“Celebrity is capitalistic voyeurism.Greg Jenner, Author of Dead Famous
We pay money to access people’s lives.”
At the Hay Festival, Greg Jenner spoke about his new book, Dead Famous. A history of celebrity. Watching the conversation it became apparent that there were lessons brands could learn from these dead famous, dead people.
Consistency over authenticity.
“An amazing performer who had a travelling show that he took to Europe. He was incredibly clever using this image. He never changed his clothes. He identified very young, in his thirties, that this was his look. He never took them off. When his hair fell out he put on a wig. And he made sure that he would always look like this because he understood that this is what people wanted. They wanted the authentic wild man of the west. Even though his hair was changing, his body was changing. So he used this image to sell the show.”
Cléo de Mérode
Your best assets can be what they don’t see.
“She was a French ballet dancer. Gorgeous. Astonishingly beautiful. What is amazing is she was hailed for her beauty and her hair. It was very renaissance. But people became obsessed with her ears because they could never see them. Her hair was always down. For about two years they were obsessed with her ears. She toured America. All they could talk about was what were her ears like? They did drawings of what they thought they might look like. There were poems, there were poems about her ears. There were songs about her ears. Eventually she showed her ears. They were just normal ears. And everyone was disappointed.
When your celebrity is ebbing away, steal someone else’s.
“When his career was going off the rail he tied himself to Shakespeare’s brand. He helped make Shakespeare the national poet. He organised a huge Shakespeare pageant. But he posed as Shakespeare. So when we have these sculptures of what Shakespeare looked like, that is David Garrick posing as Shakespeare. A body snatching thing. He harnessed his own fame to someone else’s fame.”
One stunt can shape your image forever.
“Mark Twain spent the majority of his life wearing grey and brown and black. But, he then went to the Library of Congress to make a case to say that authors should have their copyright extended beyond their life, so that their families could be paid. To do this, he knew he needed to do a stunt. So he put on a white suit. He had white hair and a white mustache. In the court room everyone else is wearing grey and black and he is wearing white. It became so distinctive that, now when we think of Mark Twain, we immediately think of him wearing white. But, he spent the vast majority of his life in other colours.”
Confuse with contrasts.
“He made a huge amount of money touring America. And people were obsessed with his image because they couldn’t put it together. On the one hand he was tall and broad and very masculine. On the other hand he had this very feminine face and very feminine voice and this very graceful way of performing. People were really confused by him.”
You can view the whole conversation on Hay Player.
And you can buy Dead Famous by Greg Jenner here.