Recently, I attended a concert. It was a big one—like a completely filled football-stadium-sized concert. The musicians were talented and well-known, and the line to buy t-shirts seemed to never end.
The way we as a society interact with celebrities is something I think a lot about. I often wonder why so many people care more about the lives of people they will never meet than the neighbor living next to them. Musicians, athletes, and entertainers sometimes receive more of our focus and attention than the people in our home. Why is that?
As I enjoyed the concert, I again wrestled with some of these thoughts. Celebrities, it seems to me, conjure up a number of possible responses inside us:
Indifference. No doubt, there are numerous people famous in certain segments of the world or society that you have never heard about. And neither have I. However, to others, maybe even people very close to me, they would be considered well-known. But we are indifferent toward them—for any number of reasons.
Dislike. Sometimes, for very shallow reasons, we have made a decision to dislike a specific celebrity. We boo athletes that don’t wear our colors, express disdain over a celebrity who holds a different political view than our own, or feel that a certain writer isn’t nearly as good as the one we like better. Dislike of a person you have never met, based entirely on what you perceive to be true about them, seems like a pretty unwise response when you think about it.
Thankfulness. Sometimes, gratitude towards a specific celebrity is a correct response. Musicians who move us, artists who change us, athletes who bring pride to our city, actors or actresses who portray a character that brings us hope, or maybe a writer who has changed our life in one way or another. In these cases, thankfulness is proper—just as it would be toward anyone who has influenced us positively.
Appreciation. Appreciation, similar to gratitude, is often a positive response to those who hold “celebrity” status. That’s how I felt at the concert the other night. These were talented musicians who had spent a lifetime mastering their craft. I could appreciate the talent and work and discipline that was required to become the artists they had become. Similar feelings could be appropriate towards artists in other fields, executives, industry leaders, or entertainers.
Worship. This, in my opinion, is where we as a society begin to go wrong. Among researchers, “celebrity worship” is an academic term that refers to a continuum of unhealthy personal responses to celebrity status—ranging from attraction to uncontrollable behaviors and fantasies. According to some studies, 33% of people fall somewhere on this continuum in their interaction with celebrities–although only a miniscule amount would suffer from obsessional tendencies.
For the sake of this post, I define celebrity worship not on the end of the spectrum that afflicts only a small percentage of people, but the normalized, cultural obsession that seems to define so many:
- Uncontrollable fascination, such as making special effort to read personal details about a famous celebrity’s life.
- Obsession with conversing about or being around others equally infatuated with the same celebrity.
- Daydreaming about being involved in an intimate way—even in a joking manner (“celebrity exemption” for example).
- Uncontrolled screaming or unconventional physical responses to their presence.
- Purchasing artifacts and/or souvenirs connected to the celebrity.
- Purchasing clothing or products based solely on their name, use, or endorsement.
Granted, even these actions above can be graded on a scale, but I wanted to offer a description of how I most often see celebrity worship.
Proper appreciation, even thankfulness, toward somebody in the public eye is a proper, even healthy response.
Worship, on the other hand, carries some significant dangers. Idolizing celebrities often causes us to overlook the very real, tangible mentors right in front of us. Celebrity worship, on the other hand, is often based only on public perceptions (sometimes carefully manipulated) of a person, which in turn results in incorrect assumptions about them. This is why fans can be so let down when a celebrity’s private actions end up not aligning with their public persona.
Celebrity worship can cause us to idolize and desire certain lifestyles that, at least from the outside, appear to bring greater happiness than the one we have causing us to miss some of the blessings right in front of us. It can result, too often, in watching another person’s life rather than making the most of our own.
Additionally, on a significant level, not keeping a celebrity’s role in our everyday life in proper perspective results in giving up more and more control of ourselves to them. Suddenly, the celebrity begins influencing how we spend our time, our money, and our energies. James Houran, author of Celebrity Worshippers: Inside the Minds of Stargazers said it like this:
We’re not just a media saturated society but an entertainment saturated society, and so we turn to these celebrities for all aspects of our life. Now these figures are larger than life. Celebrities just don’t sell us products anymore; it’s not just for entertainment. But now you start seeing entertainment being part of mainstream media, mainstream news shows, your everyday life. You can’t get away from it. We are bombarded by it wherever we look.
There are people in your life that you ought to look up to as role models and mentors. Some you know well, others you will never meet. And it is certainly wise to feel appreciation and gratitude when appropriate.
But when our view of celebrities begins to move past appreciation and into undeserved worship, it would be wise for each of us to catch ourselves and consider the consequences—they are not benign.
Quite an interesting topic of discussion here it seems – many and varied replies and /or comments. I must ask, however: what in the world does all of this have to do with minimalism? People will read/comment on ANYTHING Joshua writes, I guess. But as usual, he goes off on a totally un- minimalism related tangent yet AGAIN and the masses applaud.
joshua becker says
Thanks for the feedback Susan. This has never been a blog dedicated entirely to minimalism. It has always been a space where I feel free to write about the things I am learning and noticing in life. Often times the posts are related to minimalism, but not always. People who have following my writing know (and expect) that to be the case. That’s probably why you don’t find much alarm from commenters when I do. Hope that helps.
Fantastic article Joshua. I completely agree that we have overvalue the lives of celebrities and undervalue those closest to us, such as our neighbours.
Thank you for the insight!
Angie S says
Buying merch (clothing, cds, patches etc) from an artist / band you appreciate supports the band financially and helps to allow for more output by them.
I had a friend in highschool in the 80’s who was obsessed with Michael Jackson. The amount of money she blew on his stuff could have fed a small impoverished country. Totally different than someone simply buying a t-shirt and a patch at a concert.
Jelajah Blitar says
I couldn’t agree more Joshua.
John Wiedenheft says
I feel like celebrity worship is where we are as a country right now. There seem to be too few people who are thankful and show appreciation for those in the public eye. Too often we encounter people who are indifferent towards celebrity, or more commonly, dislike or worship.
I, myself, encounter this in my daily life. Certainly, I may dislike certain politicians or other celebrities for their political views or standpoints. I wish society as a whole and us individually could show more gratitude and appreciation.
The current debacle with the NFL is a great example. We should be showing thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation to the players for speaking up for their beliefs. We should be showing them gratitude for placing their bodies and lives on the line for our entertainment. Yes, they get paid “big bucks” for playing a “game,” but they also have “careers” that last only a few years. Why do we demonize these individuals when we worship them for our Fantasy Football teams, or when they play for “our” team?
Part of the problem with Celebrity Worship, as the article mentions, is that we so quickly switch allegiances when people disappoint us. Tempers flare, opinions are thrown.
It’s easy to fall into Indifference when presented with the false dichotomy of celebrity dislike and celebrity worship. It’s easy to say, “I’m done. I don’t care.”
I propose, however, that it’s just as easy to fall into gratitude and thankfulness, and appreciation for those constantly in the public eye.
So, instead of punishing those celebrities who dare to speak their mind, appreciate their viewpoint, share your gratitude for their opinion, and be thankful that we live in a country that allows people to do what they want.
I was a teenage fangirl. When I was in high school, I was a social outcast (small school where elementary school sins haunt you in high school). The fandom was my life outside of school and I was able to build friendships out of school based on it. It gave me something to look forward to. I don’t know if I would have survived high school without it.
As an adult, I’ve outgrown it but still read the celebrity gossip rags in the supermarket checkout line. I will say that fandom today is a lot different than it was when I was a teen (graduated in the late 90s) because of social media.
To me judging someone for fandom (whether it be Star Wars, Harry Potter, or a celebrity) is no different than judging someone because they’re into hiking/knitting/photography/sports/travel/etc. It is their hobby and something that makes them unique.
Michelle Cameron says
*** A long time ago I realized, whether in person, “live” or on television, I was watching other people live their lives….. and what was it I was doing with my own when I doing that?!
Well said. As an ESL teacher who just returned from a short trip abroad; I noticed among my students the culture differences of their appreciation and respect for professions that aren’t as celebrated in the USA. Celebrity worship is cray-cray here and its taught to us early via our media. In addition, many parents push their children toward careers similar to the celebrated. Where as in other parts of the world if you ask a 13 teen yr. old who they want to be when they grow up, they’ll tell you a scientist or engineer. The cultural differences are very thought provoking.
Andrea Allen says
I don’t worship celebrities. I simply enjoy their performances. I admire them for their persistence and for the hardships they had to endure to become successful performers. Ask the Beatles. Ask AC/DC. They definitely paid their dues. I admire their skills and their creative talents. I don’t know them personally and I have no idea whether I would even like them. It is not their personalities that I am appreciating, it is their performances. And thank you, Davian, for your thoughtful comments.
Very honest down to earth answer.
This is a very interesting discussion that helps me understand some friends who do seem to worship celebrities.
Truth. i would take it a step further, and in a twist, say that many “non-celebrities” would like that status. How many people do you know posting relentlessly on Facebook, or another social media site, every last thing they do. It is like they want others to be aware of just how “fun” their life is and just how “special” they are…..in a way they “celebritize” ( think I just made up that word.) themselves for the purpose of being looked up to and idolized.
In Romans it says that in the end times people will be lovers of themselves. Interesting. We have lots of celebrity focus in one way or another.
The point about the constant postings on social media reminds me of the scene from American Beauty…where near the end Ricky says to Angela ‘You are boring and ordinary…and you know it’….even when we see her trying to portray herself as a mini celebrity throughout the movie.
You really get to see her as a really ordinary person just trying to make other “ordinary” people look up to her and idolize her.
I have never understood this celebrity fandom…..by all means enjoy their performances(music/acting/painting/arts etc)…but following their personal lives makes it look like you yourself have very little to look forward to your own personal life.
I agree with Tina….golden calf it is!
There is so much more to life. It all lies in your beliefs.
I am constantly amazed by the people that are considered celebrities. They have done nothing to add to society yet people are obsessed over their every move. Now it’s even infiltrated the national news. Some nights they skip the updates on who is expecting their first child etc. and they show a story about someone making a difference like a 12 year old girl making small fabric purses and selling them to make money for homeless women. They show that there are good, ordinary people that are making a difference. There are great celebrities, look what Tom Hanks has done for the WW11 vets. I love his movies too but I couldn’t tell you anything about his personal life. I don’t need to know that. His good works speak for themselves.
Austin Thompson says
I really like your point about how we idolize celebrities and want to be like them, but we overlook the people in our lives that could actually mentor us and help us grow. Personally, I often struggle to prioritize opportunities to invest in my neighbors. I am learning to put the needs of others before my own.
David Y says
There is also the flip side of our celebrity worship. There is only one of them, but thousands(or millions) of us.
Once I was in a restaurant with some friends. At another table was a fairly well know actor. As we were leaving, one of our group went over and asked “Aren’t you *******?”. He shook his head as if to say no. But, a woman he was with nodded to say yes.
Enjoy their work. But, let them have a little privacy.
Does anyone else is curious about the band Joshua saw in concert?
misery chick says
Yup, I’m waiting :)
Tina Smith says
After reading your article about Celebrity Worship, what flashed through my mind is the worship of the “Golden Calf.”
Tina Smith says
After reading you article about Celebrity Worship, what flashed through my mind….is worshipping the “Golden Calf.”
Like Davian, I’ll offer a different perspective. When I was in my teens, I took refuge in music that I believed spoke to me and expressed my feelings. By your definitions, I “worshipped” some bands in that I certainly wore their T-shirts and thought about them at times. I also formed incredible friendships within that music scene–friendships that last to this day (40 years later!) because no matter what path we took, we all have that shared experience and appreciation of that certain style of music. In my case, my appreciation helped me find a calling: I worked in the industry for about a decade, so that was another plus.
I can only speak for music, but for many of us, if an artist is able to take your tangled thoughts and emotions and somehow find words and sounds that express them, it really is a transcendent experience. I think that is where a lot of the seemingly over-the-top reactions come from. People, myself included, are in tears when they first see the Sistine Chapel, and I believe it’s in the same realm of experience.
I ended up meeting most of my heroes through my work, and the best of them are very ordinary human beings who nonetheless know the power of their gift–and are very good listeners to the fans who express their appreciation. It’s very satisfying to both performer and fan to have that moment of personal communication. In the end, it’s just one person saying, “What you did meant something to me.” Often, the performer is then the one who is deeply touched.
Disclaimer: I’m not talking about reality TV, stalkers, people who shun real life in order to indulge their fantasies, etc. In my work, I certainly saw the dark side of celebrity worship as well. It’s scary and quite sad. But I think some of your characterizations were a little broad so just wanted to give my (very long) perspective.
I couldn’t agree more Joshua. I have been guilty of it too but awareness is important.
I have a friend who, whenever I mention a musician or actor, will say “oh isn’t that the guy who had to go to rehab for a drink/drug problem?” or “didn’t he used to date so-and-so?”. This always makes my heart sink. I don’t read celebrity gossip because I don’t want to know. I want to appreciate what they do, not kid myself that I know who they are from the juiciest gossip. Our society likes to worship celebrities and then watch them fall after we have put them on too high a pedestal.
It’s also called “the cult of personality”……i.e. politicians !!
What about awe? I wouldn’t consider it worship, closer to appreciation maybe but more. I am often in awe of the skills of some performers – especially in things that I cannot do like singing (I am very tone deaf) or can do a little bit (a tiny jump on figure skates) but realize just how much skill is required of Olympic athletes. This is not limited to celebrities though, I have watched my own daughter play violin and been in total awe at her ability to play. Another example might be, watching the movie Hidden Figures – I was in awe of the mathematical ability and bravery of the real life characters.
Admiration and appreciation for the skills of others is positive and inspiring. Enjoy the things and people you appreciate. What you describe is not celebrity worship. Celebrity worship is uncomfortably close to idol worship. Something to steer away from.
Becky Logan Fay says
For some it may be a form of an aspirational goal. Aspiring to be like or have a life goal reflective of a character which a certain celebraty has played.
Slightly different perspective here: I’m someone who probably falls on the further end of that spectrum, given that I currently run the largest Keanu Reeves fansite. :P But while my focus is definitely beyond regular appreciation and gratitude, and some aspects have been undeniably not that healthy, many good things have also come from it and my life has been much richer as a result.
Through my various fandoms, I met many people around the world including those I now consider amongst my closest friends. I’m an introvert and not good at talking to people, and this gave me an easy way to do so. Over the past decade, our friendships have since grown past our shared fandom. I chat almost every day with some of them. They’ve seen me through some of the toughest times, and I’m extremely grateful and blessed to have them in my life.
Building the fansite was meanwhile what motivated me to teach myself programming and web development as a teenager; and that eventually led to my present job. I also got the chance to create and nurture an online community of fans, many of whom were using fandom as an escape for the harsh realities of their life. I often got emails from people thanking me for that space – some of them were struggling with broken families or abusive relationships, a couple with terminal illnesses (one is no longer with us; I haven’t heard from the other in years, and assume she’s also since passed on), and they cherished those moments of escapism where they could chat and laugh with other fans or gush over Keanu and his movies and forget their troubles for just a while.
Celebrity fandom (and fandom in general) often attracts the sort of people who need that escapism, and for whom that space – and that obsession – is sometimes the only thing that keeps them going. One girl shared how when her parents used to fight, she’d lock herself in her room and pour out her sadness to her Keanu poster – she knew it couldn’t actually hear, but it always made her feel better, because she couldn’t talk to her friends about what was happening with her family.
I’ve heard many similar stories of how celebrity worship and obsession has helped many people through hard times, or, even acknowledging their flaws, inspired them to be better people or pick up new skills – like the guitar. Some are extremely lonely people who for whatever reason are unable to find someone to love – sometimes their partner has passed away, or they are struggling with disabilities and other physical/mental health issues that makes it hard for them to find a partner, or they’re gay and closeted with an unaccepting family, or they were victims of sexual assault and find themselves unable to trust any man – and for them, celebrities become safe substitutes to fill that void in their hearts, where their idealization and the fact they’d likely never meet them is often part of the appeal. Sometimes it’s that pseudo relationship that gives them the strength to move on, or to rediscover the goodness in the world and its people, to learn to trust again, and love again. Sometimes it’s the only way those on the fringes of society ever get to love, and feel loved, even if just in their imagination.
So while there are definitely cases where it goes too far, there are also many times when celebrity worship has been a positive force in people’s lives, and that’s something that often goes unrecognized.
joshua becker says
That’s a super helpful perspective Davian. Thanks for adding it to this conversation. Also, it’s nice to know that the administrator of the largest Keanu Reeves fansite is hanging around here You know, just in case anyone has any questions…
Thanks! I’ve been a long time reader, and that was my first time commenting. :P Thanks for all you do with this blog.
The site is whoaisnotme.net, if anyone’s interested. (Unfortunately, the name isn’t that good for SEO.)
Becky Logan Fay says
misery chick says
Oh Davian, thank you for making sense of my crazy obsession with celebrities and a kind perspective on why I still, even though in a much smaller capacity, do it today.
I’m 57 and when I was 13 I was molested by my stepfather. When I finally got the courage to tell my mom, she got me and my 2 younger stepbrothers out of the house but not without having an epic argument with my 1st, and a LOT of accusations were hurled.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, my sf killed himself that night and my mom found him. I felt responsible not only for my mom losing her husband but for my brothers losing their father..and nobody acknowledged what had happened to ME.
You said it so eloquently that it took my breath away as I burst into tears “and find themselves unable to trust any man…”.I can’t finish the rest of your quote without going down that rabbit hole.
Loving and trusting my celebrities literally saved my life and helped me hang on until I met the true love of my life, my husband of over 34 years. I still pull out my current celebrity obsession when times are tough and I need to escape and feel the MAGIC thate Blanche Dubois so heartbreakngly refers to.
After a lot of therapy and hard work and loving family and friends, I can gratefully say that I’m happy, loved, and feel some peace. Your comment made me realize how damn FAR I have come, and I can start to feel some (dare I say it?!?!) CLOSURE. Damian, I’m so glad that starting the website gave you so much; from what you’ve given me, I cannot imagine how many other people’s lives you have touched THANK YOU!
And Joshua, THANK YOU SO VERY VERY MUCH for your post. When I saw the title and my stomach clenched, I almost didn’t read it..BUT I’M SO GLAD I DID ?????
misery chick says
Damn auto correct!
Thanks so much for sharing. I’m sorry you had to go through all that, and I’m glad you’ve found your peace.
misery chick says
I’ll never forget you or your comment. It’s truly given me a big, happy push FORWARD and UP in my life; up until I read your post I was upset with myself that I still needed my celebrity security blanket. It all makes sense now, it was the only thing that I could hold on to for dear life, and now, I can start to put it into a kinder, more gentle perspective.
Love and Peace.
ETA: Yup, Keanu was/is one of my celebrities! I’ll poke around online and try to find it.
John P. Weiss says
In my teens I attended a rock concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It was a rock band that I loved. The buddy who invited me later refused to give me a ride, so my father drove me over an hour to attend. Then Dad hung out for several hours in the city while I worshipped the rock stars. Years later I figured out who the real star was. The real hero. My father.
time gives us perspective for sure. I hope your dad reads your comment.
Vicki K says
Love this story! Yes, your father IS the hero.
Yordest Young says
Isn’t it just funny how it takes years to see the real heros among us. One of the benefits of aging – wisdom.
Why is your buying the overpriced concert ticket not considered worship??
joshua becker says
Thanks for the question Sarah. Don’t you think there is space in life for enjoyment? Music? Art? Sports? Theater?
Doni M says
This is good. Many of us (myself included) are guilty of this at some point in our lives, even those of us who are generally very sensible people. It’s good to remember that we need to keep all our relationships in perspective, including those one-sided emotional relationships we have with people from afar who we can’t experience as real people with faults and warts like us. It’s not healthy for us or them.
Mark Douglas says
Great reminder to keep things in perspective.
The other side of the celebrity worship – the attention on the celebrity – proves your point as well.
We see far too many ‘stars’ fall in the public eye, partly because of the pressure we put on them to maintain perfection.
A lot of famous people don’t even enjoy the fame nearly as much as us regular folk would think we would.