Celebrity Worship and Social Psychology

Celebrity Worship

by Jayaram V

Celebrity worship or celebrity obsession is a common phenomenon in many parts of the world. In the following discussion, we examine the social dimension of celebrity worship syndrome, and how it affects large groups and individuals. Those who are interested in other aspects of celebrity worship may please refer to the links provided at the end of this essay.

Age

People of all age groups may engage in celebrity worship. However, it seems to be more common among the young and the adolescent, as a part of their growing and self-discovery. Because of their extroversion and fascination for celebrity figures and famous people, they may follow them on social networks or spend time gathering information about them and their activities. They may also feel romantically attracted to them and fantasize about them. In most instances, such fascination usually wears off, as they grow up and acquire newer tastes and preferences. However, some become more obsessed with them as time goes by due to personal and psychological reasons.

Technology

Technology has compounded the problem of obsessional celebrity worship. In the past, celebrities used to live behind closed doors and had minimal contact with the public. Even then, celebrity worship was common. However, with the improvements in communication and technology, celebrities’ social engagement with the public has increased manifold, and people have now increased opportunities to know them and interact with them. It has not only brought the celebrities closer to people but also made it even more prevalent.

Gender

Celebrity worship seems to be common among both males and females. However, there may be some differences in their attitudes and behaviors. Sexual orientation may also play an important role in case of both genders. One of the studies which was conducted in the UK showed that low self-esteem and body image related problems due to comparison with celebrities were more prevalent among female adolescents. Media portrayals of celebrity women also seem to have an adverse effect upon the self-image of young teenage girls.

Religion

Celebrity worship seems to be more prevalent among the irreligious, non-religious and the so called secular people who have a disregard for the conventions of society and traditional ways of life. Studies also show that celebrity syndrome is linked to higher incidence of materialism and compulsive buying. It may be because people may cultivate extravagant habits or tastes in their obsession to imitate their favorite celebrities or follow their lifestyles,

Religious people look to their own conventional role models for inspiration and guidance. They have their prophets, divine beings, God or saintly people to draw their inspiration. Non-religious people look for alternatives and find the celebrities with their bohemian lifestyles more appealing. They may seek inspiration from progressive leaders, television personalities, film stars, sports persons, singers, musicians, etc., for their idealism or free thinking. It is why in today’s world materialistic people and secular institutions control much of the media and entertainment industry and promote secular and progressive causes rather than religious ones.

It is not that religious people do not admire celebrities or engage in celebrity worship. Comparatively such a practice may be limited to fewer people, who may be partly religious and partly worldly. Religious people may also worship celebrity personalities who are religious or spiritual and who practice the same religion as their followers. They may also worship celebrity gurus and spiritually eminent people. This is one area of celebrity worship syndrome where further research and surveys are needed.

Relationships

A recent survey conducted in the US shows a vast number of young people lead lonely lives and suffer from loneliness. Increasing rates of divorce also contribute to it. There was a time when communication meant human interaction and face to face conversation. Technology has resolved the problem of distance in communication but widened the distance between people. It has also made much of human communication indirect, mechanical and impersonal. Thereby, we now have fewer opportunities to see people and know them through direct communication.

In direct communication all your senses participate, and so also your intuition. Thereby, you have more opportunities to know a person from both verbal and nonverbal cues. It is not possible in long distance communication. Further, technology has blurred the distinction between real people in our lives who remain in touch with us over phone or through emails, chat messages or social networks, and celebrities who do not directly communicate with us at all, but use similar technologies to communicate with their audience, creating the illusion of proximity and relationship.

In both cases, we do not see the real people but their images and memories. Most people manage to keep the distinction between the two, but due to abnormal, mental health conditions, in some the distinction becomes blurred, making it difficult for them to see the difference between the real people in their lives whom they meet and the celebrities whom they never met, because in both cases their imagination plays an important role.

Celebrity worship syndrome is a common mental abnormality, which afflicts many, often with negative and unhealthy consequences. In some parts of India, it is a serious problem, as the practice is encouraged by the businesses and media to promote their programs and products, and by political parties which want to use their personal appeal and popularity to attract voters. It has also political ramifications as many celebrities are increasingly turning to politics and trying to gain power or consolidate their success, using their celebrity status and their hold upon the masses.

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Disclaimer: This is not a scientific paper. The material for this essay has been drawn from various sources, and partly from author’s observations, and intended for information purposes only. Research in this subject is limited. More studies are required to understand the magnitude of celebrity worship or celebrity obsession, and the attitudes and behaviors associated with it.

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