Celestial Mechanics of Cyberspace:
The Universal Truths of Star-Making

Celine Flores and Jen Carroll

M81 Galaxy by NASA (2007)


Adorno, T. W. (1974). The Stars Down to Earth: The Los Angeles Times Astrology Column. Telos, 1974(19), 13-90

    Millennia before the formation of astronomy into a science, humans looked to the stars not only to conceptualize time and space, navigate land and sea or measure cycles of nature, but to navigate the unknowns and complexities of life and understand cycles and patterns of human behavior. When German philosopher Theodor Adorno visited Los Angeles in the early 1950s, he wondered why the populace’s fixation on divining meaning from celestial bodies transcended beyond frivolous enchantment into “occult-like” obsession, likening the division between astrology and astronomy to that of alchemy and chemistry in “The Stars Down to Earth: The Los Angeles Times Astrology Column.” Adorno observed a peculiar synchronicity between the subcultures of astrology devotees and the “dream factories” of Hollywood, which by then had nearly perfected the alchemy of star-making with Marilyn Monroe. How much is to be said of the cross-sectionality between how we as a society are affected by the messages we divine from the stars in the sky and the meaning we ascribe to so-called stars in popular culture? Attracting the eyes of the world in Golden Age Hollywood followed a somewhat gatekept formula that flexed with the zeitgeist throughout the decades since, and is still faintly familiar in the Age of the Influencer—with the science of algorithms replacing conventional formulas of fame and metrics of attention, what exactly has changed? And who gets to be famous for being famous?

    We make the stars, and the stars make us. Whether for fifteen minutes or fifteen seconds, who we elevate to the echelon of stardom via digital consumption reveals everything about the society of which we dream, where in that society we perceive ourselves to be and where we aspire to be perceived. Given that artificial intelligence generates exclusively using data we input, it’s hardly a wonder that present-day algorithms of social media replicate and reinforce hierarchies of race, class, gender, and age that have persisted from Marilyn Monroe and Paris Hilton’s reigning eras to micro-celebrities and influencers otherwise seemingly destined for fame. Those attracted to astrological superstition, as Adorno theorized, were seduced by a tonal essence of “abstract authority” that inspired a sense of educated autonomy and belonging—not unlike the assertiveness of Hollywood’s self-reflexive media machine. The cult of celebrity forges a liminal space between high and low culture that collapses the most polarizing experiences with common cultural references, commanding our collective attention and monopolizing mediums of mass appeal.

    Cyberspace is its own nebulous universe with infinite frontiers, intrinsically encoded with damaging and discriminatory bias—even the language we use to discuss it cannot itself escape. We continue to try to understand the role of cyberspace in our physical reality, our culture, economy, politics, and media as those realms increasingly orbit each other and intertwine online. While cyberspace has yet to wholly replace our physical universe as chemistry replaced alchemy, and astronomy replaced astrology, our conscious behavior online in this cultural moment—if we consider our attention and our consumption as our most potent currency—can collectively create a more ideal world on and offline. Delving into the biases that structure our own interactions with the world around us and indulging in and sharing more diverse narratives can more deeply dismantle our own predispositions, in order to both capture and foster more holistic representations of our society as a whole.