Who will fix it for us? Toxic celebrity and the therapeutic dynamics of media culture

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Abstract

The exposé of Jimmy Savile’s perpetration of heinous abuse over many decades enables new understandings of the links between mediatised celebrity and affective experience. The much hallowed ‘national treasure’ status accorded to Savile during his lifetime was violently overturned following the disclosure of hitherto disavowed documentary evidence, leading to the desecration of his reputation and memory. Savile’s toxic rendition of celebrity has subsequently given rise to popular cultural narratives based on the scandal, most notably the acclaimed television drama, National Treasure (Channel4 2016). This article explores the media processes shaping and responding to the desecration of Savile’s celebrity, and suggests that there is a therapeutic quality at play. Operating over time at representational, affective and formal levels, popular and critical re-mediations of the scandal provide important outlets for unconscious emotional experience, creating space for resisting dominant narratives that contrive to shape celebrity as somehow ‘untouchable’. They provide a valuable means of grappling with painful experience, allowing it to surface and be worked through. Using Savile as a case study, I argue that the entanglement between mediatisation and celebrity culture creates important psychological space in which to make sense of affective experience. I further draw on object relations psychoanalysis to examine the containing and reparative dimensions of popular culture exemplified by National Treasure. © 2020, Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. The attached document (embargoed until 01/09/2021) is an author produced version of a paper published in CELEBRITY STUDIES uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCelebrity Studies
Early online date1 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2020

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