The cult of celebrity 崇拜名人之风

A camera phone
Image caption Are we replacing autographs for mobile phone pictures?

Vocabulary: fame 词汇: 名声、名望

Lady Gaga! Paris Hilton! Kim Kardashian! Err… Kim Kardashian's hairdresser! These days we have so many celebrities.And some are famous for being… well, just famous. So I wondered: is this obsession with celebrities just a phenomenon of the 21st century?

But then I did a little research. First, let's consider the case of Lord Byron, an English poet who lived and worked 200 years ago. It turns out he has a few things in common with the Canadian singer Justin Bieber.

Byron was born in 1788. Some call him the world's first modern-style celeb. As with any show business sensation of today, he was flamboyant, had a love life full of scandals, and a legion of adoring fans.

Bieber, meanwhile, has become as famous for his gaffes as for his singing. Last year he wrote a message in a guest book at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, hoping the Holocaust victim would have been a fan. It caused outrage. The teenager has also had run-ins with the law, facing accusations of dangerous driving and vandalism.

Both Byron and Bieber rose to fame thanks to changes in society at the time. Byron's rise coincided with the rapid growth of literacy among the middle classes, especially women, in Britain. Bieber, on the other hand, was discovered via YouTube videos in 2007.

And the fans? Bieber has his 'beliebers'; Byron had his 'Byron maniacs'.

Dr Corin Throsby, an expert in English literature from Cambridge University, explains that: "What marked the birth of celebrity as we know today was the conversion of a personality into a commodity."

"There was a sort of a secondary industry of Byron stuff", she said. "There were Byron neck ties. People wanted to look like Byron. He no longer had control of his image, things were being done with his name that he felt very uncomfortable about."

Byron gave autographs. Books he signed are still sought after by collectors. Bieber lives in the era of selfies. But in the end, it was Byron's art that made him immortal. And fame, as we know, is fickle. Who knows how long the stars of today will be remembered for?