Samita Nandy

Samita Nandy holds a doctorate in media and celebrity culture from the Department of Media and Information at Curtin University, Australia. She is also the director of the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) and writes as a cultural critic on fame. Her research focuses on celebrity activism and nationalism, and has been sponsored by international and national grants in Australia and Canada. Her international media relations and work led her to be featured on CBC News, CTV’s Breaking News CP 24, OMNI TV, The Globe and Mail and Canadian Journalism Foundation among many more. Dr. Nandy has taught at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and Curtin University. Her work has been published in edited books The Performance of Celebrity and The Emotions Industry. Her forthcoming book Fame in Hollywood North: A Theoretical Guide to Celebrity Cultures in Canada will be published in 2015 by WaterHill Publishers. Email:


‘Selfies’ in Celebrity Activism: Authenticity of Emotions in Fame

Digital photography of self portraitures generates contradictory responses in celebrity activism. These photographs, also called ‘selfies,’ can be expressions of narcissistic emotions as well as social advocacy. The question of authenticity is central to the contradictions in selfies, and is heightened in the aesthetics and politics of fame. A rigorous theoretical and methodological examination of the celebrity is imperative to addressing authenticity and to the effective use of selfies as pedagogical and advocacy tools. Academic research and media reports show that celebrities play a vital role in social advocacy, political lobbying, raising awareness, and generating funds for compelling causes. In the process, however, confession of intimate details, commodification of emotions, and promotion of self counteract effects of social justice that many celebrities aim to advocate. In this respect, gossip, rumour and scandals act as narrative devices that aim to integrate society on moral grounds. The irony is that celebrities are often consumed in unethical ways. In The Emotions Industry (2014), I theorize that the function of emotions is twofold: it is both the cause and the effect of the economic and social demands of fame. The ironical use of emotions is evident in the production, circulation, and reception of confessions and disclosure of intimacy by celebrities in traditional and digital media.

In this exclusive talk, I show how selfies can act as reflective biographical accounts in celebrity activism. I suggest considering selfies as part of a combination of cultural productions such as media interviews, diary entries, and unedited footage, and offering a greater understanding of their nuances and subtleties. Context-based understandings of authentic emotions and social needs are often overlooked in celebrity activism, but those needs can be restored through a combination of cultural productions in print, broadcast, and digital media. These cultural productions can act as reflective biographical accounts, resolve the ironical role of emotions in fame, and advocate social causes in celebrity activism. Selfies, in particular, can act as participatory and subversive forms of art in which affective actors can blur hierarchical boundaries and mobilize multiple sensory perception, engaged learning, and advocacy of social causes. The relationship between emotions and fame is contested in media, and calls for practice-based research that can restore emotions in effective social campaigns.