Joseph Nathan Cohen

Department of Sociology, CUNY Queens College, New York, NY

Fame Exists in a Field

Original Video Description

Unlike money, fame is not redeemable everywhere. This is an excerpt from a presentation by Professor Joseph Cohen at the City University of New York, Queens College at a joint presentation between Queens College’s Sociology Workshop and the Queens Podcast Lab’s Learning Series.

Transcription (Auto-Generated)

now if you’re a fan of morning tv you might have been surprised to see how low some of the name recognition is uh among uh well-known tv celebrities right you might be surprised that not a lot of people know who uh you know uh george stephanopoulos is uh we in sociology might be really surprised to hear that you know nobody knows who robert merton is outside of our discipline and part of it is that fame exists in a field it’s like a sphere of discourse a sphere of attention uh where a person is relevant so fame exists where people pay attention to the area of discussion or action where the celebrity is relevant and people who don’t pay attention to that the celebrity might as well be anybody else their fame is not fungible it doesn’t have an impact so for example if you’re a baseball fan you know who mike trout is you might want mike trout to meet your child or grandchild you might invite mike trout you know to speak to the community but if you don’t know who mike tread is well then mike trout might as well be salman ken or dil rabbi dilmarat who are two far far bigger stars who i’m guessing most of you have never heard of because they operate in a space that where your attention doesn’t gravitate and even though you know for example that salman khan is very famous because i’ve told you so you might not be moved emotionally because like you know it it’s not meaningful to you you’re not uh you’re you’re not invested in the space where salman khan does work and so his celebrity is it is it is it uh is it it doesn’t have an impact on you but where you do pay attention to the field if you do know baseball then you’re more likely to know of mike trout click on an ad listen to his opinion and all that um all right all right now what has happened with this fragmentation of us all getting uh paying attention to smaller audiences is there’s been a new breed of what are called micro celebrities so whereas a lot of uh a lot of our celebrities might have been followed by very large audiences a lot of people who are celebrities today are in the celebrity business i’ll explain what that is in a second they often cater to small audiences in the tens of thousands and like sociology is included in that our most famous people are playing to audiences of tens of thousands and in that sense they’re micro celebrities just like all the niche podcasters that ryan and i have been uh interviewing um but still there is something interesting in talking to these podcasters and uh there’s something to be learned about it one more thing i want to see before i move on from this is that uh a celebrity’s attachment to a field often binds their fates together the the fate of the field and the fate of the celebrity so for example fauci was very well known in communicable disease circles before kovid but it took kovy to put him on the cover of time to be a household name to be on good morning america so fauci’s field rose and he did and it can happen in in the opposite right like i think of like waif uh kate moss remember those wave models who looked like they were sickly thin that was a sub sector of the fashion industry when it lost cultural cachet the practitioners in that space lost their cachet now this tie creates an incentive for people to boost the fields that are the basis of their fame but it can also create an incentive for someone to separate from their field use their early fame as a springboard to fame in another space with better prospects for them personally or a field that has uh more lasting power so think of for example how george foreman went from being a boxer to selling uh grilled chicken like a tv pitchman or for younger people how jake paul after vine closed he got onto youtube and now he’s uh trying his hand at at boxing and other spectacle matches right when the field dies you can move to another one but there is some type of binding between a celebrity and their