You know you’re living in a culture of celebrity when the Twitter for the president of the United States ranks No. 6, trailing behind rock stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry by millions of followers. But have celebrities always trumped achievers for public attention?
University of South Carolina sociologist Patrick Nolan decided to test the notion that public fascination with celebrities had grown during the 20th century while interest in achievers or producers such as scientists, inventors or industrialists and religious figures had waned. Using The New York Times obituaries as a cultural barometer, he analyzed 100 years of obits from 1900 — 2000, working from the newspaper’s “notable deaths” section. The results of his study, “Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Apotheosis of Celebrities in 20th-century America,” appear in the summer issue of the sociological journal Sociation Today.
“Most striking are the simultaneous increases in celebrity obituaries and declines in religious obituaries. They document the increasing secularization and hedonism of American culture at a time when personal income was rising and public concern was shifting away from the basic issues of survival,” Nolan said. “The magnitude of these trends is seismic. While the Greeks may have looked to their gods for guidance and entertainment, we’ve turned increasingly to our celebrities — entertainers and athletes.”
Comparing percentages of obits in the various occupations to employment in those industries revealed a disproportionate amount of celebrity obits in the fields of entertainment and sports. The finding clearly documented a trend toward secular hedonism, he said.
This only confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time- when a theologian or biblical scholar dies the media hardly ever notice; but when a celeb or jock breaks wind, the media can’t get enough of covering it.
Hedonism and entertainment- it’s all our world cares about.
- Rise of Celebrity Culture Traced in Obituary Archive (livescience.com)
- Dead men do tell tales: Sociologist used 100 years of obituaries as cultural barometer (sciencedaily.com)