Joseph Nathan Cohen

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

What is Fame?

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

Original Video Description

An introduction to the concepts of fame and celebrity. 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)

so let’s start off with some basic concepts first what’s fame who are celebrities now if you look at the etymology of these words you find that they’re rooted in 13th century 14th century latin terms denoting reputation or public opinion and that meaning is carried over into the literature on the topic if you read up on fame it’s used in general to denote a person who is known by strangers or fame itself is renowned by strangers it happens when people who you don’t know they recognize you they know they have information of you they might have feelings or opinions of you they’re relating to you as a person uh even though they don’t know you personally and when one person knows many people like that they have fame and a person who possesses fame is celebrity now uh fame can occur on different levels there are people who are very very famous you know like tom hanks or the president of the united states but fame can go down to local levels where for example people in a small town know the local weatherman or even people in new york city know who the weatherman is on new york one and it even happens for example a microcosm of that happens on college campuses where a lot of students might know a large lecture professor right and it’s a situation where there’s that asymmetry one one per uh many people know one person one person is known to many people now on the surface this might strike you as obvious or an uninformative definition but conceptualizing it of this way has a lot of benefits one is uh it allows you to recognize fame that doesn’t resonate with you personally because one of the problems in studying fame is that fame is our sense of fame is highly personalized uh and as researchers we need objective standards um there is a tendency or you know i’ll get to it let me move forward and i’ll get to it so one way to probe what’s meant by a concept is to look at how researchers measure it and the way celebrity has been measured uh in in in has evolved over recent decades but there’s still a common core common meaning that’s being captured now before the internet uh usually uh people used uh sales data as a proxy for fame so for example if will smith were to star in a movie they’d see what will smith whether a will smith movie drew a lot and if will smith’s movies draw a lot they infer that he’s a star now that happened with smaller and medium-sized media enterprises in particular because sales data they had to collect it for accounting purposes but back in the day a lot of the more detailed knowledge that big enterprises had was developed using social scientific research methods just like the kind we teach here at queen’s college and in fact a lot of media research has its roots in sociology uh through work especially by paul azersfeld um is well known in that era and they did what we do they ran focus groups they ran surveys and they would uh find ways to quantify celebrity and here’s an example of that on the screen this is called the q score is still being put out and what it is is it’s made by running surveys and asking panels of respondents to rate whether or not they recognize a celebrity and how they feel about celebrities and this is q scores from 2017 it’s for national morning tv anchors so as you see here uh recognizability like we said a part of celebrities just being known to their people and you could see there are our morning announcers like kathie lee gifford or al roker you know george stephanopoulos who are very widely known and then there’s uh affect like a positive q score this is how much people like the celebrity so people like kathy lee gifford might be well liked or widely known but not well liked whereas people might not know robert well robin roberts is well known but people who know sam champion or josh elliot seem to like him now with the internet our ability to measure fame has grown uh considerably were we were able to move from self reports to behavioral data rather than asking people who they liked asking people if they paid attention to a uh celebrity we could just see who they surfed for we could see you know who they followed on facebook you know where they clicked uh and so what’s happened is it we’ve built a much more enriched capacity for quantifying fame and there’s a lot of efforts going on to to find ways to put better numbers on celebrities and it’s also created a lot of uh knowledge in the celebrity space they know that and now there’s a lot there’s a lot of efforts to gain that system either by purchasing followers hiring algorithms to make it look like more people share your stories or click on your links and things like that now even though the methods have changed they’re still the same basic insight that they’re getting at how much how widely someone is known what do people know of them and how do people feel about them so times have changed the methods we use to measure it have changed but it has a timeless core no renowned to strangers and the feelings associated with it