A Bastard Form: The Problem of Celebrity and the Rise of the New Journalism
Cohen, D. (2018). A Bastard Form: The Problem of Celebrity and the Rise of the New Journalism. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14418/wes01.1.1464
The modern celebrity occupies a nebulous role in the public eye. "The fame of others," wrote Leo Braudy, is "a common coin of human exchange - more forceful than mutual political or religious beliefs for establishing intimacy." While we understand celebrities as distant figures, we also perceive them as sources of social connection, constantly hoping to relate to them and to glimpse moments of humanity beneath the sheen of renown. Accordingly, celebrity journalism consistently strives for authenticity: how to make the celebrity feel like a genuine human being. In the 1960s, a brazen group of young writers happened upon a strange paradox: that they could evoke authenticity through techniques pulled from fiction. Later dubbed the New Journalists, this cohort responded to a pervasive suspicion that the world seemed manufactured by applying the conceits of realist novels to non-fiction coverage of politics, crime, war, pop culture, and social life. They transformed and exported the genre of the celebrity profile, applying techniques like metaphor, scene-by-scene construction, dialogue, and free indirect discourse to coverage of non-fictional subjects. Their highly stylized prose flagrantly defied the confines of conventional news coverage, and they used rigorous, time-consuming research methods to craft pieces that wholly immersed their readers in the world created on the page. This thesis elucidates how, by turning celebrities into characters, the New Journalists were able to evoke a sense of authenticity by imparting to readers the interior life of their subjects. In six highlighted works, I investigate the methods through which the New Journalists turned flat, distant figures into multi-faceted and accessible heroes, creating authenticity by treating their renowned subjects as fictional characters.