BRIGHT YOUNG SINGS; A Modern-Dress Production of la Traviataprompts Toby Young to Compare Today's Celebrities with the Courtesans of 19th-Century Paris

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 27, 2004 | Go to article overview

BRIGHT YOUNG SINGS; A Modern-Dress Production of la Traviataprompts Toby Young to Compare Today's Celebrities with the Courtesans of 19th-Century Paris


Byline: TOBY YOUNG

LIKE ALL GREAT works of art, La Traviata has been re-imagined many times. The best known modern interpretation is probably the film Pretty Woman - except, unlike Verdi's original, Pretty Woman has an upbeat, Hollywood ending.

As the political philosopher Alan Bloom pointed out, Americans like their tragedies to end on a happy note.

On the face of it, it seems a little pretentious to set La Traviata among the world of It-girls and all-night parties, as Welsh National Opera has done in its new production. Yet the fashionable salons of 19th-century Paris weren't so different from the clubs and restaurants in London and New York where the beautiful people can be found today.

It doesn't seem too farfetched to see in the story of Violetta Valery's tragic decline a foreshadowing of the way celebrities light up the sky, only to fall from grace what feels like moments later in our media-saturated society.

It's become a cliche to describe celebrities as the aristocrats of our age, but in one crucial respect they're much more like the courtesans of 19thcentury Paris: their membership of the fashionable class is likely to be brief.

Lord Byron is commonly regarded as the first modern celebrity. Byron became famous at the age of 24 with the appearance of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and, for the next three years, every door was open to him. He was a guest at all the great houses of the period.

Then, almost as quickly as he rose to fame, he was brought down. 'In his sudden fall from grace, Byron was a victim of the hysterical opprobrium that often succeeds extreme celebrity, a cycle wearyingly familiar to us now,' writes Fiona MacCarthy in Byron: Life and Legend.

Today, countless celebrities fall victim to the same 'build 'em up and knock 'em down' syndrome as the romantic poet: David Beckham, Angus Deayton, John Leslie, Geri Halliwell, Anthea Turner, Michael Barrymore... Egged on by the media, the public appear to have an insatiable appetite for seeing the famous toppled from their thrones.

Why is this? Clark Gable once remarked to David Niven that, when it came to the contract between a star and his public, the public had read the small print and the star hadn't. All it took was one tiny violation and the adoring crowds turned into a baying mob.

'Contained within fan worship is the potential for hatred and disdain,' says David Gritten, author of Fame: Stripping Celebrity Bare. 'It's binary. The switch can be flipped at any time.' Another theme concerning the cult of celebrity is that it has a strong religious component, but surprisingly little has been written about this. Until recently, the only intellectual associated with this view was French anthropologist Edgar Morin. In 1957 he published a book called Les Stars, in which he argued that celebrity worship has become a new religion, comparable to Christianity. He believed the reason the public had such a thirst for celebrity tittle-tattle was that they wanted to consume their new gods.

According to Morin, information was the first stage of assimilation.

In the past few years, such views have become more respectable in academia.

In 2000, David Giles, a senior lecturer at the University of Coventry, published Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity, in which he argued that the devout attitudes of fans towards stars is a form of religious worship. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

BRIGHT YOUNG SINGS; A Modern-Dress Production of la Traviataprompts Toby Young to Compare Today's Celebrities with the Courtesans of 19th-Century Paris
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.