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Arts & Culture

What Was, Is, and Will Be Popular

Martin Fisch/flickr creative commons

by Faith Middleton

If most Americans no longer exclusively watch the same three network TV channels, which were—long ago and in a galaxy far away—a measurement of popularity, how do we calculate what's popular now? How do we figure out what's popular in any realm—movies, books, music, chefs, reality shows, sports, politics, even the candy bar world? And, if you have something to promote, how do you make what you do crazy popular in a sliced and diced digital world?

Adam Sternbergh, culture editor of The New York Times Magazine, recently edited a great package about this. We were inspired and intrigued, so we asked Adam to explore popularity with us, along with our regular contributor and pop culture maven Steve Heller, design critic, author, and creator of the blog, The Daily Heller.

Here are some questions to think about:

  • If you want to be famous, is smaller fame enough if you're famous with the right crowd?
  • Can you trust popularity ratings if they need an asterisk saying in tiny type, "*Top-rated among suburban white females, ages 8 to 14, who order plaid shirts online from J. Crew on Sundays between the hours of 8 and 10 p.m."?
  • What is the most over-used and slimy popularity term? Best-Selling? Award-Winning? New and Improved?
  • Are you popular if you're a hit online but not in traditional media?
  • What if you really are popular but your competitors are trashing you online?
  • What if your friends are secretly paid by a company to tell you they love the product?
  • What if the ratings site you like is paid by sponsors to rate the product highly? Is there a way to tell?
  • Does popularity now bubble up from the street, or is it still determined by experts in the field?

Join the conversation by email, on Twitter, or on Facebook.


  • Steve Heller - graphic designer/author
  • Adam Sternbergh - culture editor, The New York Times Magazine
Arts & Culture
Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
Jonathan is a producer for ‘The Colin McEnroe Show.’ His work has been heard nationally on NPR and locally on Connecticut Public’s talk shows and news magazines. He’s as likely to host a podcast on minor league baseball as he is to cover a presidential debate almost by accident.
For more than 25 years, the two-time Peabody Award-winning Faith Middleton Show has been widely recognized for fostering insightful, thought-provoking conversation. Faith Middleton offers her listeners some of the world's most fascinating people and subjects. The show has been inducted into the Connecticut Magazine Hall of Fame as "Best Local Talk Show".

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