Livin’ the Life: Our Obsession with Fame and Power

I.   Introduction

We have all heard of Andy Warhol’s phrase, “15 minutes of fame” (van de Rijt, 2013: 269); and we have all aspired to be famous and powerful sometime in our lives. Whenever a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I said a president because he or she is famous and powerful. Now, that is never going to happen! Why do we desire fame and power, though?  In this paper, I am going to discuss two interrelated topics: why we desire fame and power and why is fame and power good for the duration of a capitalist society?

II.    What are Fame and Power and Why Do We Want It?

What exactly is fame? Fame is defined as the condition of being known or recognized by many people (merriam-webster.com). Usually, if not mostly, fame equates to power because people idolize and follow your actions when you have a following. Why do we want to be idolized and to have control over others? Simple answer, control is the key to survival in a capitalist society (soc.duke.edu). That is to avoid suppression.

Through the theories developed by sociologists Karl Marx and Max Weber, I argue that the fight for fame and power comes naturally by living a capitalist society because this type of society creates two classes. The two classes are: the powerful and influential capitalist class, like the C.E.O.s, who control and own the means of production and the working class, like the average Joe, who must sell their labor to the capitalists in order to make a living (Kendall, 2013: 226). The separation of classes leads to a social stratification; in other words a “hierarchical arrangements of large social groups based on their control over basic resources” (Kendall, 2013: 221). And automatically, a power struggle, known as social Darwinism, to get to the top of the food chain ensues (soc.duke.edu).

Continuing with the previous idea, social Darwinism is another factor as to why we desire fame and power; it is used “to describe the idea that humans… compete in a struggle for existence in which natural selection results in ‘survival of the fittest’ (autocww.colorado.edu). Using social Darwinism, I argue that because of social stratification we have a desire to be famous, powerful, and influential because these people control means of production, and control and domination over other people is key to survival.  In other words, the famous and powerful are best suited to the capitalist economy because they get to control who gets what and how much.

III.    How is the want for Fame and Power Good For Society?

      How is the power struggle for fame and power good for survival of a society? If we treat the two classes as interest groups trying to fight for power (yes, I believe the rich fight to keep their power too),[1] then the competition among these groups, “help prevent the abuse of power by any one group” (Kendall, 2013: 422). In other words, the fight for power on both sides of the spectrum makes sure no one group dominates, or is dictating, the other group.

For example, if Company A’s C.E.O. and board use their power and decides to cut their workers’ average salary from 80,000 dollars to 40,000 dollars  (since the rich in a capitalist society gets to control what and how much), the workers can fight for the power to overturn the powerful decision makers decide through legal means or strikes. Not long after the power struggle, the workers gain influence and power over the wealthy and their salary goes back up.

 IV. References

 Flemmen, M. (2013). Putting Bourdieu to work for class analysis: reflections on some recent contributions. The British Journal of Sociology, 64(2), 325-343.

Kendall, Diana. Sociology in Our Times. Stamford, CT: 10th Edition, 2013.

Notes on Bourdieu. (n.d.). Notes on Bourdieu. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.soc.duke.edu/~jmoody77/TheoryNotes/bourdieu.htm

Rijt, A. V., Shor, E., Ward, C., & Skiena, S. (2013). Only 15 Minutes? The Social Stratification of Fame in Printed Media. American Sociological Review, 78(2), 266-289.

Social Darwinism. (n.d.). Social Darwinism. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://autocww.colorado.edu/~flc/E64ContentFiles/SociologyAndReform/SocialDarwinism.html

fame. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fame

[1] My own opinion, not cited

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