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‘People of Celebrity’as a New Social Stratum and Elite

‘People of Celebrity’as a New Social Stratum and Elite

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Published by Leonid Grinin
The changes in the information-oriented society, which have led to the fact that during the last decades the importance of the elite stratum named by the author "people of celebrity" has sharply increased, are analyzed in the article. This elite includes the top workers of mass media; art, theatre, literature, cinema workers; representatives of show business and fashion; sportsmen, etc. The common feature of this heterogeneous public is that they exploit their popularity, converting it into huge monetary incomes, posts, connections and different benefits, sometimes even descending it. It is also shown in the article that the personal popularity became one of the most important and more and more desired resources in the modern world, which along with the power and wealth creates the major lines of inequality in a society.
We can see as well, why in the information-oriented society the level of art falls and the borders between it, show and advertising are being washed away. Actually, it is possible to speak about the paradox of the modern information society: advertising turns to "art", and popularity – into the goods which can be bought and sold.
The changes in the information-oriented society, which have led to the fact that during the last decades the importance of the elite stratum named by the author "people of celebrity" has sharply increased, are analyzed in the article. This elite includes the top workers of mass media; art, theatre, literature, cinema workers; representatives of show business and fashion; sportsmen, etc. The common feature of this heterogeneous public is that they exploit their popularity, converting it into huge monetary incomes, posts, connections and different benefits, sometimes even descending it. It is also shown in the article that the personal popularity became one of the most important and more and more desired resources in the modern world, which along with the power and wealth creates the major lines of inequality in a society.
We can see as well, why in the information-oriented society the level of art falls and the borders between it, show and advertising are being washed away. Actually, it is possible to speak about the paradox of the modern information society: advertising turns to "art", and popularity – into the goods which can be bought and sold.

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Published by: Leonid Grinin on Jul 30, 2009
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In
 Hierarchy and Power in the History of Civilizations: Cultural Dimensions
(pp. 183– 206). / Ed. by Leonid E. Grinin and Andrey V. Korotayev. Moscow: KRASAND, 2009.
‘People of Celebrity’ as a New Social Stratum and Elite
Leonid Grinin
Volgograd Center for Social Research
THE NOTION OF PERSONAL CELEBRITY
As is well known, inequality is typical of every or at least most soci-eties (
e.g.,
Davis and Moore 1945: 243). Sociology considers
power,wealth, prestige, status and privileges
to be the main social benefitsand resources, whose distribution defines the major forms of inequality(see
e.g.,
Davis 1942; Smelser 1988; Lenski 1966; Sullivan 1998;Collins 2004)
1
. Sometimes education (or more generalized – ‘skill capit-al’ [Perrucci and Wysong 1999]) is included in this list. For instance, Ber-ger points out that education is the main ‘capital’ of the new ‘knowledge-class people’ (Berger 1986; see below about it; see also Coser and Zn-aniecki 1968; Gouldner 1978); Giddens supposes that education reflectsand affirms the existing inequality rather than encourages its elimination(Giddens 1993). Toffler and others quite rightly regard knowledge amongsuch resources (see
e.g.,
Toffler 1990). Tilly also points out that amongall the most extensive historical systems of inequality have depended oncontrol of one or more value-producing resources: information, espe-cially information that facilitates profitable, safe, or coordinated actionand media that disseminate such information (Tilly 2003: 35). However,strange though it may seem,
personal celebrity
(as well as fame, pop-ularity etc.) is hardly included in the list of those resources. This happensdespite the increasing role of this phenomenon in modern life and the factthat the aspiration for it affects value aims of a growing number of people.What is more, it begins to influence the changes of social relations andstratification. The subject of the present article is the investigation of theinfluence of the personal celebrity factor on the social life of modern soci-ety, the analysis of characteristics of celebrities as a special stratum, andreasons for the rapid increase in the importance of social role of personalcelebrity in the last century.What does the notion of personal celebrity mean? In my opinion, it is
a definite kind of more and less widespread information about a per-son, which in a certain sense distinguishes him or her from the over-whelming majority of those people who possess the same professionalor social characteristics.
 
Such a discrimination can refer to a) the rate of person's professionalor other characteristics (
e.g.,
sanctity, luck, talent, intellect, beauty) valued by social environment; b) the breadth of renown and a high level of repu-tation in certain social strata and places; c) formal or informal engage-ment of a person into a higher group as compared to a lower one (
e.g.,
tothe ‘famous writer’ category as compared to the group of ‘just a [com-mon] writer’); d) duration of being renown (posthumous fame) etc.
Thefame can be considered as a high level of personal celebrity as well asan honorable renown
. The indicated discrimination from the majority of the professional or social groups (guild, brotherhood, corporation, com- petitors etc.) may directly or indirectly advance person's social character-istics and provide her or him with additional benefits in comparison withan average person in a group, possessing the same type of qualities.
INCREASING SIGNIFICANCE OF PERSONAL CELEBRITY ASA SOCIAL RESOURCE
Personal celebrity has always been an appreciated benefit. Even at the be-ginning of human history the fame of great hunters, warriors, narrators,wizards was very valuable and difficult to achieve. The annals of historytell to what extent people strived for the fame, sometimes performing un- believable things (see
e.g.,
Braudy 1986). Thus, Nero being an emperor,sought for the actor's fame. Herostratus set on fire the Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Herodotus traveledover the half of the world. Scientists and poets, military leaders and kings,monksand cardinals, actors and prophets, knights and ladies, athletes andtravelers – all of them competed for the fame
2
.Sometimes celebrity gave more power and benefits. Famous wizards,doctors, cooks, actors, orators etc. had more ‘clients’ and higher ‘fees’.Famous philosophers in ancient China were sometimes invited to therulers and generously gifted by them (see
e.g.,
such an episode in the bio-graphy of Mozi
 
[Taranov 1995: 161–162]). The fame of a chief attractedwarriors to his retinue. A large number of pupils gathered around le-gendary magicians and druids. However, despite all the value of fame for certain people during the pre-industrial epoch (when in general there werequite a few literate people) the number of those who got the main meansof subsistence with the help of their celebrity or could sharply extendthem was very small indeed.The matter is that, as a rule, in traditional societies the social statuswas defined by such factors as one's nobility, estate affiliation, corpora-tion membership, land wealth, closeness to rulers etc. As regards the per-sonal celebrity, it performed a subordinate role,
i.e.
 
the one of an addi-tional differentiating factor among more or less socially equal people
.
2
 
Grinin / ‘People of Celebrity’ as a New Social Stratum and Elite
That is why the presence or lack of the personal celebrity was not essen-tial either for the social status of a nobleman, the power of feudal lords or for the wealth of a bourgeois – except for individual cases, which in-creased in number with the development of the industrial ‘modern’ marketsociety. Finally, in a modern society a famous writer (singer, actor, sports-man etc.) differs from the unknown one in earnings and prestige as did a peasant from a nobleman or an average nobleman from a duke.With introduction of printed information carriers (books, newspa- pers – the prototype of modern media, engravings and other kinds of  print) the number of people dependent on their celebrity increased andtheir material possibilities grew as well
3
. However, the number of those people who could convert celebrity into wealth was not great. It in-creased with the appearance of the new technical means, such as radio,cinema and especially TV as well as with the progress in education, un-til finally the situation has changed (for more detail about the process of increasing importance of celebrity in social life see Grinin 2007).The increasing role of personal celebrity led to the formation of a pecu-liar stratum of people connected with it. In the industrial society thecelebrity became a sort of capital – a specific, symbolic one. As men-tioned above, this article is devoted to the analysis of this stratum's char-acteristics (see also Grinin 2004a, 2004b, 2007).
THEORETICAL PROBLEMS OF THE ANALYSIS
Some additional notes should be made for the analysis of the given phe-nomenon. In particular,
personal celebrity is to be added to the list of those features that determine the major forms of inequality.
It is es- pecially relevant for the modern societies, where the celebrity's rating(and in some sense his or her market price) is directly connected withtechnical opportunities of communication means and one's access tothem. Also the class of people possessing personal celebrity demands acertain name. By analogy with those, whom Berger named ‘knowledgeclass’ or ‘knowledge-class people’ who provided and distributed know-ledge and whose main ‘capital’ was education and symbolic knowledge(see Berger 1986), the stratum of people whose occupation is connectedwith celebrity and whose major capital is celebrity I decided to call
celebrity class’ or ‘people of celebrity’
(see Grinin 1997: 50; 2003:220–222; 2004a, 2004b, 2007). But of course, this stratum can benamed after 
 
Mills (2000: 59), just as
celebrities’
or 
‘the professionalcelebrities’
.
Inequality
is a key notion for the analysis of social structure of thesociety and is the result of the state when people, who control public
3

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