Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

What Price Fame?

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

What Price Fame?

Article excerpt

What Price Fame? By Tyler Cowen. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2000. 248 pp. $22.00 (cloth).

When religious ethicists involved in social analysis discuss economic life concerns, we often turn to issues such as consumerism, globalization, and sustainability. Except for casual comments about the money made by rock stars and super athletes, the business of fame seldom gets mentioned. Now, however, Tyler Cowen has given us a very engaging economic and social analysis of the marketing of fame in America. His book makes clear that this subject deserves our attention.

A major theme in Cowen's analysis is that the marketing of fame leads to the separation of fame from merit. The most famous are not always the best because creativity and profitability are not always compatible. There are other ills also to consider. The commercialization of fame corrupts the public culture. Political discourse suffers when the dynamics of fame spreads into politics with the marketing of candidates. The selfishness of fame seekers is only matched by the personal cost they have to pay for the fame they seek.

However, Cowen is both a realist and an optimist. Despite the evident flaws of commercialized fame, he believes that on balance it works to the benefit of society. The market in fame serves to create a marvelous variety of star performances and continually stimulates new creative endeavors through the allure of renown. As to the critics who nonetheless worry about the impact of profit on quality, Cowen is ready with historical arguments to show that fame and merit have never been tightly connected. Some loss of quality is the trade-off for a highly productive system.

Even if we grant some measure of truth to his cost-benefit analysis of the fame game, there may be some moral costs that are too high a price for society to pay. …

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