Reality TV and the Rise of Celebrity-CEOs

Sometimes it seems like everyone’s selling something. They’re selling their jewelry. They’re selling their book, selling their snack line, their natural cosmetics, their Etsy shop and blog and, ultimately, themselves. In The New Yorker‘s 2015 Style Issue, Lizzie Widdicombe writes about Bethenny Frankel, who turned her slot on The Real Housewives of New York City into an opportunity to sell her cocktail brand for $120 million dollars. Widdicombe examines Frankel and other “celebreneurs” who leverage visibility and idolatry to build their own commercial empire.

Frankel’s twin vocations are, in some sense, the same. “I’m a marketer,” she told me, explaining her role in business and in television. “I know how to communicate to people, and I think that’s what marketing really is.” It’s also an apt definition of celebrity. In 1944, the German sociologist Leo Löwenthal coined the phrase “idols of consumption” to describe the burgeoning celebrity culture. With their clear skin and fabulous wardrobes, stars give us something to aspire to─and an excuse to buy stuff we don’t really need.

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