The George Washington University
University Writing Program
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The George Washington University
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Who we choose to celebrate and how we view our celebrities speaks volumes about who we are as a culture. We have always been fascinated by the famous, those people who seem somehow larger than life no matter what their fields of endeavor. We've also been interested in the infamous- insane monarchs, serial killers, playboy spies, bank robber folk heroes. Recently, it would seem, we have also become fascinated with our own fascination. In this course we will look carefully at the how of our fascination, examining not only our (often conflicting) attitudes toward fame, the famous, the semi-famous and fame's wannabes, but also at the mechanisms through which we express these attitudes.
Before we can do this however, we will need to pause to ask what it means to be famous in today's world. Britney Spears, Brad Pitt, Paris Hilton - certain people are "known" worldwide, whether or not you follow their carreers, listen to their music or watch their movies. However, the fragmentation of media (we are no longer living in a three network, AM/FM world) creates the possibility for what I refer to as niche fame, fame that is limited to a relatively small demographic. For example, you may know who Chris Martin is (or you may not). It is unlikely however that your grandparents know. Jensen Ackles? At least five million people in the United States know who he is, and several million more worldwide. Is he famous? How about dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip? Unlikely, unless you are British and and/or listen to certain types of music. How well known do you have to be for the term "famous" to apply? What's the difference between fame, celebrity, infamy? And how about the men pictured at the top of this page? What, if anything do they have in common besides their beards and their fame? Do you know who they all are?
We also need to ask what changes the new methods of creation and circulation of fame have wrought. The famous no longer rest comfortably on the silver screen or sit waving in the back of the car during the ticker tape parade. They are less seperate from you and me both literally (it seems we all know someone famous or can connect ourselves to someone famous somehow) and conceptually. And this is where fans come in. Fans are no longer passive consumers of celebrity culture, of films, books, television series. Fans appropriate, via websites, through fan fiction and videos, message boards and blogs. They are *involved*. In turn the famous have had to respond by interacting with fans in the *fan's* spaces rather than vice versa. They have their own webpages, their own MySpace and Facebook pages and they make their presence known. All this accords to the fans an unprecedented, and ultimately paradoxical power.
It is this power, both of the famous and of those who keep tabs on them, that will form the basis of our research and writing.
And finally, why this topic for a writing course. First and foremost the primary mode of fan participation has become writing (fan participation in online forums, on their own blogs, in fan communities, through the wrting of fan fiction). Fandom is about publically sharing thoughts and feelings with others. For academics, writing in such a relatively young field presents its own set of challenges and rewards. While there is a growing body of research on the topic there is still much to be done. The topic is multi-disciplinary; sociologists, psychologists, media scholoars, and journalists have all had input into the field. Academics drawn to the field also must wrestle, perhaps more than most, with issues of audience and tone. Are they writing as academics or fans themselves? Are they writing to other fans or to other academics? These are also issues - audience and tone - that we will be engaging with during the semester.