Celebrity watching seems to have become an
American obsession. People is the most famous celebrity gossip
magazine. First published in 1974, then one of only three celebrity
magazines, its circulation in 2004 was 3,690,387. And according
to Amazon.com, there are 30 celebrity magazines on newsstands
In 2005, VH1 created a new category of television programming
called celebreality, a video expression of our fascination with
celebrities, devoted entirely to the rich and famous. VH1’s
Celebreality regularly features shows such as Celebrity Fit Club,
the Surreal Life, and Flavor of Love.
The biggest celebrity show of all, the Academy Awards, televised
this year on March 6, was expected to attract an estimated one
billion viewers from around the world. How many people watched
the awards? HPU student Stephanie Gautier said that she watched
the award show not only to see who wins, but also, she admitted, “for
the celebs and their fashion.”
Everywhere we go mass media vehicles feed us the latest gossip
on Britney Spear’s baby plans or Paris Hilton’s most
recent scandal. We are so exposed to celebrities that we begin
to think of them as acquaintances or even as part of our family.
When it was rumored that Brad Pitt had left Jennifer Aniston
for Angelina Jolie in October 2005, hundreds of people bought “Team
Jolie” or “Team Aniston” t-shirts to support
their favorite actress. When LA boutique Kitson reported that “Team
Aniston” t-shirts were selling out quicker than “Team
Jolie” tees, it was news. We’ve become so involved
in celebrities’ personal lives that when incidents like
breakups or divorces occur, we’re inclined to choose a
What drives us to know the intimate details of these people’s
lives? According to HPU Assistant Professor of communication
Joanne Gula, it’s because “they’re the ones
in the limelight, they’re the ones that we admire. We all
want to be one.”
Celebrities give us a glimpse into a rich, luxurious lifestyle
that we can only dream about. Stars have everything that we desire:
money, fame, luxury, unbelievable lifestyles—and good looks.
MTV’s popular TV show Cribs gives viewers a close-up of
celebrity homes. One of the most memorable Cribs episode featured
Shaquille O’Neal, who owns a basketball court—inside
The only way for us to experience such an extravagant lifestyle
is to live vicariously through celebrities.
HPU psychology adjunct Amelia Borofsky said that it is natural
to want what you can’t have: “I think that for some,
celebrity imitation is about an alter ego—finding a connection
with someone who is not you but a more glamorous, eccentric,
interesting possibility of you,” said Borofsky.
So, the public imitates celebrities, and celebrity magazines
and TV programing are popular because they give the public a
chance to see what the stars are doing, what clothes they are
wearing, what makeup they use, and how they stay in shape. Through
these magazines and shows, people find tips on how to look like
their favorite celebrity and act like them as well.
Celebrities have become embedded in American culture so deeply
that journalist Charley Reese has called celebrity watching the “new
religion in America.” “Many in the news business
have joined the masses in celebrity worshipping because they
want to become celebrities themselves,” Reese said.
It’s like worshiping a saint,” said Borofsky. “A
celebrity can be an imagined perfect example of a perfect life
and help inspire you,” she added.
Our fascination, as a society, with celebrities, has become so
extreme that researchers in Britain have actually labeled it
a disorder: “celebrity worship syndrome” (CWS). James
Houran, a psychologist at the Southern Illinois University School
of Medicine, led a research team that surveyed 600 people and
discovered that a third of the population has CWS to some degree.
Researchers identified three levels of CWS, ranging from casual
interest to intense personal beliefs that they are connected
to the celebrity, to borderline pathological obsession, which
produces stalking behavior.
So before we end up creating churches dedicated to Johnny Depp,
perhaps we’d best remember that celebrities are there to
entertain us, not become the object of our way of life.