When considering celebrity culture and its development in our society, it can be inferred that the association with celebrities has become normalized in the way that we have disregarded the reality of this attachment. In today’s society, it has become common to attach ourselves to celebrities whether we can directly identify it or not, especially engulfing ourselves into their gossip and scandals, personal lives, or simply wondering how it would be like to be friends with them. Essentially, this type of obsession or fixation on celebrities, whether it be entertainment, musicians or anyone with fame, can be attributed to society’s normalization and development of parasocial relationships and interactions. David Giles and John Maltby illustrate the relationship between media and the parasocial celebrity culture, “…thanks to the influence and ubiquity of the mass media, relationships between idols and their public have become more complicated. The media present us with thousands of figures from across the world…Media psychologists use the term ‘parasocial’ to describe the relationships between audiences and these figures (e.g. Giles, 2002; Horton & Wohl 1956). They are ‘parasocial’ because they exist beyond the person’s social network…” (Giles and Maltby 82). Parasocial relationships and interactions of society towards celebrities has become a common trend worldwide, especially becoming more relevant through the advancement of technology and the shift of focus towards entertainment. As an individual becomes more fascinated with celebrities, interests begin to develop into fantasies of friendships, interactions, or even infatuation. Although celebrity culture has come to be widely accepted and integrated into today’s society, the parasocial relationships and interactions associated with it have been overlooked, especially illustrated through examples of the history of celebrity culture, celebrity worship and the psychological impact of celebrity worship.
Before delving into the parasocial relationships and interactions in celebrity culture, it is important to recognize the history of celebrity culture through the advancement of media and coverage. Consistently, our society has become overrun by celebrities from every realm in which much of our news on television, radio and social media revolves around the lives of celebrities and their endeavors. Thus, it is almost impossible not to involve ourselves in their affairs or feel a personal connection to celebrities. In our society, it is almost certain that the news and coverage of celebrities will arise whether we intend to view it or not, especially seeing as technology has advanced heavily with more reliance on social media and television for information and entertainment. There is no doubt that the advancement of technology can be associated with the continuous growth of celebrities and the worldwide fascination with them. Anthony J. Ferri states that, “Ease and unprecedented access through an endless revolution in media technologies reduces distance in time and space between celebrity and the nameless nobody…The instant access to the celebrity image is augmented by television, cable, online magazines, and every micro medium imaginable…gleaning through a mass of photos, videos, and audio to keep the audience for celebrity satisfied…” (Ferri 404), a reality supported from my own observations and experience with media sources. With this point in mind, one can infer that celebrity culture has gained relevance through the popularization of technology and the sharing of information through media in which every individual has the ability to stay informed throughout the day. Due to news sources being easily accessible, individuals can feel entitled to knowing everything about a celebrity, such as personal information, daily whereabouts, or scandals; bridging the gap between fans and celebrities and diminishing any sense of privacy. Therefore, there is less of a separation between a celebrity’s private and public life, which reveals how media has created relevancy for the entertainment industry at the expense of a celebrity’s privacy and security.
Not only is the feeling of entitlement prevalent in today’s society, but there is also a feeling of ease and contentment in knowing every detail of a celebrity. Due to our media based society, it has bred a celebrity culture in which individuals focus more on fulfilling one’s sense of amusement and pleasure rather than enhancing one’s knowledge of the issues and realities of their community, “Because of so much focus on celebrity, the media encourage groups of audiences to act as avatars pursuing the trivial. This triviality becomes substance very much like the “narcotic dysfunction” discovered by Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert K. Merton…can narcotize or lull one into a state of ease and sense of accomplishment. It is easier to operate in a world of trivialities than the world of real time and space we inhabit” (Ferri 408). In my experience, investing oneself into a celebrity allows me to feel free, comforted and related to others through a common liking. When I was younger, checking on celebrities was normal and became a habit that made me feel a sense of fulfillment, whether that be searching Youtube for videos and pictures, monitoring media sources for updated information, reading news or revolving my life around them. In consideration of my experience, it can be inferred that media has always been a source that an individual can fully invest in to depart from the realities of our actual life. Due to the dependence on technology and media, it does not only serve as an outlet to depart from real life, but serves as a way to develop an individual’s opinions and views. When considering the history of celebrity culture in terms of advancing media and coverage, it becomes evident that celebrity culture is a product of society’s reliance on media and technology to inform them of what they should believe, who they should trust, which celebrity is more fascinating and who is the best person to invest oneself in.
In addition to the history of celebrity culture in terms of advancing media and coverage, it is also important to recognize how celebrity culture is enabled by society’s desire for authority and validation. Frank Furedi emphasizes that, “These are individuals who through some kind of magical process have become an exalted version of ourselves. Their authority lies not so much in their superior qualities but in the fact that they serve as a point of reference to others…serve as models for expressive behavior…provide people with a focus for identification” (Furedi 495), illustrated by my observations on social media. When using social media like Twitter, I am constantly seeing a division of views in which every person follows a same structure of ideas usually in reference to those in authority or celebrities. Similarly, Furedi suggests that the public’s ideas stem from comments and actions made by celebrities that are heavily publicized through media, especially taking notice on the use of the entertainment industry to increase exposure on political parties and governmental issues (Furedi 496). Since celebrities are active on social media and reported on daily, it is no doubt they begin to voice their opinions on social issues occurring while creating a platform for themselves directly showing viewers what they believe in. Due to society’s desire for authority and need to validate their personal beliefs, it is likely that celebrity culture has grown from personal insecurity and reluctance in one’s views. In other words, it is easier to accept the ideas of others rather than forming one’s own opinion. Since celebrities have more status and prestige, they are able to influence the opinions of the public on a larger scale and be considered reliable and reasonable sources to guide one’s personal beliefs.
Moreover, since we are becoming more reliant on media, it emphasizes how easily persuaded individuals can become when identifying one’s personal beliefs with a celebrity; especially easing one’s reluctance by following the majority. In the same way, society is drawn to celebrity’s authority when it comes to social issues or opinions because they are can be more understandable and relatable to viewers, “This parasitical relationship between political leaders and celebrity culture has acquired a peculiarly tawdry form in the UK…Celebrities are often recycled as moral and political leaders who possess the authority to lecture people about how to conduct their life” (Furedi 496). As an illustration, it would be expected to compare it to the popularization of Trump through Kanye West. On social media, Kanye West is very vocal about his opinions regarding Trump: fully sharing the support and trust he has in his presidency, stating reasons why Trump is a great president and even publicizing when he met with Trump. Essentially, this emphasizes how celebrity culture and authoritative figures have a mutual relationship in which they enhance the views of a certain subject and sheds light on issues that were not already recognized. In other words, celebrity culture is an ongoing cycle of individuals identifying with celebrities or completely disregarding and disposing of them if their views do not match those of the viewers. Ultimately, celebrity culture is vital as an expression of individual’s thoughts and views in order to provide a sense of authority and validation.
With celebrity culture, it becomes difficult to create an individual self-identity that is unique to each person; instead, society tends to focus on constructing ideas of themselves based on the standards imposed by celebrities. Essentially, individuals tend to follow the standards of the majority as a way of finding validation or acceptance instead of diverting towards individuality. Hence, parasocial relationships and interactions can stem from one’s fear of being seen as inadequate and undesirable creating a dependence and reliability in associating with a celebrity and redefining themselves to become exact replicas of celebrities. Since self-identities are beginning to revolve around celebrities, it becomes easier for an individual to mask any feelings of insecurity and stress to portray themselves as more confident on the exterior, but in reality it is rapidly consuming an individual mentally as Maltby et al illustrates: “…intense-personal aspects…associated with poorer mental health…understood within the dimensions of neuroticism and a coping style that suggests disengagement and failure to acknowledge (let alone deal with) stressful events” (qtd. in Giles and Maltby 83). Since individuals invest themselves in the celebrity culture with a vulnerable and weak sense of identity, the investment of one’s feelings and trust into a celebrity hinders an individual from moving forward and growing. It is as if individuals are too focused on the sense of stability that identifying with and becoming like a celebrity brings to notice how much their mental health has deteriorated. Therefore by striving so hard to create one’s identity from a celebrity, one fails to notice how they are becoming a byproduct of the celebrity rather than developing one’s own individual personal qualities that separate them from the rest of society. Similarly in the past, I struggled to feel comfortable with myself because I was determined to follow the beauty standards that celebrities were known for in hopes of validating myself and feeling acceptable. With that in mind, my desire to become as attractive as celebrities led me to the extremes of starving myself, crying because of my inability to be as attractive as celebrities in media, and becoming unsatisfied with the life I had. Giles and Maltby illustrate these types of celebrity worship in three stages, “Entertainment-social…attracted to a favourite celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain…source of social interaction and gossip…Intense-personal…intensive and compulsive feelings…obsessional tendencies of fans…Borderline-pathological…uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies…” (Giles and Maltby 83). Based on the stages, my experiences can be a factor of intense-personal and somewhat borderline-pathological levels of celebrity worship in which I became so consumed by the perfection of that celebrity that I revolved my life around them and worried about if I was attractive enough to catch the attention of celebrities. Thus, my self-identity revolved more around the idea of being recognized by celebrities rather than following what made me happy. In some ways, these identity crises can be noticeable through individuals consumed by celebrity culture, in which it became a habit to strive for perfection without realizing that it is impractical and impossible to be perfect daily—even for celebrities. Given that celebrity worship varies, it can be inferred that parasocial relationships and interactions are a mode of creating one’s self-identity, in which it can start small but develop into something beyond an individual’s reach. In this sense, a parasocial celebrity culture can be fueled by the doubt and lack of understanding of oneself suggesting that vulnerability and lack of validation can contribute to an individual’s one-sided feelings towards a celebrity.
It is also apparent that celebrity culture has manifested into a culture of eroticism focusing on enhancing a viewer’s senses, especially since celebrities are produced to look a particular way and maintain a certain type of attitude that attracts, pleases and peaks the interest of the audience. By peaking the audience’s interest and curiosity, the intended audience would feel more compelled to research about the celebrity, follow their social media accounts, or watch videos to learn more about them. If the audience becomes interested enough, it can be inferred that they begin to develop a relationship with the celebrity in which they fantasize about relationships and friendships—even to the extent of writing fictional stories about celebrities that fulfill each fan’s desires, while adding more realism to their fantasies and intensifying individual’s feelings. McCutcheon, Ashe, Houran and Maltby confirm that individuals exhibit erotomanic imaginations of celebrities, “…beyond this form of parasocial interaction…virtually obsessed with one or more celebrities—similar to an erotomanic type of delusional disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) defines erotomania as the delusional belief that another person is passionately in love with an individual…little or no contact…usually unattainable…” (McCutcheon, Ashe, Houran and Maltby 310). When considering how celebrity culture appeals to the emotions of each individual, it emphasizes how much of these parasocial relationships and interactions can be attributed to each individual’s natural erotic nature; in which individual’s seek to fulfill desires and sensations they are longing for, such as love, affection and admiration. In this case, parasocial relationships and interactions are intensified by the lacking sensations and feelings an individual is lacking in their life, in which their erotic feelings are heightened through celebrity’s photos and videos that allow an individual to feel admiration and warmth from viewing them. In addition, since celebrities have videos and photos expressing their love for their fans or showing off their bodies, individuals can view those and create fantasies in which their erotic dreams and imaginations of intimacy are pleased and they feel one step closer to that particular celebrity. For instance, on social media I have seen countless of pictures of fans that photoshop photos of themselves with celebrities or create fan fictions that allow individual’s fantasies to come alive. By creating these fan fictions, fans are able to make their imaginations feel more realistic and allow them to feel more sensations of intimacy with that celebrity, which continues the ongoing cycle of one-sided feelings between viewer and celebrity.
Moreover, by having fantasies become more realistic, individual’s begin to manifest erotic feelings and create delusional ideas of that celebrity belonging to them only; so if a celebrity was seen to be in a relationship, it would become disastrous to fans that have manifested so many feelings towards celebrities to the point where an individual can become suicidal and again emphasizing how mental health can become a problem in these situations. McCutcheon, Ashe, Houran and Maltby display the extent to which eroticism can diminish one’s sense of care for their well-being, “…a 16-year old girl told of her self-described obsession with a musician and her reaction to the news of the musician’s engagement. According to Haynes and Rich (2002), the adolescent was hospitalized…she ran a hot bath and cut herself on her neck, arms, and legs…” (McCutcheon, Ashe, Houran and Maltby 310). With this example in mind, it sheds light on how an individual’s eroticism can blind them from distinguishing between fantasies and reality, in which it consumes their minds to the point of harming themselves. Additionally, since fantasies intensify over time, an individual is more prone to becoming engulfed by their attachments allowing fantasies to eat away at their distinction between fantasy and reality: revolving their lives solely around celebrities and becoming sensitive to the celebrity’s decisions publicized through media. Evidently, parasocial relationships in relation to erotomania behaviors demonstrate the extent to which celebrity worship has consumed the minds of individuals: entrusting all loyalties and sense of relationships to a single celebrity. Ultimately, what can be highlighted in this behavior is the deteriorating sense of self care an individual has for themselves at the expense of the imagined relationship and obsessive tendencies individuals have created with celebrities.
Although parasocial relationships and interactions can seem insignificant and go unnoticed to those not engulfed by the celebrity culture, when reflecting on the intense attachment individuals have with celebrities, it sheds light on how mentally deteriorating this culture has become. Through reflections of parasocial relationships and interactions in terms of self-identity and eroticism, it follows back to the idea that celebrity worship and the different types of one-sided feelings between viewer and celebrity is a product of an individual’s lack of psychological well-being. Regardless of what type of parasocial relationship and interaction an individual can have, it is important to recognize the degree to which celebrity worship has reached and the types of psychological sensitivities that have been exhibited due to this celebrity culture. Maltby et al. acknowledges that, “…celebrity worshippers report lower psychological well-being than do nonworshippers…” indicating that much of this culture revolves around masking an individual’s depleting mental health (qtd. in McCutcheon, Ashe, Houran and Maltby 311). With this point in mind, one can infer that the parasocial aspects of celebrity culture root from society’s inability to accept and cope with personal insecurities, while also failing to recognize the qualities that are lacking in one’s life. Moreover as a society that is heavily media based with constant exposure to celebrities, there becomes the predisposed idea that a celebrity’s insight should be highly valued in which it validates or accepts one’s personal beliefs, actions or aesthetics. Meanwhile, it is noticeable that society’s perspective is reliant on the standards created by celebrities as a way of determining one’s acceptance in society. For instance, celebrities are able to determine what trend is popular at the moment, so the public tends to adopt those ideas immediately making everyone who does not follow the exact same trend seem inadequate or unacceptable. Therefore by creating a parasocial celebrity culture that is driven by one-sided feelings, there is a distinct increase in the mental instability, anxiety, and unease in individuals putting emphasis on the impact of celebrity culture psychologically.
Ultimately, my goal is to demonstrate how celebrity culture has manifested to become an integral part of developing society’s self-identity, while pleasing any erotic feelings individuals can be feeling. Through the exploration of celebrity culture’s history, one takes notice of how celebrities were given a sense of power through the advancement of media, recognition as public figures, and elevated in society due to the public’s desire to have an authoritative figure to identify with. Essentially, parasocial relationships and interactions in celebrity culture can be illustrated through examples of the history, celebrity worship and the psychological impact of celebrity culture.
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