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Media Monsters: Why are we obsessed with celebrities?

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DH Vancouver Staff Aug 23, 2012 7:36 am

My inquest into the question as to why “we” as a society are obsessed with the circus of celebrity roared in riding shot gun in the shame mobile. One afternoon I was reading a clever magazine and stumbled upon a list of names in two opposing categories. The magazine asked me a simple question, and in order for you to understand my unfortunate realization, that I myself have been infected with the E-virus, it is only fair that you endure something along the lines of the same mental exercise:

Name something about the following celebrities:

1. Jennifer Lopez

2. Justin Bieber

3. Rihanna

4. Madonna

5. Tom Cruise

Name something about the following revolutionaries:

1. Karl Marx

2. Che Guevara

3. Nelson Mandela

4. Martin Luther King

5. Gandhi

6. Malcolm X

There is no other way to say it, however hard we try to justify it, we may avert our eyes from the check out aisles, we may flip past the E!News channel, but the truth is that in one way or another “we” are obsessed with celebrities. Who are they dating? What are they wearing? Where are they going? Are they pregnant, married, getting divorced? Why did Gwyneth Paltrow name her child Apple? I wonder what B and Jay Z’s baby will look like? Has poor Jennifer Aniston found love yet?

The question here is not what these people have done to achieve the coveted celebrity status, but more importantly – why do we even care? Are we not creating gods of mere mortals by admiring their every move, exalting their behavior, admiring their talents (or lack there of) to the point of obsession? We fantasize about their lives, we admire their money, their freedom, and ultimately in doing so we give them power, that we then proceed to admire as well.

Abbotsford resident, Kurtis Hodges, says that “celebrities are royalty,” and that back in the day he is sure that “peasants dreamt about becoming kings also.” He further explains that “growing up you dream to be rich and famous, not living in a modern class society where day by day you see your parents struggling with rent and taxes. Then you flick on the T.V and see these celebrities as happy as can be and suddenly that lifestyle seems more appealing.”

University of the Fraser Valley student, Jay Mitchell says that “perhaps it’s a two-part cycle, where we are fascinated with celebrities because the media we consume suggests we should be, and then we keep consuming more of this suggestive media?”  Mitchell thinks we have “gone so far in the direction of absorbing “cultural content” now, that there actually may be damage to social progress as a result.”

And finally, in the midst of many long-winded explanations for our behavior, can it really be as simple as this, according to a young traveler named Sally Joanna, that we use the lives of celebrities to “distract us from our own reality?”

The celebrity epidemic is spreading, infecting minds with distorted expectations of self, seeping into our everyday lives with its shimmery allure of an unimaginable life. It is numbing our brains with useless gossip, and creating foamy mouthed, media crazed zombies who blindly follow the path of trends, who continue to admire Chris Brown after he abused a woman, who think that Kim Kardashian is worth idolizing and that nothing is more important than Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Before you know it, you have been infected, and are rattling off useless celebrity gossip, discussing the “whatever happened to Heidi? And “remember that one time Britney…”  Unless you have been hiding in seclusion with absolutely no access to any form of social media, then this is not news to you.

There is actually such a thing as “Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS)” and it is described as an “obsessive-addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life.”

Breakfast Television’s entertainment guru, Thor Diakow claims that we are interested in the celebrity culture for a few different reasons:

-We look to celebrities to set trends

-We idolize the rich and the famous, as if we secretly (or not so secretly) aspire to reach their elevated social status

-We also love to see people get built up and torn down (this is why Scarface is such a kick ass movie).  In a twisted way it makes us feel better about our own lives.

-As human beings our intellect affords us the ability to gossip, for better or worse we are hard wired for this trait.  Some enjoy gossip more than others but it’s something that tantalizes us and makes us perpetually human.

“As someone who covers celebrity news on a daily basis, I try to keep a healthy distance from the tabloids while focusing on what’s left of entertainment journalism,” explains Thor. “I marvel at the ridiculousness of it all and try to take it with a grain of salt, because celebrity obsession can become dangerous and it’s important to remember that this is an entertainment industry.”

It seems to me like there is a perpetual cycle going on, containing some powerful psychological factors such as idealization, envy, shame in regards to our shortcomings, obsession clouded in jealousy, and a longing for perfection. The creation of Twitter has seemingly closed the gap ever so slightly between “us regular folk” and celebrities. However in doing so it has also created another avenue in which we can admire, and now easily follow their every move, and hang on their every thought. A child with a terminal illness is no longer wishing to go to Disneyland, but instead to be “re-tweeted” by Miley Cyrus, to become a “trending topic” in the Twitterverse (true story). Do we not love Youtube because it gives us mortals an opportunity to shine, to showcase our talents, to enjoy a smidgen of spotlight, to live forever? Do we not dwell on Facebook because it is like scrolling through the tabloids of our own lives, and that of our friends?

There is no end in sight to our obsession, so I can only suggest modifying it. Admiring in moderation for starters, believing in the power of our own dreams and remembering that we the people have given the power, and we the people can create a shift in mentality – beginning with the grocery store checkout line, and your next topic of conversation.

When former “Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen spoke to E! Online, he refused to answer any questions pertaining to rumors, including his alleged relationships with several porn stars, his apparent drug and alcohol addiction, his ridiculous outbursts and finally his position on the CBS comedy and his newfound replacement Ashton Kutcher. He instead offered this advice to viewers:

“Believe nothing. I will never speak about any of this as long as I’m alive. You’re all gonna have to keep towing the same redundant line, guessing wrong,” he is quoted as saying.

“By the way, two wars are in an endless state of sorrow. Egypt about burned to the ground, and all you people care about is my bullshit?

“Shame, shame, shame,” said Sheen.

We have created media monsters of ourselves my friends, and it is time for a vaccination.

 


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DH Vancouver Staff
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