Being able to find the most minute details on a topic at the touch of a finger is a certain type of miracle. The digital era that we’ve officially made our home has made tasks like writing a biography an infinitely different process than it was before. The internet has archived and made available vast stores of information, down to the time of day that Taylor Swift was born at Brampton Civic Hospital in West Reading, Pennsylvania (8:36 a.m., for those who wonder).
Examining the way that celebrity culture has changed in the context of this availability is an intriguing and important task. It’s crucial to consider the the way that celebrity culture has morphed into an attitude that celebs are not only figures in the public eye, but of the public eye. Fans resorted to self-harm when Zayn Malik announced he was departing One Direction, and the demands placed on celebrities to be constantly well-dressed, charming and available for autographs make them much more the property of their fans than of their own volition. Taking it a step further, the accessibility of information plus the current celebrity culture makes for fascinating changes in how we write biographies.
Considering the current culture, then, Sarah Oliver’s two biographies are especially fascinating to examine. Oliver published both “Inside Taylor Nation: True Encounters With Taylor Swift” and “Zayn: A New Direction” within the past year. Oliver’s own biography on her website describes herself as “a celebrity journalist and an author with a passion for ‘Twilight.’” Celebrity journalist is certainly an interesting category to apply to one’s self, and fit just as well for her books. Both are written without a clear narrative, and more in the style of a fanatically passionate fan of the celebrity.
The books are very clearly written for the same sort of people — “Inside Taylor Nation” contains little “did you know?” boxes within each chapter, with extra information that was, for whatever reason, not included in the rest of the text. One such section speculates about Swift’s song “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” saying “Swifties think [the song is] clearly about Jake Gyllenhaal because the actor playing her ex [in the music video] looks very similar to him, she waves around the scarf that she wore when they were dating, and her band are dressed as animals, which they believe is a shout-out to the human rabbit in Gyllenhaal’s movie, ‘Donnie Darko.’” Zayn’s book, in turn, contains a chapter describing his time on “The X Factor” with One Direction where each week’s episode is recapped with a full transcription of the judge’s comments for the band, as well as a complete setlist for all performers each night.
Undoubtedly, the biographies are thorough. Facts, fanfiction and speculation are all compiled to form the most complete portrait possible of their favorite celebrities in 2016. Critical, the books are not; investigative doesn’t fit either. They are, however, enthralling to consider in the grand scheme of how we view famous people and consequently, how we write about them. Oliver’s literal labors of love may not present new ideas to readers, but they are definitely essential reading for all Swifties, Directioners and fangirls worldwide.
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