Friday, March 11, 2011

Living Life...Vicariously Through a Celebrity

A look into why our society is so celebrity obsessed

Celebrities, we idolize them, track their every move and treat them as though they are modern day gods. One day we love them and the next day we hate them and the day after that we don’t know what we think. The latest news, gossip and photos depicting the lives of the rich and famous is a very lucrative business and there is a subculture built around celebrity obsessions. Magazines such as In Touch and Star, Blogs such as Perezhilton and Just Jared and TV shows such as TMZ and Access Hollywood, all feed us our celebrity drug and we go back to them for our daily fix. We can’t help it either, everywhere we turn celebrities are talked about, in fact there are more gossip magazines than real news magazines in Canada. Next time you’re in a convenience store check out the news stand and you’ll find proof of our society’s celebrity obsession.

In today’s day, celebrity news is considered “real news” and often takes the headlines above world events. As far as I know, nothing else in the world took place the day Britney Spears shaved her head or the day Tiger Woods publically confessed he committed adultery. The paparazzi could be to blame for making celebrities so ubiquitous but what about those celebrities such as the Kardashians who willingly flaunt their personal lives via reality television shows? The line between private citizen and public persona becomes blurred and the public begins to lose sight of true reality.

Of course the idea of being a celebrity is intoxicating and easily envied. Who wouldn’t want to be dressed in the latest fashion, drive expensive cars and be invited to all the “it” parties? Although the life of a celebrity is surreal to most people, we are so bombarded with the broadcasted glamorous lifestyles of the rich and famous that we begin to find escapism in it. All of a sudden you turn your attention from a world of job loss, debt, anxiety and boredom to a world of red carpet walks, beautiful beach houses, private jets and high fashion. Obviously, celebrity obsession doesn’t stop there. We then turn our “escapisms” into reality by going to restaurants and bars celebrities have been spotted at (TAO in Las Vegas), dressing like them (Nichole Richie’s boho look), cutting our hair like them (Jennifer Aniston’s “Rachel Haircut”), talking like them (“that’s hot” courtesy of Paris Hilton), and buying anything and everything they endorse, just because they say we need it.

Fascination with famous people is said to be a human phenomenon that dates back to ancient history. In the times of Ancient Greece, “Greek Gods” were created and considered to be celebrities. Citizens believed that the gods had a direct impact on their lives and because of this they felt it was important to know about each god’s personal life. It was this innate, “need to know,” that led to the creation of myths that personalized the gods and involved them in ancient celebrity scandals that excited and intrigued the citizens. Interestingly enough, during the Middle Ages, royalty and aristocracy were considered celebrities while during the Dark Ages religious figures, saints, and martyrs took on celebrity status.

As the ancient Greeks did, we today build up myths about our modern day celebrities and then watch their every move, building them up as modern gods and tearing them down as they begin to show signs of humanity. In fact, the term Schadenfreude, defined as “pleasure taken from observing the misery and misfortune of others,” has been studied for years by psychologists as one of the main reasons for celebrity obsession. So then do our celebrity obsessions stem from the idea that we secretly enjoy watching as others flail and can’t help but tune in when a celebrity is experiencing distress?

My inability to pinpoint the reason for celebrity obsession led me to ask various people if and why they followed the lives of celebrities. On average, most people were in tune with current popular celebrity headlines, those who claimed they were not said they had no interest in the entertainment world, even though when questioned they knew the story of Britney’s meltdown and Charlie Sheens manic ways. Reasons people watched the celebrity gossip shows and bought the magazines included: a form of entertainment, boredom, curiosity, love for certain celebrities, wanting to see what the celebs are currently wearing and one respondent even said that her and her girlfriends get together weekly to gossip about celebrities.

However, when does celebrity obsession go too far? Where does one draw the line between an innocent friendly obsession and celebrity stalker? The concept of celebrity stalking as a mental illness is far beyond the scope of this article. Nonetheless, as stated by the DSM, celebrity stalking falls under the category of “delusional stalking” where the stalker has little or no contact with the victim but believes that the victim is in love with them. Okay, so most people don’t fall within the celebrity stalker category but I do think that a category should be created for those who live, eat and sleep celebrity because this is becoming a major concern and more and more of an issue whether dangerous or not.

In the end, maybe our obsession with all things celebrity is a human trait or an addiction that we can’t shake or even just a simple form of entertainment to ease our minds after a long day. Either way, with advancements in technology and/or the need for immediacy, celebrity obsessions will inevitably only increase. However, it is our choice whether we want to live through the eyes and experiences of celebrities or take the reins and begin to live a thrilling, out of the spot light life celebrities would be envious of.

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