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Cowan-Jenssen, S. Goodison, L. (2004). Celebrity and the Flight from Mortality. Free Associations, 11(4):465-476.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(4):465-476


Celebrity and the Flight from Mortality

Sue Cowan-Jenssen, B.A and Lucy Goodison, Ph.D., MF Phys

The Essence of Our Paper is summed up by two lines from the song ‘Fame’ and two from a poem by Jonathan Swift. The lyrics go:

Fame: I'm gonna live for ever

I'm gonna learn how to fly

Swift in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century wrote:

No wonder how I lost my Wits;

Oh! Caelia, Caelia, Caelia shits!

This paper was part of a day's symposium on Celebrity. Inevitably it only scratches the surface of a huge subject. The story of celebrity is the story of our culture: our hopes, our aspirations, our failures, and our exploitations. It tells us about ourselves, our humanity, and, as we discuss here, our mortality.

Like every living thing we will decay and die. Yet we humans also have the astonishing ability to use symbols, express ideas, imagine, and dream. We think about the universe and we can contemplate our place in it. Ernest Becker in Denial of Death (1973) wrote that everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate. How we manage the knowledge of our own mortality is important. We might acknowledge death cognitively: we all know that we will eventually die. But do we really believe it? Our modern world is organized so that death becomes increasingly hidden from view. Many of us have never seen a dead body.

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