Friday, May 12, 2023

Landon Jones's "Celebrity Nation"

Landon Y. Jones (Lanny) is an author and magazine editor. His new book is Celebrity Nation: How America Evolved into a Culture of Fans and Followers. His previous books are William Clark and the Shaping of the West (2004), The Essential Lewis and Clark (2000), and Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation (1980). The latter coined the phrase “baby boomer” and was nominated for the American Book Award in Nonfiction.

From 1989-97, Jones was the head editor of People magazine at Time Inc., the most successful magazine in publishing history.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Celebrity Nation and reported the following:
Amazingly, page 99 of Celebrity Nation presents what is a centerpiece argument of my book – that celebrity culture is damaging to celebrities, to fans, and to the nation itself. Page 99 falls in the middle my chapter called “The Selling of Celebrity.” On this page, I describe the rise of brand influencers like Olivia Rodrigo and the inevitable Kim Kardashian, with her 329 million followers on Instagram. I argue that, if only to protect themselves from a “prison constricting their lives and pursuits,” many celebrities have self-protectively retreated into an alter ego, “a shadow celebrity self” for public consumption while protecting their real privacy. Examples given here include everyone from Mark Twain to Bob Dylan and Cardi B. On this page I further introduce the idea that many of today’s fans have a “problematic engagement” with social media influencers in which they become dangerously obsessed with celebrities.

Browsers who read page 99 of Celebrity Nation will get a glimpse of the ways the celebrity-industrial complex works in contemporary America. It provides financial incentives to “brand influencers” while also putting fans and followers at risk personally. It results from a collaboration of media, marketers, and a willing public. In this same chapter I discuss the rise of Donald Trump and other politicians who have relied on the machinery of celebrity.

What page 99 does not show as much of is the deep history of celebrity and its longtime relationship to emerging technologies. Everyone from Alexander the Great to Charles Lindbergh and Albert Einstein owed their celebrity to new technologies that could spread their names and eventually their faces worldwide. Elsewhere in the book, I also discuss my personal impressions of those contemporary celebrities I have met, ranging from Malcolm X to Elizabeth Taylor, from Ronald Reagan to Princess Diana.

All in all, though, page 99 is a fine “sniff test” for the entire Celebrity Nation. It presents the current impact of celebrity, with specific examples, and suggests its dangers for all of us.
Visit Landon Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue