BOOK REVIEW #2
by SAMITA NANDY
Celebrity Cultures in Canada
by Katja Lee and Lorraine York
[Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016.]
Celebrity Cultures in Canada is a fascinating essay collection that sheds light on the production, distribution, and reception of celebrities in historical and contemporary contexts of Canada. Although the nation can be unrelated to fame in a global framework of transnational practices, nations continue to play a fundamental role in shaping celebrity images, objects, and artefacts on local and international levels. Yet Canada has carried a strong myth that we do not have celebrities or a star system. In Canadian Theatre Review, Marlis Schweitzer asked, “What is it about Canada that we are so unwilling to support a star system? […] Why don’t we respect our stars?” Schweitzer indicated the need to explore “the extent to which Canadian celebrity culture differs from celebrity culture elsewhere.” In the British Journal of Canadian Studies, David Jackson asked, “The most interesting question remains the one of effect: do [Canadian] celebrities influence the political beliefs of their audiences through political expressions in their art or public statements?” While the monograph Fame in Hollywood North theorizes Canadian meanings of fame in historical relation to Hollywood in communication studies, Canadian Celebrity Cultures highlights the various trends of Canadian fame in an interdisciplinary manner and becomes a key companion to the monograph.
Canadian Celebrity Cultures continues to expand celebrity studies through unique cases in arts, politics, sports, film, and literature. It also furthers critical study of celebrity cultures in Canadian social sciences and humanities. In the past, publications such as Pop Can: Popular Culture in Canada, Mondo Canuck: A Canadian Pop Culture Odyssey, and The Beaver Bites Back? American Popular Culture in Canada illustrated selected case studies of popular culture in Canada, but scholars were left with a lack of understanding of fame-based practices and a knowledge of how to bring shifts in those practices. When the collection is read in relation to existing literary and creative works, it well challenges the mythic tradition of a ‘lack’ or an ‘absence’ of celebrity culture and limitation of arts, in general. It offers insight into imperialist agendas and transnational subjectivity in post-World War II that explains limits to Canadian art practices in historical, social, and political contexts. For the longest time, these limitations have been part of a dominant discourse of Canadian nationalism. However, the collection contributes to a vibrant dialogue and opens new opportunities to change what appears highly problematic in Canadian fame – failure to recognize our own – and to depart from ideological treatments of artistic expressions in journalism. Scholarly contributions such as Canadian Celebrity Cultures then become vital to fight muted voices that artists and thought leaders have faced and, quite often, resolved the fight in a stronger economy south of the border.
Canadian Celebrity Cultures is unique in pointing out that governmental bureaucracy of arts, cultural heritage, legal administration, and labour dynamics, coupled with a bilingual culture, is what hindered democratic expression and recognition of arts and other creative expressions in Canada. According the editors, the specific role of a White male, ableist figure in the bureaucracy of arts plays a dominant role in understanding various forms of celebrity cultures in Canada. This colonialist trend leads us to now understand that our lack of recognition of Canadian talent is predominantly ideological – not realistic.
The collection raises interesting questions on what it means to be an “indigenous celebrity” which needs to be studied further. Canadian Celebrity Cultures is a fine collection in growing studies of Canadian fame that leaves us with immense hope – the right to disclose what was previously marginalized and to negotiate or preferably subvert dominant ideological practices that do not serve the purposes of Canadian talents anymore.
Originally published in HA&L issue 9.2
Dr. Samita Nandy earned her PhD in media and celebrity culture from the Department of Media and Information at Curtin University, Australia. She is also the director of the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies and writes as a cultural critic on fame. Her international media relations and work led her to be featured on CBC News, CTV’s Breaking News, CP 24, Sun Media, 24 Hours News, The Globe and Mail, Hollywood North Magazine, Humber News, and the Canadian Journalism Foundation, among many more. Her work has been published in Celebrity Studies, Performance of Celebrity, The Emotions Industry and Mobile and Digital Communication. Her forthcoming work will be published in the edited collection The Political Economy of Celebrity Activism. Her book Fame in Hollywood North: A Theoretical Guide to Celebrity Cultures in Canada has been published by WaterHill Publishing.