Joseph Nathan Cohen

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

Famous for Being Famous

Part of a lecture that I gave on the topics of fame and celebrity.

Original Video Description

People say that our obsession with frivolous celebrities is a sign of moral decay. Is it? 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)

andy warhol once said in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes now the the quips attributed to walt warhol even though there’s some dispute as to whether or not he coined it it was on a program of a show of his an exhibition in 1968 out in sweden it gained tremendous cultural resonance in the 70s and 80s i mean we’ve all heard the quote it’s a good quote and the quote and a lot of warhol’s work resonates with a view that celebrity is something that’s becoming mass-produced manufactured cheap often there’s discussions about celebrity and you see people say oh there are so many people who are famous for being famous or famous for nothing and a lot of people see this new breed of celebrity and the attention we pay to them and they take it as a sign of dysfunction in society it’s you know a decline in our character or something that that is otherwise not great now warhol’s observation was made an attraction that the quote gained what happened in a very specific historical context and it was a period in which mass communications technology was evolving in ways that made new forms of communication possible and new cultural production enterprises more viable in the 70s and 80s there was a shift towards a uh mass communications media that allowed people to um uh consume programming on a personal level like without other people there were more televisions the walkman came out car radios and cassette players uh uh portable audio like boom boxes uh and so one change that occurred in the 70s and 80s was uh broadcast consumption or media consumption a lot of it moved out of the family room and into people’s personal spaces and that allowed for new forms of consumption right uh it might be that the whole family doesn’t want to watch an episode of jackass on mtv or the whole family doesn’t want to listen to a shock jock you know or consume pornography but when personalized consumption was more viable those types of products gain traction another change that happened was that there were new media developing that circumvented both legal and informal regulations of culture so for example cable tv and satellite tv allowed adult programming to be broadcast on tv whereas that wasn’t allowed on broadcast tv uh over the airwaves uh video cassettes uh and cassette tapes cassette tapes enabled uh new forms of music to be distributed music that wouldn’t be sold or carried by a record label but was easy enough for people to develop grassroots markets for so the point that i and and what happened here was these new media created new cultural outlets and new forms of culture and when people looked at them they were different from what they had seen before and some people were left asking what is this garbage what is this pornography on television you know what’s this rap music who’s this idiot on on on fm radio why is this popular and at the time there were a lot of debates about censorship fast forward 20 years and our era is like that on steroids whatever communication affordances were created by things like cable tv or cassette tapes is now uh it’s it you know it’s exponentially larger over the internet the internet has created like an almost unlimited pipeline of content and it’s almost impossible to uh regulate and technology has evolved so that people with next to no technical knowledge or or specialty equipment or money can set up uh broadcast outlets that command audiences that are the size of what commercial audiences drew uh in past eras like for example at our peak on my podcast we were getting about 1200 listeners a week for a one-hour program that’s that’s like a a drive home audience in a for a radio station in a mid-sized city like it’s one person on a shoestring budget bringing in audiences that used to be commanded by media enterprises and so what’s happened is all sorts of new content has become available and all of us have uh our media audiences are fragmented we’re now whereas once we might have all watched the same set of shows or listened to the same announcers watched the same news now our media diets are becoming more individuated we have a distinct media diet even from the people we live within our close friends we follow different facebook groups we follow different people on twitter we like different youtube videos we you know tune into different blogs and that process where everybody’s tuning into a different mix of uh producers is called audience fragmentation so what’s happened is there’s a lot more content a lot more media outlets and we’re dividing our attention between it and so what happens is there is now a much larger universe of small-scale celebrities who are delivering content that was once unconventional and so the the andy warhol observation of of just fame looking cheap or mass-produced or easy because we’re seeing so much of it it’s now much more like that and it’s an interesting this development is interesting in a lot of ways it gives us a space for pr probing concepts are fame and celebrities seeing how they’ve changed making note of this new environment and thinking through the concepts