Americans, and indeed many people around the world, are hooked on celebrity news and gossip. Our media centered world feeds this obsession. By all accounts, this Hollywood star worship continues to grow.
We can discern three reasons for this phenomenon:
1) Identity— Here an individual identifies with a particular celebrity. This is the image and personality he or she would like to be in the imagination. Even the meek and downtrodden can dream of being Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone defeating the bad guys in high style. How many coming of age baby boomers wished they were Elvis, a Beatle–or Ann Margaret?
2) Diversion— Psychologists know that a depressed individual will become less so when he or she can focus on some outer experience, any neutral or pleasant experience that breaks the obsession with self. Although most celebrity seekers are not depressed, this plays into the celebrity centered life. It’s pleasurable for the individual to see images of very attractive and well known stars and it’s a break from day-to-day routine activities.
3) Esteem Build-Up— We’ve all done it even if we know it’s not our best moment. We feel momentarily good about a celebrity’s messy and very public life, especially for a multi million dollar earner with many adoring fans. These public humiliations make us feel that perhaps our lives are more successful than we take credit for. We may not make millions of dollars or appear on the big screen, but at least most of us have not engaged in drunken brawls, entered luxury re-hab for the fourth time or driven a car with a baby on our lap!
Hollywood’s influence has been felt in American culture for decades. Movie fan magazines began in 1911 and prospered through the decades with names like Photoplay and Modern Screen leading the pack. By the late 1940ss and 1950s, America’s growing wealth spurred adolescents and young adults to buy and read these magazines in even large numbers. Magazines of this era included Photoplay, Modern Screen, Silver Screen, Movie Fan, Movie Story, Screen Album, Screen Stars, and Screen Stories. Features were typically lightweight and often centered around shopping dilemmas for hounded stars or stories from the set of a new movie. The slick color photos were really the centerpieces of these magazines.
By the 1960s, specialty magazines such as Screen Legends and Film and TV Careers featured celebrity profiles and interviews. It was in this period that many magazines began featuring more salacious material to boost circulation. That led to this era’s tabloids which include the National Enquirer, the National Examiner, Star and US. Although some stories are largely fabricated, readers want to believe it and it’s the writer’s job to make each story sound credible. Although most celebrities decry the tabloids, their own publicists often suggest story lines to magazine editors. One fact is certain, sensational news is big business and the demand for this type of entertainment continues unabated.
Television and celebrity news are an ideal match. Sound, moving images and an enthusiastic host makes for addicting viewing. Entertainment Tonight began broadcasting in 1981 and set the benchmark for slick and fast paced half hour episodes focusing on Hollywood news with a focus on controversial star behavior. Cable TV outlets such as CNN, A&E, and even your local newscast often include celebrity centered programming. E! network owes its very existence to celebrities and their foibles. And Hollywood celebrities still make of the majority of late night shows’ guest lists.
Many younger fans get their news primarily from the internet. A recent Google search brings up over 18 million hits for “celebrity news.” RSS news feeds are available to bring the latest news of your favorite stars right to your desktop. Recent upstart TMZ has become an internet powerhouse. TMZ has the corporate backing of AOL and Telepictures Productions, a division of Warner Bros. The web site has garnered attention from other entertainment outlets by publishing Mel Gibson’s DUI police report, showing an image of Tom Cruise and Katie Holme’s daughter’s birth certificate and presenting a cell phone video of Michael Richard’s racial outburst at a comedy club.
The internet is a solid match for those looking for images of their favorite stars. A single site can hold many thousands of images, all cataloged by name. Web searchers can copy and paste these images for their own personal use. Popular destinations include personal blogs, My Space profiles or other social networks, and as computer desktop screen savers and wallpaper.
Is this modern day obsession with celebrity harmful? As with anything, if it interferes with conducting your daily life, it just may be. But as a leisure time activity, it’s no more than a harmless and enjoyable diversion.