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Akash P. Pandit
Professor Rennie Mapp
ENWR 1510-051
The Culture of Celebrities
7 December 2014

The Developing Power of Technology and the Growth in Power of the Modern
Celebrity: Orson Welles and the Impact of Digital Media on Celebrity Culture

Orson Welles should be regarded as the father of modern day celebrity culture
and the pioneer of the use of digital media as form of mass manipulation and
propaganda to further his own image and works. The legendary aura surrounding the
man who went from being an acclaimed performer of Shakespeare; to critically
acclaimed orator, who grasped the hearts and fears of his radio listeners with his
chilling broadcast of War of the Worlds; and who went to direct, co-write, produce, and
star in Citizen Kane, a movie considered by many to be the greatest film ever made,
cannot be underestimated as he developed the first inkling of modern day celebrity
culture. An analysis of Welles’ life is crucial to the understanding of the development of
not only celebrity culture and fame in the late 1930s but also in understanding the
power that the advancement of technology has on the ability of a celebrity to influence

who was put to work by President Roosevelt’s Federal Theatre Project during the Great Depression. a groundbreaking Broadway adaptation of Julius Caesar set in the modern day. (Walsh 16) He truly shot to stardom due to his production of Caesar. Welles was such a proponent of his cast that he himself flew out to Los Angeles to perform in blackface due to an injury suffered by his lead actor. This marks Welles first foray into modern celebrity culture as he began to use his status as a celebrity and a well-known figure to criticize political actions of the period. that it was not “the rapt contemplation . (Walsh 15) However. the Mercury Players. during a time when racial tensions had begun to rise due to increasing poverty and disparity. by directing an adaptation of Macbeth. as the play quickly became the most widely acclaimed play in the nation and Welles was dubbed a prodigy. which the young man altered by setting in the Haitian court of King Henri Christophe and debuted as Voodoo Macbeth. he was also leveled with much criticism as he had chosen to cast an all-black cast for his rendition of the Shakespeare classic. This began his rise to fame. This also establishes the phenomenon surrounding celebrities that Carrier establishes in his critic of Herwitz. and which ends with Caesar being killed not by a mob but by the secret police. Welles began to use his recent successes to increase the clout of his own image by breaking away from the Federal Theatre Project and forming his own repertory company.Pandit 2 Welles began his ascent into stardom as a young man. a well-established maneuver of modern celebrities in order to manifest their political leanings to the public.

orchestrated his market. as a man of power was brought down not due to a disagreement with an opponent but with his own government. aside from President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. He became the first celebrity..” (Carrier 118) This analysis of celebrity culture can be easily applied to Welles as he sought to manipulate his newfound stardom into a political movement as Newbury states “claims for a marginalized audience’s transgressive appropriation of celebrity only make sense when we fully understand the specific quality of the ideological contest wages through a given figure.Pandit 3 of the art object that characterized the ways of awe... This same critique was also brought up by Welles at the latter part of his career as he was identified to be a Communist sympathizer by the McCarthyism post WWII. This is false nostalgia.. to . Welles also presents a unique opportunity to study and understand the phenomenon of modern celebrities as he became first true star to move past live stage shows and with the advent of radio and television..” (Newbury 274) This aspect of celebrity status is clearly present in Orson Welles’ life as Caesar sought to critique the government and society as a whole. but by fear and antipathy within the government.. truly became the first star of a digital era.devoted a great deal of attention to cultivating his patrons. as he sought to bring to the attention of the public how public figures were being brought down not due to legitimate reasoning.

Well’s classic. However. The War of the Worlds. The best example of Welles’ genuine star power was his petrifying radio drama of H. as many people began to view him in the same stratosphere as politicians. and mobsters.G.whose interests are privileged within the world of the image and how they came to be dominant are less important than the fact of the imagistic world itself. unlike any other celebrity before him.” (Simon) He did this through a now-common trait of diversifying his fame by appearing in more than one . Welles was able to exploit his preeminence as a respected stage actor to convince and terrify hundreds of listeners into believing that a Martian invasion was occurring. This incident is acute indication of the power that the phenomena of a celebrity can have on mass public thought as evidenced by Newbury. who states that “the celebrity signifies most importantly the triumph of unreality. rather. Welles was not content to remain in the public eye for only a few years and then fading away into obscurity. world leaders.Pandit 4 take the radio and turn it from a means of news dissemination to a method of augmenting their status as celebrities while also proliferating their own viewpoints into mass acceptance in the public mind.. he decided to venture into the new media of film and became “something even better than a living legend: a certifiable genius.”(Newbury 278) This incident absolutely entrenched Orson Welles as a bona fide luminary in preWWII society as he was now able to command respect in any room and conversation that he entered as well as being able to inject his personal viewpoints into societal discourse..

Citizen Kane is the eminent. the fact that. and starring as the titular character.. and his uncanny ability to attract attention to it. This was an unprecedented move in the celebrity industry of the time as Welles decided to take on the traditional definition of celebrity.Pandit 5 form of media and allowing his image to spread throughout society and passing the power of extending his status onto the public. but also producing. as celebrities were now free to explore and venture into areas of content creation that were previously denied to them. by not only directing.” (Schatz 90) This movie presented a unique shift in celebrity culture and idolization as Welles became one of the first people to shift into pushing his image and works throughout all forms of media available for consumption to the masses. rather than being tied down to one specialty of brand recognition. no one in Hollywood has carved out such freedom for himself.. paramount example of Orson Welles’ ability to project his image to the public as his artistic credential and celebrity status had allowed him to secure an unprecedented movie contract that allowed him unrestricted creative and administrative license. writing. As Schatz presents on the film “It was Orson’s image. by branching out from one rigid discipline and expanding into all relevant disciplines needed to create this new form of media. This is also a vindication for the advancement and introduction of technology in the phenomenon of celebrity creation.. (Hoberman 168) . before or since. He utilized this to create a cinematic masterpiece that is regarded as the most innovative and controversial film of prewar Hollywood.

and regain semblance of a normal life after the McCarthyism and Red Scare that affected the country during and post World War II. Orson Welles was truly the greatest phenomenon of not only his generation.Pandit 6 The greatest denouement of Orson Welles’ life as a celebrity was his decision to distance himself from his works. due to obvious issues with loyalty from his audiences and his own government as well as the proposed limitations that film studios wished to place on him in order to control and censor his content. to becoming a remnant of an era gone . are what allowed Welles to become the first truly modern celebrity that can be associated with a genuine acquirement of power from the will of the people. unemployed. as he allowed the people to dictate his success. This along with his ability to embrace technological advancements and his ability to diversify his modes of creation. This can be certified to be Welles greatest achievement in the advancement of the celebrity as a power player in society and in generation of culture. starving actor to the most powerful character in entertainment . as he decided to leave the entertainment industry while at the height of his stardom and power . move away from the public eye.(Hoberman 169) This can be considered to be the greatest advancement in celebrity power since the creation of copyright protections for written works as it allowed celebrities to control the creation of content available to society and allowed them to dictate how and when their images were to be used and for what purposes. but of all time. as he transcended all boundaries within culture and society to go from a clichéd.

Pandit 7 by where radio and films were the dominant form of mass culture and aggrandizing the power of the celebrity as an icon for societal shifts. .

Pandit 8 Works Cited Carrier.2 (2011): 117-19. 7 Dec. J. Web. John Evangelist. and Citizen Kane." Journal of Aesthetic Education 45. David." Boom and Bust: The American Cinema in the 1940s. Academic OneFile. 1997. 2004. Web. Walking Shadows: Orson Welles. John.: U of Wisconsin/Popular. "Celebrity Watching. Schatz. Web. 7 Dec. William Randolph Hearst." American Scholar 62. Wis. Thomas. Walsh. Project Muse. "Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. . 2014. 7 Dec. Simon. Print. Hitchcock. "The Magician.4 (1993): 622. "Pop Before Pop: Welles. Religion and Philosophy Collection. New York: Scribner. 2014. Hoberman. Print." American Literary History (2000): 272-83. 2014. M." Artforum International 5 (2011): 168. Web. Sirk. Newbury. 7 Dec. "The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption. Project Muse. Madison. 2014.