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.
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.
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.