Society has become obsessed with celebrities; we want to see what they are wearing and how they are behaving so we can adopt their personas and be just like them. Consequently, celebrities have become the new gods of the Western world, where the rise in materialism has overseen the decline of organised religion. Indeed, we now turn to Heat magazine instead of The Holy Bible for guidance on how to live a worthy life. Yet, perhaps ‘the celebrity’ is simply a pawn in the capitalist narrative that encourages the masses to spend and acquire in the blind hope that they can emulate their success.
The prevalence of worshipping celebrities is a direct product of capitalism, which is fuelled by the media and designed to make us take cues from our new heroes who determine what is significant and valuable. As a result, the celebrity has become the opinion-leader in society, influencing our consumption through promotion and endorsement as we attempt to adopt their attributes and values. It is suggested that such endorsements are only successful if the celebrity fronting them is looked up to; however, there is a case to contend that scandal and notoriety actually make celebrities more relatable to ordinary people, thus propelling their brands and identities further. Decades ago, personalities would likely be dragged from the fickle world of fame if they were caught in unsavoury acts, yet scandal now appears to be shrugged off with a somewhat carefree attitude and a hint of respect.
Take Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s elevator-bust-up which hit the headlines in May 2014, but was quickly forgotten about when the former embarked on a world tour the following month. It’s almost as if the whole episode was to show that even the best of us can make good of a bad situation, that we all go through a rough patch but come through on the other side. Celebrities confirm they are not so different from the rest of us when they make mistakes, and perhaps this gives credence to our belief that we can construct the typical rags to riches story for ourselves; one peppered with defects and faults along the way, but with a happy ending nonetheless. However, that we now seek gossip and rumours surrounding our idols more than news about current affairs speaks volumes; society has been reorganised by placing the privileged few above all else.
As celebrities now yield so much power in contemporary culture, it appears their influence is extending beyond our consumer habits. That we now hold these people with such high regard, it is unsurprising that they have evolved into figures who can use their authority to highlight social issues and global politics. In effect, we are handing over our democracy to private individuals who are acting in their own interests. It is extremely worrying to think that the masses will listen more to someone who can sing and dance than someone with the capabilities and tact to run a country. Why should we listen to an endless monologue of policies and solutions, when we can be influenced by our favourite popstar posting a heartfelt post on Facebook explaining why we should vote for x over y?
One could argue that such celebrity interference stabilises the neoliberal global order, and our admiration for them leads us to spend and keep the capitalist machine running smoothly, all whilst being under the command. Numerous academics propose that celebrities reinforce the conception that there are no barriers in our contemporary culture, and that they represent that success and achievement is attainable to the masses. This is strikingly similar to the neoliberal ideology, which also proclaims that anyone can make it to the top if they try hard enough. That we have witnessed a huge rise in reality television shows promising to make celebrities out of anybody only empowers the argument that anybody can now be famous. “You too, can be an influencer with all of the fame and glory that comes with it but only if you listen to everything we say and act on everything we tell you.”
Nowadays, our television screens are filled with ordinary, normal, working people – just like you and me. TV critics sitting on the sofa, people who occasionally bake Victoria sponges, those upper-class folks looking for romance; there’s a show for all of them. It’s almost as if the idea of the celebrity has grown into a larger, more powerful force – too big for the small screen, and so the void is filled by those audacious enough to take on the role. If everybody else can get their fifteen minutes then so can we, and all we need is a hint of talent or a personality lurking dangerously near to lunacy. It’s almost as if the ideas of the Hollywood celebrity, the award-winning puppet, or the global superstar were deemed too far out of reach for many – and so allowing the ‘normal’ ones amongst us to enter the coveted world of celebrity was a way to bridge that gap. To allude to the idea that there is another way to being rich and popular.
The demand that celebrity culture places on our lives can have underlying psychological issues, however, as infatuation has been linked to anxiety and depression – conditions that, arguably, hinder personal success. Indeed some have proposed that celebrity worship prevails when a person is concerned with their self-image; furthermore, people with a poorly defined sense of identity attempt to gain gratification by living vicariously through famous personalities. Thus the lives of celebrities provide a form of escapism from the reality of life as they present a window into a utopian society founded upon insurmountable wealth and happiness; desirable attributes that are nigh-on-impossible for many to attain. However, as we spend more time fixating over every detail of their ‘perfect’ lifestyles, we perhaps lose sight of our own ambitions and slip further into the cycle of unhappiness and become absorbed with materialistic values.
This makes us more susceptible to buying the brands our preferred celebrities align with, thus creating billion dollar industries that revolve entirely around our obsession. We seem to rationalise that buying into a lipstick campaign fronted by Kim Kardashian will somehow make us more like Kim Kardashian. Or that simply putting on Lionel Messi’s signature football boots, we will also become a world-class athlete. Of course we know this not to be true, but the underlying idea that we become ‘a little more like them’ is certainly present. Through aligning ourselves with celebrities and their attributes in such a way, we perhaps show that we want to viewed by our peers in the same way.
The mass-media has propelled otherwise ordinary people to everyday heroes that we see as those we should look up to, and our obsession with them is entirely driven by materialism. In effect celebrities are the puppets of the neoliberal ideology, purporting to be the embodiment of achievement; and whilst worshipping them may not actually make us successful, we continue to hold on to the illusion that it will. Sociologist Chris Rojek proclaimed that “it is an enormous paradox that democracy cannot proceed without creating celebrities who stand above the common citizen and achieve god-like worship”, and as such it appears that our obsession with the stars can only endure.