Saturday, July 11, 2009

Americans and Our Celebrities

America is known throughout the world for its celebrities. Besides having a large and powerful military, we are famous for super-sizing everything and for unofficially electing a few individuals to be rich and admired by the majority of the rest. And the world tends to follow suit. Sure, each country has it's 2 or 3 acclaimed superstars, but I can assure you that many American celebrities are just as famous in other countries as they are here.

Visiting Graceland was quite the experience. Audio tours are available in what seemed like over a dozen languages, and I forget the exact number, but each year a ridiculous amount of people (mostly foreigners) come to be married at Graceland. It's pretty, but it's not that pretty.

More so than anywhere else I've been, celebrities play an integral role in social life for a large part of the American population. It's especially evident when someone in the public eye suddenly passes away, i.e. Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, Steve McNair. I haven't seen such media coverage on an individual death (MJ) since Princess Diana was killed in 1997.

Having recently left Graceland, I found myself wondering if Neverland would become a similar tourist attraction. Taking the Neverland Tour isn't an activity I would seek out, but having known very, very little about Elvis, I still enjoyed seeing touring his estate. Perhaps it was the outrageous 70's decor that caught my eye.

I heard a few comments about how 'disgusting' the Graceland experience was -- how it exploited the artist's legacy and intruded on his family's privacy. But the whole thing was run privately, and I think Elvis' family would appreciate the reverence with which so many devoted fans approached the King's former abode and present grave (located on the grounds, alongside his parents and other family members).

And with the 600,000+ visitors that come to Graceland each year -- at 26 bucks a pop -- Graceland fuels the Memphis economy, bringing in over $1.5 million revenue to local businesses each year. According to the official Graceland website, Graceland is one of the five most visited home tours in America, and the second most famous home in America, after the White House.

I have a theory about why the celebrity situation in America is the way it is:

Clause 1) America attracts dreamers, people who have a vision for their future that differs from the typical

Clause 2) Americans admire individuality, perhaps more so than any country I’ve been to, and reward individuals for standing out from the crowd by (for example) buying their albums, tickets to their concerts, merchandise, etc.

Clause 3) The American economy is one of only a few that can support a celebrity community—the general standard of living is such that we can afford to care about what they’re doing. We can afford to pay extravagant amounts of money on concert tickets and other celebrity paraphernelia.

I know this is rather shortsighted--there's a lot more that goes into it. But this is a start.


  1. Have I told you yet that I adore Michael Jackson? ;)


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