Celebrities are ‘known for being well known’, regardless whether they work in entertainment, sports, medicine, science, or politics. Celebrities can include singers, musicians, actors, athletes, and more (McCutcheon et al., 2002). They make frequent public appearances, which are covered by mass media, where they often become a main conversation topic among young people, as they usually follow celebrities’ personal lives on social media.
Throughout adolescence teenagers go through the process of developing their identity and celebrities contribute to this. They look up to famous people, who become reference points for determining their own values, goals, style, and more (Embark Behavioral Health, 2022). Additionally, the whole ordeal concerning celebrity worship can have an impact on young people’s mental health. This causes people to start para-social relationships with their favourite celebrities. This article investigates the effects of celebrity worship, what happens if an individual becomes overly attached to a famous person, alongside the sociological consequences of this disorder.
Being a worshipper vs. being a casual fan of a celebrity is not the same. They are not interchangeable because the former implies that a fan knows everything head to toe about the celebrity they admire, while the latter only focuses on their career and enjoys whatever they put out. Sansone & Sansone (2014) claim that celebrity worshipping exhibits unnatural and questionable behaviour, such as disassociation, addictive tendencies, stalking, and compulsive buying. Moreover, they claim that worshipping a celebrity will lead to worsened mental health than the average individual. This includes clinical depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction.
While celebrities are often perceived as role models for young people (Ang & Chan, 2016), partaking in celebrity fandom can be healthy or unhealthy, and it all depends on to what degree the individual is fixating on them. However, kids can and should look up to other figures in their lives to serve as role models. Therefore it causes a positive effect as celebrities serve as a guide to exploring their identities (Ferris, 2007). For example, young people look up to Taylor Swift as an inspiration and a good role model due to her immaculate songwriting and her ubiquitous heartbreak songs, which most teenagers can relate to when ending a relationship. Swift’s early discography depicts what it means to have fun while being young, being in youthful relationships, and more.
Furthermore, Swift’s music and public image could be seen as a representation of women’s empowerment; she is known to speak up for women’s rights and defend all women in the music industry, which increases her reputation for being an influence on most women. Since then, Swift herself has had several feuds with male celebrities such as Kanye West and her former producer Scooter Braun, and she proved that she could stand up for herself, a sentiment that comes through in her newer music. This lead Swift to receiving the Billboard Woman of the Decade and AMAs Artist of the Decade in 2019 because of her effort to increase sales of music alongside keeping a strong public image and a loyal fanbase.
The Psychology Behind Celebrity Worship (Ang & Chan, 2016)
While celebrity worship is often perceived negatively by the public due to fans’ obsessive behaviour towards a public figure, Ang & Chan’s (2016) study on adolescents’ views on celebrity worship investigates how and why young people in Malaysia look up to celebrities, bringing out an interesting perspective. Ang & Chan used a special Likert scale called the Celebrity Attitudes Scale (CAS) to measure how strong or weak an individual’s feelings are towards a celebrity they idolise. This was also sorted into three levels: Level 1, implying that people are not as obsessive; Level 2, being more intense, obsessive, and compulsive; and Level 3, which is borderline pathological, where delusional relationships are being developed by the individual. The results showed there were three main themes that emerged from the data; Celebrity Products, Personal Characteristics, and Peer Influence. First, Celebrity Products show how participants were influenced by the celebrity’s products, such as music videos and songs, which turned them into fans. Second, the Personal Characteristics of the celebrities are what compelled participants to become fans; this includes how the celebrity presents themselves in public or on media, alongside the celebrity’s special singing voices or acting. And lastly, Peer Influence is also a prominent theme in the data, and this refers to how an individual’s peers can easily affect them into worshipping a celebrity.
During the study, Ang & Chan used the CAS, and participants were also interviewed individually about the positives and negatives of celebrity worship. These questions were taken from an older study conducted by Alanzalon (2011) that focuses on K-pop consumption in the Philippines. The results showed that there were several main themes that occurred after the interviews. Firstly, participants become a fan of celebrities because celebrities influence their fans and their desire to purchase their products. Secondly, the personal characteristics of celebrities are what sparked interest among the participants, prompting them to become a fan. Thirdly, celebrity worship leads to strong self-determination and motivation among the participants as they view celebrities as an indirect guide to self-motivation. Since most of these results turned out positive, Ang & Chan concluded that there are more good aspects than harmful ones when it comes to looking up to a celebrity. However, these findings cannot be generalised towards the entire concept of celebrity worship as there are negative aspects that can be pointed out. For example, stalker behaviour may emerge when an individual gets overly obsessed with a celebrity’s personal life, prompting them to find out where they live, where they are, and other overly personal information.
The Sociology Behind Celebrity Worship
While Ang & Chan’s study views the positive aspects of celebrity worship through the psychological scope, the common idea of celebrity worship is still correlated with negativity, thus leading to other actions such as problematic internet use, maladaptive daydreaming, and desire for fame (Zsila et al., 2018). Sociologically speaking, worshipping a celebrity, treating a person like a religion, or having obsessive behaviour towards them can lead to negative feelings from other people. Consumption also plays a significant role in the sociology of celebrity culture since individuals are prompted to consume whatever the celebrity puts out, such as their albums, singles, movies, products (famous examples include their apparel line or beauty products for women), and more. Blue (2017) states consumption is a well-established topic for sociologists and others who seek to address a few social and global issues, which include sustainability and health.
Consumption is also highly linked with capitalism, which is the most used socioeconomic and political system used in the world. Consumption is central to daily life, identity, and social order in contemporary societies, and sociologists study consumption to investigate how patterns of consumption are related to our identities and ethical issues related to consumerism (Cole, 2019). There have been several debates regarding whether capitalism is harmful or helpful to societies, with several arguments including how private companies can easily gain profit, with a downside being an unequal balance in wealth in societies, thus creating a struggle for power between different social classes. When linking back to celebrity worship, consumption and capitalism go together as products created by celebrities. The act of consumption of celebrity is essentially a visual experience (Heinnich, 2011), with still images such as photographs and posters alongside moving images such as movie stars printed on film being famous examples of products being commodified for the public to purchase and consume.
For example, if a singer were to release their new album in CD, vinyl, and cassette tape format, the fan of the celebrity would feel compelled to choose whether they want to purchase one of them, two, or all formats available. Consumers still want to possess commodity goods, especially the ones that are created by their favourite celebrities. Moreover, the consumer is encouraged to declare their worth by spending money on products that may not necessarily be the most important purchase. However, because the product is created by someone they admire, the individual desires a special attachment to them, prompting them to purchase the celebrity’s product. The consumer’s enterprise expresses a sense of bonding or identity towards the celebrity as acquiring new possessions (iResearchNet, 2018). This can become extreme in some cases, especially towards those who worship celebrities, as this fully prompts them to purchase anything their favourite celebrity puts out, leading to impulse buying, which severely affects their financial choices.
To conclude, celebrity worship is unhealthy. However, admiring and being a fan can have its merits. The psychological study by Ang & Chan proved that looking up to a celebrity has positive benefits, such as young people’s increasing motivation to do anything. However, the downside of this includes the excessive consumer culture and the general perception of individuals who are seen as nothing but celebrity-addicted people. While the idea of celebrity worship is still subjective depending on what and how the individual approaches anything with their favourite celebrity, it is a normal part of us growing up. However, when going on for years, it is an addictive disorder that requires treatment and a change of mindset.
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