Repute is akin to honour and to the Weberian concept of status. It can be studied as a key dimension of social stratification within modern ‘informational’ societies: widely acknowledged celebrities stand at the top; ordinary people, at the bottom. Celebrity varies also in a ‘horizontal’ dimension : some reputations are limited to a specialized audience (fans of sports or movies, Catholic church faithful, etc.), while some wider celebrities reach a more general audience.
Our sociology of celebrity relies upon the analysis of an original corpus: the covers of a French weekly picture magazine, Paris-Match. Only 20% of the samples are subscribed, so the cover plays an important role in catching the eye of the numerous casual customers. Most of people whose photographs can be seen on the cover of such a general magazine belong to the world of large celebrity. A grid applied to the content of the covers allows to set up and measure celebrity scores. Among the full set of 2950 covers, 85% include images of celebrities. 1560 personalities are represented. Along the total 1947-2005 period, their scores range from 0.1 cover (smaller scores are conventionally neglected) to 63.5 covers (Princess Caroline de Monaco). Inequalities in celebrity scores can be adjusted to a Pareto law (coefficient: 1.3).
Four main domains of specialization can be distinguished: aristocrats, show business personalities, politicians (religious authorities and members of the military are included here), and ‘others’ (sports, science, crime cases, etc.). In every domain, celebrities are selected, through special rules, by specialized agencies. Aristocrats inherit celebrity: here lineages, rather than persons, are entitled to celebrity. Show business obeys to the type of ‘winner-take-all’ economics described by S. Rosen (‘The Economics of Superstars’, AER 1981). In democracies, politicians are the winners of electoral tournaments. Sports display a lot of specialized competitions. Inequalities in the concentration of celebrity are at their highest level among aristocrats, and at their lowest in the ‘others’ column.
Paris Match is in itself a selection agency. As a general-interest media, it plays a specific agenda setting role, sorting out the news by order of priorities. This selection is a second order one, coming after those made by specialized agencies. It is not of the ‘cup of the cups’ type: specialized audiences consecrate works and celebrities whose qualities are quite esoteric and can be appreciated only after a long apprenticeship, while general media are aimed at lay wide audiences. Therefore they tend to overrule the selections made by first order agencies, and to support easily accessed works and celebrities. When they portrait high brow celebrities, they focus on family events and love affairs – an approach that can be define as ‘people’.
The ‘peopolization’ and ‘showbizification’ of Paris Match along the 1980s and the 1990s can be analysed as a consequence of the withering of grand history (especially wars) in which France had been directly implied until 1962. Grand history can be seen as a melting pot in which high brow and low brow cultures mix one with an other.