I hate to assume the tone of the washed up, “what’s the deal with airline food” comedian, but what’s the deal with celebrity biographies? Who really wants to read about the lives of the rich and famous when they’re perpetually plastered everywhere on social media? What problems could they possibly have?
In short, who cares?
Even if you hurdle the problem of disinterest, the term “celebrity” applies loosely to (too) many individuals, meaning you might hear from someone that you’d rather not. The biography could even be released at a convenient time, in which they desperately need to frame themselves in a falsely representative way, or take advantage of a moment in which they are popular. Both instances could leave a bad taste in the mouths of readers at the artificial production of the biography.
Yet, there is a time and place for celebrity biographies in the bookish universe.
Books, after all, provide a unique insight into both fictional and nonfictional worlds, transporting the reader to a space they might otherwise never been privy to. Who hasn’t wanted to know what the life of another is like, especially when that person has reached levels of “success” unachievable for many?
Biographies could provide a harmless way for super fans to “get to know” their favorite celebrity in a psuedo-social way, that isn’t stalking them on social media, or even in real life. Regardless of how strange this relationship really is, it’s seemingly a win-win for fans and the coveted public figure. Of course, this could turn sour and lead those to believe that they know a polished version of a human being, who doesn’t ultimately live up to the shining image of themselves.
The landscape of celebrity could stretch however far you want it to, to politicians, activists, academics, and more. Where would we be without the impactful autobiographies of Angela Davis, Audre Lord, Malcolm X, and many other historical figures that were sharply misrepresented by other forms of mass media? Who would they be in our history if not for them speaking in their own words? Celebrity memoirs have therefore saved us from ourselves, and from demonizing many a Civil Rights icon.
Even if they are involved in the potentially less admirable realm of entertainment, their biographies can represent a larger movement. Even if someone basks in the limelight, they might experience something that doesn’t “belong” with the glamorous lifestyle they portray. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other scum have infected even the crevices of fame, permeating the industries that seem untouchable, like music and film. Tina Turner suffered years of marital abuse and racist undermining of her career, yet the outer shell of her life gave nothing of the sort away. Her best-selling autobiography I, Tina shed a light on the systemic issues that touched even her larger-than-life persona.
In a way, these celebrity biographies that detail stories of abuse bring attention to broader issues that impact society, for if the upper echelons of our world can be impacted, then the problem reaches much further than many might think.
In a more positive way, these biographies could give communities that often lack role models a chance to look up to someone of a similar background. Celebrity memoirs give members of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and lower income communities someone to root for, as they experience the same issues attached to their shared identity. While these stories may be overlooked on a daily basis, they might at least carve out a space in our bookshelves.
A celebrity biography might even honor those who passed with a posthumous look at their struggles and successes. Actress Cicely Tyson, a juggernaut in the film industry, released her memoir Just As I Am, shortly before she passed away. Many can look to her book as a way of experiencing her in a way they weren’t able to during her lifetime. Her story lives on through her memoir, as she wanted it told.
Whether we like it or not, these figures remain a key aspect of pop culture, and have claimed a part of the book world.
We might as well enjoy it.
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