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Exploring the transition of celebrities into institutional-electoral politics, the book argues that many insights developed by genre theorists could be highly instrumental to understand the celebrity politics phenomenon. It analyzes the historical and cultural specificity of celebrity politics as it evolved through different countries and cultures.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Celebrity Politics: a Theoretical and Historical Perspective

1. Celebrity Politics: a Theoretical and Historical Perspective

From its early beginnings in the early 1950s until today, the study of celebrities as a social phenomenon has been linked to the rise of the mass media and entertainment industries. The pioneering works in this field were particularly emphatic regarding celebrities’ lack of power in comparison to other influential groups within society, resulting in the perception that issues regarding celebrities and institutional power or party politics were not discussed not because they were neglected, but because celebrity politics is a relatively recent phenomenon. While there is a broad consensus among researchers on the impact of mass media on celebrity culture as a whole, it is quite illuminating to note that the first academic essays and references to celebrities as a social group appeared only with the emergence of television as mass consumption product.
Nahuel Ribke

Television Celebrities and Israeli Politics

Frontmatter

2. Female Models in Israeli Politics: from the Runway to TV, and from the Small Screen to the Knesset

Since the late 1990s, four former fashion models and television presenters have decided to join the Israeli political sphere, running as candidates for the Knesset (Israeli parliament). With rather lacklustre careers in the fashion industry, and having hosted low-rating television programmes in marginal time slots for at least a few years, they all seemed to achieve much more in politics than their status in television could have led us to expect. Two of them, Anastasia Michaeli and Orly Levi, were successfully elected, becoming active legislators and enjoying extensive media attention, while the others failed in their attempt to become professional politicians. The transition of these former models to politics can be seen as part of a wider phenomenon of Israeli media celebrities’ conversion to professional politicians. Yair Lapid, a television presenter who became Israel’s Finance Minister in 2013 after launching his own political party,2 and Shelly Yachimowich, a journalist and television and radio commentator who became the Israeli Labor Party leader in 2011, are often regarded as the most visible figures among media celebrities who have turned into professional politicians. While the transition of a former journalist to politics is not perceived as a break from past practices, the fashion models’ transition to politics was seen by the media and commentators as a new phenomenon in the Israeli political landscape.
Nahuel Ribke

3. Like Father Like Son: Converting Media Capital into Political Power (or, How an Israeli Television Presenter Became Finance Minister)

Let’s forget for a moment that we are dealing with the celebrity politics phenomenon from an academic perspective, and instead imagine that we are a fly on the wall in a brainstorming discussion by a team of creative directors, marketing strategists, and comics writers working in a media conglomerate. Defined as a ‘top secret’ meeting, the session takes place sometime in the late 1990s. The objective is to create a new type of superhero, a mass media leader with the special powers needed to overcome any obstacles and limitations faced by mere mortals in the media industry.
Nahuel Ribke

Making Music Matter: the Electoral Politics of Pop Celebrity in Latin America

Frontmatter

4. Tropicalizing Politics: Gilberto Gil’s Perplexing Miscegenation of Music and Politics

Gilberto Gil is considered one of the most important Brazilian musicians alive today. A brilliant composer, songwriter, guitarist, and singer, Gil has been at the centre of the Brazilian public sphere from the middle of the 1960s to the present day. First as an avant-garde musician who revolutionized Brazilian popular culture, and later as Minister of Culture during the first presidential term of Luis Ignacio ‘Lula’ da Silva (2003–8), Gil attracted enormous attention from the media for his talent and creativity, but also for his lifestyle and personal choices. A popular musician, social activist, politician, and celebrity, Gil’s career epitomizes the profound and contradictory transformations Brazilian society has undergone during the last five decades. In this chapter I analyse the complex relation between Gil’s career in the music industry and in politics, emphasizing the multiple cultural, economic, and social forces that shaped his trajectory into music and later into politics. Although Gilberto Gil is not the only celebrity musician to have moved into electoral politics, he was one of the pioneers in this area, and until now, the most successful in attaining a high position in the hierarchy of Brazilian politics.
Nahuel Ribke

5. The Harvard Lawyer vs the Bad Boy from the Bronx: Explaining the Political Performance Gaps between Rubén Blades and Willie Colón

Rubén Blades and Willie Colón are commonly regarded as the two undisputed salsa music giants. Their joint album Siembra from 1978 is considered a masterpiece of the genre, highly praised by critics for its hard-hitting lyrics and sophisticated musical arrangements. Siembra was also a best-selling album for a salsa record, with 3 million copies sold around the world and several hits, such as ‘Pedro Navaja’, ‘Plastico’, and ‘Buscando Guayaba’, which became true salsa classics.1 Once their successful artistic partnership ended, the musical career of these two great musicians took a very dissimilar path. Rubén Blades became a major international pop icon, famous for his performances as a Hollywood actor as well, whereas Willie Colón remained a relatively obscure figure within the American musical scene, confined mainly to salsa music and Hispanic listeners. In addition to their artistic activities, both Blades and Colón had dabbled in professional politics, again with very disparate results. Rubén Blades became a major political figure in Panama, his native country, first as a presidential candidate and later as Minister of Tourism; Willie Colón failed in his endeavour to become a candidate for the US Congress, and his political activity was restricted to serving as advisor to New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg, representing the local Puerto Rican community.
Nahuel Ribke

Cinema Celebrities in American Politics

Frontmatter

6. The American Pattern of Celebrity Politics: from Military Role Model to Civilian Hero?

Despite Hollywood’s widespread reputation as a liberal stronghold, it has in fact been conservative-Republican film actors who have enjoyed the greatest success in their transition to institutional politics. George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are often mentioned as examples of conservative Hollywood stars who have successfully converted their ‘celebrity capital’ into political power, validating their popularity among their audiences in the polls. Charlton Heston, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood were also major Hollywood stars who projected an archetypal masculine cinematic persona. They were all engaged Republican Party activists, even though they did not succumb to the temptation of becoming high-ranking politicians.1
Nahuel Ribke

7. Entertainment Industries and ‘Liberal’ Celebrities: the Failure to Convert Attention into Political Power

The relationship between Hollywood and liberal politics has been the focus of many studies arguing that the widespread beliefs about the film industry’s leftist leanings are not an unfounded myth.1 In a hypothetical electoral race between past and present left-wing liberal and conservative Hollywood stars, the former would have enjoyed a landslide victory. Charlie Chaplin, Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Tim Robbins, Danny Glover, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, and Matt Damon, to name just a few, constitute an impressive list of Hollywood mega-celebrities who are strongly identified with a distinctly liberal and left-wing political agenda. But despite the glamour and popularity of the ‘progressive team’, none of its members have crossed over to institutional politics as successfully as certain prominent Republican celebrities have. Focusing on the few Hollywood stars who have flirted with the idea of pursuing a political career, in the present chapter I examine why ‘progressive’ stars, in opposition to their conservative counterparts, seem to avoid testing the worth of their celebrity capital at the polls.
Nahuel Ribke

Celetoid Politics: Victims, Heroes, and Ordinary People as a Valuable Electoral Asset

Frontmatter

8. Juan Carlos Blumberg and the Populism of Fear Politics in Argentina: Converting Mediatic Crimes into Political Capital

Until 24 March 2004, the day his son Axel was murdered after being the victim of an extortion kidnapping, Juan Carlos Blumberg was a completely unknown Argentine middle-class businessman. A week after the tragic incident, Blumberg was already an omnipresent figure in the Argentine public sphere, a man who was able to rally hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in protest against increasing levels of criminality, who demanded a tougher approach to criminals, and received caring attention and highly personal treatment from the highest political echelons of the Argentine government.
Nahuel Ribke

9. Reality Shows and Celebrity Politics: a Fast Track for Novice Politicians?

In the previous chapter, I explored the agency of celetoid victims and the transformation of public grief and victimhood status into political power. In this chapter I discuss the participation of ‘common people’ in television reality shows as a platform for launching a career in politics. Focusing on the case of Jean Wyllys, the winner of Big Brother Brazil in 2005, who was elected in 2010 as a Federal Deputy representing the State of Rio de Janeiro, I examine Wyllys’s successful conversion of intense and short-term media exposure into real political capital. Without ignoring the justified criticism of the exploitative nature of reality shows and the cultural values the genre promotes, in this section I wish to highlight the complex and sometimes unforeseen conditions that allow the rare emergence of a political actor with some degree of autonomy from the well-oiled media entertainment production system.
Nahuel Ribke

Conclusions: Celebrity Capital and the Transition to Politics

Conclusions: Celebrity Capital and the Transition to Politics

This book has attempted to explore the links between celebrities and the political sphere through an analysis of the reciprocal flow of contents, meanings, and practices between entertainment industries and politics. Why are celebrities recruited as candidates, and since when? How is fame, acquired through media exposure, converted into electoral and political power? How does the local political system and culture affect that transition? What is the impact of celebrity candidates in the political system? In the face of many abstract claims about celebrity culture and celebrity power, this book set out to answer these questions through the analysis of the specific historical and cultural context of celebrity politics across different geopolitical and cultural spaces.
Nahuel Ribke

Backmatter

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