Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dead people in 1700s were the first celebrities

Robin Lloyd writes:
The modern obsession with celebrity started in 18th-century Britain with obituaries of unusual people published in what served as the gossip sheets of the era, an English literature scholar says. Some researchers think the phenomenon of celebrity was born with the 19th-century Romantic movement in art, music and literature (think of works by Chopin, J.M.W. Turner and Edgar Allen Poe).

Instead, Elizabeth Barry of the University of Warwick in England claims the modern public fascination with celebrities can be traced back to the rise of newspapers and magazines and the popularity of the obituaries in the 18th century. "Different kinds of deaths came to be commemorated and you didn’t have to be something like a military hero or be a political player or be some sort of high person in society to get public commemoration on your death," Barry told LiveScience. "I was interested in looking at that process."

Obituaries were one of the most-read sections of newspapers and magazines of the 1700s. They were intended to provide an account of the life of someone who had recently died as a way of illustrating how the life you led would be rewarded or punished in death. However, the rise in popularity of obituaries actually came because the deceased were regarded as objects of scandal and public fascination — in other words, Great Britain’s first celebrities. MORE

Pictured above is John Gay, the dramatist and English poet (June 30, 1685 - December 4, 1732). He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera (1728), set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names. READ MORE