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The Idea of Celebrity Colonialism: An Introduction

posted on 2023-05-22, 12:12 authored by Robert ClarkeRobert Clarke

A pair of Hollywood actors convinces the government of a small African nation to restrict the movements of foreign journalists while the actors prepare for the birth of their child .... A Prime Minister eulogises a television "naturalist" while national and global audiences stop and metaphorically "embrace" the star's grieving family .... An Indian man is feted by the middle classes and press of late nineteenth-century North America and Britain as he espouses and embodies a novel mix of spiritualism, exoticism, nationalism and modernisation .... An Irish rock star invokes the language of the Old and New Testaments to prick the consciences of world leaders and publics towards the plight of the poor in developing nations .... An African American actor "returns" to Africa to witness the effects of the "genocide" in Darfur .... A group of Canadian Native Americans tours Britain to preach the Christian gospel, raise funds and petition Queen Victoria for changes to colonial policies .... In various and intriguing ways, each of these scenarios provides a context for an examination of the entanglements of fame and power in the politics of colonial and postcolonial cultures. Each demonstrates the sometimes highly ambivalcnt roles played by famous personalities as endorsements and apologists for, and in some cases antagonists and challengers of, colonial and imperial institutions and practices. And each in their way provides an insight into the complex set of meanings implied by the novel term "celebrity colonialism."

It has become commonplace to observe that celebrities enjoy preeminence in contemporary late capitalist cultures; cultures profoundly influenced by the histories and legacies of European colonial imperialism. That celebrities should have played significant roles in Europe's colonial misadventures, and that they continue to perform diverse, at times ambivalent, functions in the postcolonial world, should come as no surprise. European colonialism, increasingly from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, provided contexts and opportunities-technology, networks, capital, events, media outlets, personnel and a "civilising mission"-by which individuals could achieve fame beyond the traditional ascriptions of class, caste and gender. In turn, colonial governance benefited from the performances of the stars-the celebrated adventurers, explorers, missionaries, soldiers of fortune, scientists, artists, administrators, writers, and so on-whose lives and achievements served as endorsement for colonial exploits and as comforting cultural metonyms in domestic fantasies of superiority. Fame has long been a significant commodity in the cultural and political economies of European colonial regimes.

While examples of celebrity engagements with colonialism are readily available, the academic examination and theorisation of celebrity within colonial contexts is relatively underdeveloped. The same could be said of the critical understanding of the forms and functions of celebrity within postcolonial cultures. Celebrity Colonialism brings together studies on an array of personalities from the colonial era to the present and explores the intersection of discourses, events and formations that condition the production of the fame of such individuals. As well it focuses on the machinery developed to promulgate and support such fame, and the uses made of that renown by different publics. The contributions to this collection demonstrate that celebrity provides a powerful lens for examining the nexus of discourses, institutions and practices associated with the dynamics of appropriation, domination, resistance and reconciliation that characterise colonial and postcolonial cultural politics. Taken together the contributions to Celebrity Colonialism argue that the examination of celebrity promises to enrich our understanding of what colonialism was and, more significantly, what it has become.


Publication title

Celebrity Colonialism: Fame, Power and Representaiton in Colonial and Postcolonial Cultures


Robert Clarke






School of Humanities


Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Place of publication

Newcastle upon Tyne



Rights statement

Copyright 2009 by Robert Clarke.

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Other culture and society not elsewhere classified

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