Celebrities: Diversifying Power

15 07 2009

I just wanted to make a note of the Forbes top five influential women in media: in order, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tyra Banks. I am impressed that of those five, two are African-American and one is lesbian.

Of Forbes’s top 100 celebrities, the top five include Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Madonna, Beyonce, and Tiger Woods; you don’t get a white dude until #6, Bruce Springsteen, who beats Steven Spielberg at #7, and then it’s Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Kobe Bryant to round out the top 10.  So of the top 10 most powerful celebrities, five are men and five are women.  It’s like the general population is also half male and half female!  Amazing!  And, interestingly (to me), four of the top ten are African-American or mixed race.  Again, it’s almost as if a significant portion of the US is not white!  Astounding!

I’d like to see what smarter people with economic training have to say, but I’m struck by the methodology for calculating the Celebrity 100:

The Celebrity 100 is a measure of power based on money and fame. Earnings estimates, which include income from films, television shows, endorsements, books and other entertainment ventures, are calculated between June 2008 and June 2009. Figures were rounded off where appropriate. Sources include Billboard, Pollstar, Adams Media Research, Nielsen SoundScan, Nielsen BookScan, Nielsen Media Research and SNL Kagan. Fame is calculated using Web hits on Google Blog Search, TV/radio mentions on LexisNexis, overall press mentions on Factiva and the number of times a celebrity’s image appeared on the cover of 25 consumer magazines.

Which 25 consumer magazines?  What’s the demographic for each of them?  I’m just wondering about using magazine covers to gauge fame when as far as I know, magazine subscriptions have been dwindling.  I assume we’re talking about magazines like People, Vogue, Cosmo, and other checkout-line staples, where anyone who buys groceries ends up seeing the faces on the cover.  But I’d like to know more specifically which magazines count and which don’t.  Rolling Stone probably does, I would imagine, but how many magazines are included in their list that target Latin@s, for example, which make up a significant portion of the population?  Does Forbes, as I suspect they do, privilege magazines targeted at middle-class white women?

The list of the 400 richest Americans is more revealing, though: there are only four women in the top 60, and it’s not until you hit #60 that you finally see a face that isn’t white: Patrick Soon-Shiong, just ahead of Steve Jobs.  Don’t worry, white dudes: you’ve still got wealth and power locked in, in spite of the way you’ve voiced your fears over the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor (*cough*LindseyGraham*cough*).

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