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by Kaylee Noborikawa, staff writer

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 today.

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 side.

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 his mansion.

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.


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