Editorials

Spectacle fuels new economy

In the New New Economy, you don't have to do anything, make anything or have any talent. Just ask Kim Kardashian.

A recent story in the Hollywood Reporter revealed Kim and her ubiquitous family pulled in $65 million last year. That's a whole lot of something for a whole lot of nothing.

But in the New New Economy, the only thing that matters is audience. If you've got followers, you'll have customers. Think of those Verizon commercials where a mob of people follow behind the guy in glasses. That guy, in the New New Economy, would be General Motors.

Here's how it works. In the old days, you made something. A saddle. A table. A car. Then you sold it to people. If they liked your product, they bought more, you made more, they bought more, etc.

The world has flipped. Product is being made in Third World nations. Audience is what Americans are specializing in.

Start with Kardashian. She makes nothing. She has no particular skill. Her initial claim to fame was having a self-made sex video that went wild across the Internet.

The sole fascination with her seems to be - and I don't mean to be crude here, but correct me if I'm wrong - (1) Who's she having sex with now? (2) What would it be like to have sex with her? (3) How is she always at a party? and (4) Her butt.

These curiosities have spawned an audience of over 6 million Twitter fans, and a blog that she claims has more than 40 million hits a month.

In the New New Economy, that's all you need.

What Kardashian does, very cleverly, is sell her ravenous audience to the highest bidder. She charges up to six figures to attend a party, and reportedly can get a million for a party overseas.

How can someone charge for going to a party? Because, like that guy in the Verizon commercial, she brings all those curious people with her, in real and virtual life. Photographers, reporters, blog followers. The party gets publicized because she is attending, which is why the party pays for her to show.

Same goes for Twitter. Kardashian reportedly charges $25,000 to endorse a product with a tweet. Simply by typing "I just used ________ hairspray!" her words go to 6.5 million people, presumably many who have so little imagination about their lives, they just want to emulate hers. For the hairspray company, that means potential customers.

This, by the way, is no different than some of the biggest companies in the New New Economy. Look at Google. Look at Facebook. They don't actually make anything. What they deliver is audience. And they earn billions by selling that audience to advertisers.

My worry is that instead of teaching our kids that skill, dedication and hard work are the path to success, we are teaching them that he-who-makes-the-biggest-jackass-video and she-who-pulls-her-skirt-up-highest can earn the most money.

Remember a few years back, when studies began to show that what kids wanted most in life was to be famous? It's an actual profession now. Lindsay Lohan (who has ceased to be an actress and become a sideshow), Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton - they are all proof of it.

The problem is, there are still only 24 hours in the day, and people can only be titillated for so long. Fame in and of itself cannot sustain as a profession. And if we stop making things the world needs, the only way to keep on top is to scream louder and be more audacious than the next person trying to draw attention.

What kind of economy is that? The New New one. We used to make and sell the tent. Now we just try to fill it.

Contact Albom, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, at malbom@freepress.com.

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