chapter  16
David Bowie Now and Then: Questions of Fandom and Late Style
ByNICK STEVENSON
Pages 15

Like all big stars, the global fascination with Bowie means different things to many different people. However, as a cultural sociologist I am concerned with what our collective investment in a mega-star like Bowie might say about the changing times in which we live. If Bowie has grown up in public he has done so within a consumer society that is obsessed with body image and fearful of its decay and demise. Part of being modern is to recognise that change is threatening, yet it is also exhilarating and exciting. Further, the homogenous culture of industrialism that sought to impose conformity and predictability has more recently been broken up with the arrival of a more culturally intermixed society. However, as is widely recognised, there is within modern societies a deep fear of and ambivalence towards the Other. On the surface of post-liberation societies equality prevails and older forms of prejudice have been banished as expressions of anti-modernity. However nothing could be further from the truth, as modern citizens are, through the media, exposed to a number of contradictory cultural forms. Indeed part of the ‘meaningfulness’ of celebrity is that it offers a public forum and competing languages through which these ideas become circulated. Much of the ‘meaningfulness’ of Bowie can be traced through these contours in the context of a restless but equally endlessly inventive society. If, however, the fear of change and transformation also stands as a metaphor for a fear of death, then what role does celebrity play in this process? Is investing in figures that are literally ‘larger than life’ an attempt to defeat death, or is it more a case that major stars enable us to literally live with our own sense of mortality? These are inevitably difficult questions to unpick, but as we shall see it is one of the public functions of art to help us deal with issues of deep ambivalence within an increasingly instrumental society. Here I seek to explore not only the changing public investments in figures such as David Bowie, but also to say something about how they help navigate a wider world full of fear and ambivalence.