digital age: Daniel Boorstin's cultural decline, or passport to a parallel universe?
by McCaa, John Kimberly, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Dallas, 2015, 217; 3706639
Abstract (Summary)

An examination of the famous and celebrities within a country can offer a view to the values of its people. The Romans had Caesar, the Egyptians Cleopatra and in the early twentieth century Americans admired Charles Lindbergh. From each of them, scholars have learned something about the age in which they lived and the people of their time. Standards of beauty, behavior, and success have been gleaned by examining women and men held in the public spotlight. The historian Daniel Boorstin worried that that was changing in the United States by the twentieth century due to the growing influence of mass media. His 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America warned that the country was straying from values that he believed made it great. Image and appearance, he warned, were replacing experience and achievement as most important in persons gaining public recognition. A proliferation of mass media manufactured "pseudo-events" was the cause he said, impacting not only who was recognized but the country's ideals. Boorstin labeled it a "cultural decline" that had started with the Graphic Revolution. Although changes in western society did take place and that change was revolutionary, this dissertation suggests a slow but steady "evolution" of the self was also underway and may be more descriptive of what was and is still occurring today. This study links industrialization, dramatic technological advances, and the conversion of American society from rural to urban dwellers to a transformation of the "self" that started as far back as the Reformation, as causes for the changes. That transformation sparked a slowly budding struggle over control of self-identity that continues to this day. A half century after Daniel Boorstin issued his warning, this dissertation explores not just the accuracy of his predictions but why and how many business and political interests and social elites still struggle to maintain some influence over how Americans perceive themselves through images, how concepts of fame and celebrity continue to evolve and why the scholarly conversation about mass media, culture and society generated by his original hypothesis may be more important to explore today than ever.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wickberg, Daniel B.
Commitee: McLean, Adrienne L., Roemer, Nils, Terry, Dean
School: The University of Texas at Dallas
Department: Humanities-History of Ideas
School Location: United States -- Texas
Source: DAI-A 76/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: History, Aesthetics, Mass communications
Keywords: Boorstin, Celebrity, Fame, Horkheimer
Publication Number: 3706639
ISBN: 978-1-321-80681-6
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