Writing the Devouring Neon: Celebrity and Audience in American Literature 1973-2003 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Luter, Matthew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project argues that contemporary American authors, rather than rejecting altogether mass media celebrity culture as a threat to literary culture, instead comment on the idea of fame and specific celebrity images through their depictions of audiences within their texts. Mob-like crowds in which audience members bear no individuality or agency signal a reading of celebrity as destructive. Where audiences are depicted as more active and occasionally resistant, celebrity becomes a neutral or even positive force. Additionally, writers who find celebrity a useful conceptual category in their work need not limit the scope of their cultural commentary to media matters alone. Some writers find that their characters' interactions with famous figures provide useful starting points for broader meditations on issues of national identity, race, gender, and both public and private history. By considering literary responses to celebrity culture that range from bitingly critical to cautiously optimistic to sympathetic and positive, this dissertation argues that no single type of response to the centrality of fame in contemporary culture dominates the American literary scene. Fame as a cultural signifier, then, should be neither dismissed entirely nor embraced fully. Furthermore, since authors frequently indicate their own attitudes toward celebrity via their representations of audiences within literary texts, these authors as a group emphasize the power that individuals have to interpret and subsequently accept or reject any message mediated by a corporation, a media outlet, or any other seat of cultural power. By conveying how crucial it is for audiences to act independently, these writers argue that good citizens must first be good readers. Primary texts include fiction, essays, and plays by Don DeLillo, Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Tom Carson, Adrienne Kennedy, and Bobbie Ann Mason.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Wagner-Martin, Linda
  • Hobson, Fred
  • Wallace, Daniel
  • Gwin, Minrose
  • Reinert, Thomas
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2010
  • This item is restricted from public view for 1 year after publication.

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