Is the cult of celebrity starting to get out of hand?
Actors, pop stars, musicians, athletes and other famous people have always been intriguing to the masses. If you saw a celebrity in person, it would be something to tell all of your friends about. If you had a favorite movie star or singer, it would only be natural to be interested in a magazine article or news story about the person. Even following the career of a favorite celebrity is a typical activity for many people.
Now that celebrity watching has become somewhat of a cultural pasttime, people are eager to debate about the careers, influence, contributions, and other facets of their lives, even down to the celebrity’s private life, which is quickly becoming just as much of a source of entertainment as the work that any celebrity does. There are countless magazines, blogs and other websites, and tv/media shows that delve into every conceivable facet of celebrity life. Celebrity gossip is so pervasive, that many people are far more educated about famous people than they are about economic or political news.
Celebrity dominates newspapers and TV shows. Even at a time of war it is the travails of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson that still obsess the media. During the recent finals of American Idol, more Americans voted in the TV contest than had for either 2004 presidential candidate. Amazingly, the show promoted this as a Good Thing. Celebrity magazines are booming. The insipid pages of US Weekly, People and In Touch fly off the shelves at the same time as the White House lambasts the New York Times for actually reporting serious developments in the War on Terror.
But celebrity has long burst out of the news pages. Covering the 2004 elections it was remarkable how politicians fawned over celebrity endorsements. It was as if presidential wannabes were fighting a ‘celebrity primary’ as well as the more conventional ones in New Hampshire and Iowa. Just witness the recent hoopla surrounding Bono and his efforts to eradicate poverty. Why was it that we only got interested in this because Bono thought it was a good idea? It’s the same reason millions of Americans only read a book because Oprah tells them too. Reading is a good thing. Oprah should be congratulated for encouraging it. But she disguises the real question: why was no one reading before?
While all of us have grown used to a constant stream of celebrity gossip, some people have taken their interest in celebrities to a new level:
In this media-saturated world, celebrity is a growing new power. It manipulates taste, fashion and advertising. It is all-pervasive. There has even been a mental illness invented to describe those who follow celebrities too closely. It is called Celebrity Worship Syndrome and its sufferers dedicate their lives to the chosen subject of their affection. For me the key word here is ‘worship’. Celebrities have become new Gods and Godesses. We idolise them. They seem unreal and inaccessible and yet become the object of our wants and desires.
This type of fanatical behavior had become more prevalent, especially on the Internet. On countless websites, blogs, and message boards, rabid fans, or stans, as they are derisively called by more clearheaded folk, will take over a conversation with their senseless ranting against anyone who has an opinion that doesn’t exalt their particular celebrity idol. Heated debates have run for days, and sometimes weeks, all over such celebrities as Beyonce, Ashlee Simpson, or Britney Spears. Some of these people even manage to thrust their idols into any unrelated topics of discussion as well. However annoying the stan may be, you have to admit that it takes talent to insert Beyonce into each and every conversation…
The scary thing is that someone would go to such extremes to defend a person who doesn’t even know them. Stans are sometimes accused of being on the payroll of the celebrity that they spend so much energy defending. What other sensible reason could you use to explain why a comment of “I don’t really like Janet Jackson’s new song” would be followed up by endless streams of vitriolic rants attacking the commenter? It’s easy to wonder if these fans have built shrines to their idols, and have centered their lives around the assumed feelings and actions of their favorite celebrity.
The factor of anonymity makes it all even scarier, because not being able to attach a face to the stan, you are left to wonder what type of person would become so fanatical about anything. You might think, while there are some people who are stalkers or weirdos, who you’re bound to come in contact with some of the time, those people are definitely in the minority. Even considering this, you might assume that anyone has the potential to become a stan, since there seem to be so many of them lurking in cyberspace. This would mean that there are people out there who might appear to be normal, levelheaded individuals on the surface, but who really have a psychotic side that only comes out when someone dares to criticize or make a less than praising comment about their favorite celebrity.
One thing I’d really like to see is how a typical stan would actually react when faced with their idol. I think the fanatical behavior is just something that only comes out under the cover of anonymity. I would even venture to guess that most stans don’t realize how weird their behavior is while they are busy threatening people and exalting some celebrity who doesn’t know that they exist. It has been shown, that most people, if given the opportunity, will try to get away with as much as they can. And the Internet makes it easy to be “crazy”, even if it’s a temporary thing; some people think that it’s all about having fun, jerking other people around by sparking cyberfights in as many places as they can. The stan movement is probably here to stay, just another one of those online annoyances like spam and pop-up ads.