Sorry I Couldn't Be Here: Performative Celebrity Meltdown and Para-Stardom

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    The construction and maintenance of the star persona is highly crafted and carefully managed. Stars often call attention to the impact of this construction on their own sense of being, acknowledging a difference between what Erving Goffman (1956) termed their public ‘presentation of self’ and their private self or what George Herbert Mead (1967) referred to as the Me and the I. It is evident in Cary Grant’s oft-quoted quip ‘Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant’ or Marilyn Monroe’s admission ‘I never wanted to be Marilyn -- it just happened. Marilyn’s like a veil I wear over Norma Jean’. Such comments are by no means rare and indicate a level of knowingness and self-awareness about the nature of star and celebrity identity. But what can we make of those instances where these questions of identity, authenticity and the self are self-directed, played out in extended form, where that awareness becomes existential questioning and culminates in an apparent public ‘meltdown’? Considering the framing of the public behaviours of Hollywood actors Joaquin Phoenix in 2008-2009, Shia LaBeouf in 2013-2014 and Jim Carrey in 2017 as meltdown, this article explores explicit and public rejections of their established personas as they seek to navigate the contemporary star and celebrity landscape in the digital age, a landscape characterised by the transitory and transitional, virality and immediacy, and multiple presentations of self. These case studies invite us to reassess the meltdown in the contemporary period to consider it not as an incident or event necessitating rehabilitation but as part of a process of reconfiguration -- of the star and the self. They ask whether it is possible for the star to rework their persona and take control over their image in a contemporary celebrity culture where control appears to be impossible.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)559-573
    JournalCelebrity Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2019


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