Friday 22 April 2016

The Curse of Celebrity

Prince, then. Or the Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. I blogged earlier this year about the impact of death in a celebrity culture - see here. Some more thoughts on celebrity follow.

My American readers may be astonished to learn that I'd never heard of the Latina performer Charo, who is (I'm told) quite a big star in the States, a household name. I came across her online recently in a 1970s article entitled 'The TV Talk Shows' (Washington Post, July 14th 1977 (Style section, page B1)). in which she was cited as an early example of the way in which public over-exposure could damage a celebrity's popularity . 

The so-called "Q score", organised by one Steve Levitt, founder of Marketing Evaluations, Inc., was (and perhaps still is) a celebrity popularity rating service, and - to the surprise of many - Charo's Q score actually declined as her public exposure, her visibility as a celebrity, increased.

Before becoming nationally famous on talk shows in 1975 she was 'recognised' by 57% of the national television sample audience with a 'popularity quotient' (PQ) of 9%. By 1977 she was 'recognised' by 80% of the audience but her PQ had fallen slightly to 8%. Levitt noted sardonically: "If she was known by 100 percent of the world, chances are her popularity might go down to 7 or 6%". This is a counterintuitive result in the age of the Kardashians, but might serve tot make public figures think twice before appearing on chat shows, or come to that before appearing in public at all.

A Q score of 19 is considered the minimum level of likability for a celebrity to have any purchase on the public's affection and regard. In a 2005 survey of the dead celebrities most missed by the American public Lucille Ball came first, with a Q-score of 52, followed by Bob Hope (51) and John Wayne (48).
I have to say that the Bob Hope figure astonished me - has there ever been a less likeable performer?

Prince has died, and he was my age. Other than that we have little in common, although I was surprised to learn that he had at some point become a Jehovah's Witness, a fact that gives me pause when invited to reflect on his musical genius. Michael Jackson was another member of the cult, and was raised in it with troubling results. And (less illustriously) there's Hank Marvin of the Shadows. Prince was shrewd in managing his great fame, not least in spending several years recording and performing without a name at all, but a symbol. This elective anonymity simply added to the appeal. He was certainly recognisable - but I wonder what his Q score was, if any?

As for Charo, she's really something: a very accomplished Flamenco guitarist and, it seems. a force of nature. like Little Richard (who was surely the prototype for Prince). Her real age is a matter for speculation, but whatever age she is she doesn't look it. She was once married to the bandleader Xavier Cugat, if that's any guide. Her look is a kind of 1970s Bardot, turned up a couple of notches. Her excellent catch phrase is 'cuchi cuchi'. She has a quite astonishing energy and vitality, and I can see how repeated exposure to such an intense performer might wear thin with audiences. But in small doses she's terrific. Here's a link to something you might enjoy as much as I did: her appearance in, of all things, a Burger King training video

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