Françoise Benhamou

The Star-System Economy Publication date : April 1, 2002

We live in an age that spends fortunes on its stars. But why do we get the impression that the fees that stars receive and their popularity correspond less and less to their talent? Why does stardom seem to have so little to do with creativity and quality?
The author offers two types of explanation: the first relates to the way demand is created, the second to how it is expressed. Both concern how fads are created. Awards, prizes and records reflect this, and give the cultural job market its specific character. Many are the wannabes who are left by the wayside by a ruthless system of competition and selection. But for the few who are chosen, the rewards are great and varied. These facts are all well known. The process, which seems inescapable, depends also on the conditions of the available supply: the star system has been extended to many other sectors, and the industrial structures of creation have been concentrated to reduce the "production" cost of stars. In the globalised market, which feeds off collective passions, new products are often clones of recent successes. A fad thus serves to promote products of unequal quality. The system harbours a paradox: the industries that produce and devour stars are in constant need of novelty, yet they accept (even if suspiciously) the existence of some token stars that are in opposition to the system. At the end of her detailed study of the forces that move the various aspects of the cultural economy - from the film industry to art exhibitions, from publishing to the music business - Françoise Behnamou addresses the inadequacies of the cultural policies at work in France today. It is not enough to defend France's "cultural exception". The issue at hand is to determine if France's cultural policies really further innovation, or if they do not themselves support a phenomenon that has become so familiar that it sometimes seems inevitable: the extension of the star system. The author believes that it is not too late to take action.

Françoise Benhamou is an economist. She teaches at the universities of Rouen and Paris-I and is the author of Économie de la culture, published by Éditions La Découverte.