Review: Starstruck – The Business of Celebrity

The Business of Celebrity
By Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

# ISBN-10: 0865479097
# ISBN-13: 978-0865479098


  • A serious, passionate look at the business of celebrity in America and to an extent other countries.
  • Presents consistent theories and analysis of celebrity.
  • The personal approach of the book helps it avoid pretension and helps communicate its points.


  • Shifts in tone at the end of book to discuss the negatives of celebrity is jarring and feels inconsistent.

SUMMARY: Must-read book for most anyone, but indispensable for people in media careers.

I picked up Starstruck shortly after doing my column series on Virtual Stars.  It came out recently enough that I was going to take advantage of the serendipity and see if this book provided any insights on stardom in general.  I actually got more than I thought.

Author Elizabeth Currid-Halket's previous book, the Warhol Economy, focused on the cultural/economic engine of fashion and art in New York.  In this case she turned her ambitions and focus up to eleven and focused on celebrity as a cultural and economic institution.  What follows is a fascinating, compelling, informative, and at times disturbing analysis of celebrity.

The author starts with an analysis of celebrity, identifying different elements of celebrity such as talent, fame, and the "residual" which is that odd interest that keeps people famous (think Paris Hilton, but after reading this you'll rethink Parish Hilton).  Having established the different kinds of celebrities based on these elements, and a quick detour into looking at celebrities that may not fit common assumptions of celebrity due to scale and culture, she jumps into looking at the celebrity machine – which means mostly the US/UK celebrity system.

What follows is a heady analysis of how celebrity happens, how it is maintained, and the gigantic and highly profitable industries behind it.  Mixing mathematics and observation, the author does an excellent job of explaining how celebrity works, as well as helping you get a grasp of the overall "system" of celebrity and celebrity business.  The chapters blend together to give you a big picture that frankly makes a lot of sense.

Mostly focusing on a mixture of talent-driven and residual-driven media/entertainment celebrities, the author voyages into discussions of sports and art figures as the book goes on.  This helps cement her claims that celebrity is the same no matter where it is, and further fleshes out her theories.  Though many people may not care about soccer or modern art, these later chapters solidify the book's ability to help you truly "get" celebrity.

She finishes off the book looking at the new "Democratic Celebrity" such as reality TV stars.  Here she looks the curious new phenomena where people become stars out of the blue thanks to internet or certain talent shows – and there are similar elements to sports, media, and art celebrities as well.  There is a darker side of the Democratic Celebrity which she begins to explore as well, which is both fascinating, but leads to the odd closing off the book.

By the end of the book the author takes a look at our obsession with celebrity and also its dark side, the "Democratic Celebrity" chapter leading into it.  Having touched on the various negative issues before, the final chapter takes a look at the future of celebrity, but it often feels to be about the negatives of celebrity-driven culture and our obsession with it.  This chapter seems both necessary and oddly out of place, and felt like an odd and not-quite consistent wrap-up.

Or in short, the book is more about how celebrity works, and the discussion of impact tends to cluster in the last chapter.  It does not take away from the value of the book at all, but the shift may seem odd, and some readers might get impatient for the analyses at the end.

That is however a minor flaw in what is honestly a fantastic book.  It is well-written and very accessible, the author does her research, and most importantly, she is able to design and communicate a coherent, understandable theory of celebrity and how it works.

This book is a must-buy:

  • It will help you understand the culture of celebrity, which is extremely prominent, probably to a pathological degree in our culture.  I am not exaggerating when I say this book changed how I see the world.
  • It provides some general insights into culture and business that are useful period.
  • It acts as a nice "inoculation" that can stop you from becoming ridiculously Starstruck.
  • It will help you understand the media – which may of us progeeks do work in or aspire to work in.  As celebrity is a big part of media, this book is a must-read.

So go buy it.  Go read it.  I'd go as far to say it's probably a keeper.

Steven Savage