I'd like to discuss the notion of 'charisma' as developed by Max Weber in the field of political theory and its relevance to the star phenomenon. In a suitably modified form, the notion of charisma (in the Weberian sense, not just meaning 'magic', etc.) combines concepts of social function with an understanding of ideology.
Weber was interested in accounting for how political order is legitimated (other than by sheer force), and suggested three alternatives: tradition (doing what we've always done), bureaucracy (doing things according to agreed, but alterable, supposedly rational rules) and charisma (doing things because the leader suggests it). Charisma is defined as: 'a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he [sic] is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least superficially exceptional qualities'. 1 There are certain problems about transferring the notion of charisma from political to film theory. As Alberoni has pointed out, the star's status depends upon her/his not having any institutional political power. 2 Yet there is clearly some correspondence between political and star charisma, in particular the question of how or why a given person comes to have 'charisma' attributed to her or him.
E.A. Shils in 'Charisma, Order and Status' suggests that:
The charismatic quality of an individual as perceived by others, or himself [sic] lies in what is thought to be his connection with (including possession by or embedment in) some very central feature of man's existence and the cosmos in which he lives. The centrality, coupled with intensity, makes it extraordinary. 3
One does not have to think in terms of 'man's existence' and 'the cosmos', somewhat suspect eternal universals, to accept the general validity of this statement, especially as it is probably very often the case that what is culturally and historically specific about the charismatic person's relationship to her/his society may none the less present itself, or be read, as being an eternal universal relationship.