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What Price Fame? [Paperback]

Tyler Cowen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 7 2002

In a world where more people know who Princess Di was than who their own senators are, where Graceland draws more visitors per year than the White House, and where Michael Jordan is an industry unto himself, fame and celebrity are central currencies. In this intriguing book, Tyler Cowen explores and elucidates the economics of fame.

Fame motivates the talented and draws like-minded fans together. But it also may put profitability ahead of quality, visibility above subtlety, and privacy out of reach. The separation of fame and merit is one of the central dilemmas Cowen considers in his account of the modern market economy. He shows how fame is produced, outlines the principles that govern who becomes famous and why, and discusses whether fame-seeking behavior harmonizes individual and social interests or corrupts social discourse and degrades culture.

Most pertinently, Cowen considers the implications of modern fame for creativity, privacy, and morality. Where critics from Plato to Allan Bloom have decried the quest for fame, Cowen takes a more pragmatic, optimistic view. He identifies the benefits of a fame-intensive society and makes a persuasive case that however bad fame may turn out to be for the famous, it is generally good for society and culture.

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From Publishers Weekly

Primarily a look at the economic implications of our fame-driven culture, this compelling book, which reads like a long essay, also offers a philosophical meditation on the social and moral impact of fame on our public and private lives. Drawing on such diverse thinkers as Plato, St. Augustine, Jurgan Habermas and Pierre Bourdieu to bolster his arguments, Cowan, an economics professor at George Mason University, rambles through a wide variety of interrelated topics with varying success. While he engages the reader with some provocative ideas (such as that "diminishing privacy limits the creativity of performers and the diversity of society") and plenty of quirky facts (there are more than 3,000 Halls of Fame in the U.S., 30 of them for bowling alone; in 1986, the 10 public figures admired most by teenagers were entertainers), Cowan's view of fame itself is defined so loosely as to have little analytical or critical meaning. Many of his points are indefinite because they are either obvious or their basic terms are too vague: "Music stars," we are told, "use haircuts, styles of dress, and outrageous gimmicks to make themselves focal"; "the diminution of surprise plagues the aesthetic realm"; and "we can no longer look at Leonardo's Mona Lisa... with full freshness." Still, his graceful prose and refreshing perspective on the occasionally bizarre effects of capitalism will be enough to engage thoughtful readers. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

George Mason Univ. economist Cowen presents an unpersuasively optimistic look at the alleged benefits attendant upon the commercialization of fame. The cult of celebrity is ascendant, but is it all bad? Doesnt fame, asks Cowen, goad artists and scientists and politicians to reach higher and take the kinds of risks that ultimately enrich all our lives? And isn't there enough capital in the star machine to fuel diversity as it seeks a profit, encouraging a thousand flowers to bloom, especially when there is not a consensus who is the top petunia? It is a small price to pay, this adoration, for a big payback from the performer, though Cowen neglects to address the high costsof clothing and assorted accoutrementsthat come with fandom. Cowen certainly makes clear the uncoupling of fame from merit and virtuecommercialized fame, by directing fame away from moral merit, frees ideas of virtue from the cult of personality''but he doesn't make a compelling case for why thats such a good idea, despite his contention that commercialization produces a greater quantity and diversity of fame.'' Certainly most contemporary artists, for all their diversity, continue mostly to eke out a living, although technology has increased their potential audience. Cowen tries to spark sympathy for stars, who can lose their creativity along with their privacy, or worse yet ``lose themselves by pursuing the adoration of the masses,'' but thats a plea that doesn't play even in Peoria. Too often, Cowen's writingmany of the costs of fame fall on the famous. . . . It is the star who is alienated under capitalism, not necessarily the worker''is inane and downright foolish enough to undercut the provocation of his other comments on the state of fame in today's world. Cowen never mounts a convincing argument that celebrity worship has a trickle-down effect, democratizing paybacks for those who find their muse. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enlightening Feb. 4 2004
By A Customer
I enjoyed this book very much and it was especially interesting to realize how many of us use celebrities for our own needs.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Real "New Economy" Oct. 27 2000
By Panopticonman - Published on Amazon.com
With a simple conceit, the application of microeconomic theory to the culture of celebrity, Cowen generates fresh insight into the rising proliferation of stars and heroes in our world. By erecting an economic platform from which look at the phenomenon, he is able to stand apart from the usual moralizing approach taken by cultural critics. This is not to say he doesn't consider the views of both cultural optimists and pessimists in his discussion. Indeed, he writes a history of cultural pessimists and optimists starting with the Greeks. However,by giving us a new place to stand and a new perspective from which to examine fame and its pursuit, he performs a valuable service.
Cowen's view of 'fame markets' is in his own words 'largely optimistic,' a view based on the notion that 'markets increase the supply of star performances and the supply of fame with remarkable facility.' At the same time he is well aware that fame markets do not necessarily reward the virtuous. In his own words, he notes "modern fame removes the luster from societal role models" and "intense media scrutiny makes almost all individuals look less meritorious." He points out that media seeks profits, promoting images that will attract viewers, not images that "support the dignity of office."
What stands out in this 'economic' view of fame is Cowen's belief that the past efforts of highly visible reformers and moral and religious leaders have borne fruit to the extent that we as a society no longer need them as much as in the past. It is his contention that moral leaders are more spread among us as compared to earlier times when such leaders occupied high stations in the fame pantheon. This lower visibility of moral leaders, he believes, creates the incorrect perception of a society without moral leadership.
A pithy and enjoyable book whose great strength and only failing is its narrowness of focus. The celebrities we choose say something more about us than this relentlessly economic view would suggest.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing buy Jan. 6 2012
By Grace Ana - Published on Amazon.com
I've wanted this book for so long. I even found a free .pdf file of it online and downloaded it to my phone! But I still wanted the book because as a writer, I value the time others have poured into their work. Cliche, I know. Anyway, I'm in a situation where I have needed to pinch pennies, so I wasn't willing to shell out twenty bucks for a book. Luckily, my best friend remembered the name and got it for me for Christmas! Let me tell you, my head was stuck inside this book all Christmas morning! I'm writing a novel about the dark side of fame, and this book has provided great insight that has made my book more believable.
4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too academic for me Nov. 12 2004
By Grilch - Published on Amazon.com
I've always been fascinated with what being famous does to a person's life but there are surprisingly few intelligent books on the subject. This one comes sorta close but the guy's an economics professor so everything is seen through that lens. There are some really engaging ideas here but overall it was pretty dense reading and kinda dull.
1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Enlightening Feb. 4 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book very much and it was especially interesting to realize how many of us use celebrities for our own needs.
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