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.)
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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.
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