Advertisements for Themselves

In modern huckstering, the celebrities become the product

Hucksterism is a deeply American trait. P.T. Barnum was a truer man of his time and place than Henry James, and sharpies' 19th century land-promoting broadsides sucked more settlers west than any high-minded exhortations to manifest destiny. If England is a nation of shopkeepers, the U.S. is a land of pitchmen; it is part of the national charm.

Modern advertising and modern celebrity arose simultaneously in America. The symbiosis was automatic, and Sarah Bernhardt leased her name and reputation to merchandisers decades before Cher was born, let alone starring in infomercials for personal-grooming products. At first endorsements were simply that: straightforward...

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