“Instead of just being devices for marketing films, music or the consumer products they endorse, the celebrities have become products themselves. They are now commodities in the sense that they’ve become articles of trade that can be bought and sold in a marketplace. Obviously, you can’t buy them, but you can buy their representations, their sounds and the products with which they’re associated. Consumers pay for that presence.” – Ellis Cashmore,”Celebrity/Culture”
Celebrities by virtue of their status are attractive. I think it is important here to explore Melisa Harris-Perry’s own words regarding her employment with MSNBC and having her own show. The fact that her colleague–and possibly friend, at this point– Ta-Nehisi Coates to claim she was the USA’s foremost public intellectual at a time when bell hooks, Dr. Francis Cress-Welsing, Amiri Baraka, and Marimba Ani were all still breathing on the soil our ancestors bleed under whips to cultivate. That her platform, as his, is one established by the same White men he attacks only cements my reasoning as to why he consecrated her position.
“I’m not sure how I ended up with a television show…clearly it’s about a set of very odd occurrences that were part of this moment historically where you end up with an African-American man as president and you end up with the most popular commentator on this African-American male president being a queer woman who is out, and butch, when they don’t overly make her up. And so there is a shift that occurs around representation. And that shift that occurs around representation occurs at the same time that there is a profit motivation to get an audience. And I don’t want to miss that. There is no moment in cable news where people are making any kind of decision that isn’t based on a belief that there is audience, and income, and something else out there.”
This is a great quote. Not a “great quote” solely on the strength that Melissa Harris-Perry is making it, but a great quote because Melissa Harris-Perry the employee of MSNBC is making it. In that she is addressing the inner workings of the decision making process of, not only a cable news network, but the cable news network that she works for. Melissa Harris-Perry is not only addressing a certain acceptance of new representations in media, but the reasons why. Melissa Harris-Perry in this monumental statement is explaining how she comes to celebrity. In her own eloquence, she explains that it is all about the benjamins—a profit motivation for a particular audience.
In that her celebrity is a manufactured, profit motivated, and ratings driven it deserves to be contextualized in like. I return to the reality that Ta-Nehisi Coates also works in a certain context for MSNBC. His statements regarding her status as “foremost public intellectual” is a nod at that difference that—at the time of this writing and the time that Ta-Nehisi writes—separates Melissa Harris-Perry from other intellectuals, namely, that Melissa Harris-Perry is positioned as a celebrity by virtue of her audience draw for MSNBC.