“We have an infatuation for famous. It’s gone global. It seems that, with the rise of fame generated through social media sites and TV, we all have this non-specific person, this idol, plonked on a pedestal, simply because they could be bothered to do something to get themselves out there…A lot of [celebrities are] known for their talent, work bloody hard for it, and that’s inspirational. That’s something to idolise – their drive and passion. But being starstruck because of somebody’s position or wealth or title – just think about it. Most of the people who would leave you starstruck will be everyday folk, just getting on with their thing, even if that’s earning £250,000 a week” (from ‘Starstruck, fame-obsessed and suckers for Hollywood culture’ by Bianca Chadda)
Regular readers of my blog will know that I have more than a passing interest in the psychology of fame. For instance, I have looked at many aspects of fame and celebrity including whether fame can be addictive, the role of celebrity endorsement in advertising, individuals that become sexually aroused by famous people (so-called celebriphilia), individuals that are obsessed with celebrity (i.e., celebrity worship syndrome), and whether celebrities are more prone to addictions than the general public, as well a speculative look at the psychology of various celebrities (including – amongst others – Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Adam Ant, Roland Orzabal, Salvador Dali and Allen Jones).
The reason I mention this is because a few days ago (December 11), I was interviewed by Georgey Spanswick on BBC radio about the psychology of being ‘starstruck’. The first thing that occurred to me was what ‘starstruck’ actually means. I knew what my own perception of the term meant but when I began to look into it there are many different definitions of ‘starstruck’ (some of which hyphenate the word), many of which did not match my own definition. Here are a selection which highlight that some of those differences:
- “Star-struck – fascinated or greatly impressed by famous people, especially those connected with the cinema or the theatre” (Oxford Dictionary).
- “Star-struck – feeling great or too much respect for famous or important people, especially famous actors or performers” (Cambridge Dictionary).
- “Starstruck – particularly taken with celebrities (as movie stars)” (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
- Starstruck – Fascinated by or exhibiting a fascination with famous people” (Free Dictionary).
- “Star-struck – a star-struck person admires famous people very much, especially film stars and entertainers” (Macmillan Dictionary).
- “Starstruck – when you meet someone you are very fond of, like a celebrity, movie star, etc. and you get completely overwhelmed, paralyzed and/or speechless by the experience” (Urban Dictionary).
Of all the definitions listed above, it is actually the final one from the online Urban Dictionary that most matches my own conception. In fact, an article by Ainehi Edoro on the Brittle Paper website provides a lay person’s view on being starstruck and how it can leave an individual:
“What does it mean to be starstruck? You meet a celebrity and you are struck by a force that freezes you, holds you captive. You can’t think, your eyes are glazed over, your heart is beating really fast, open or closed, your mouth is useless – it’s either not making any sound or spewing out pure nonsense. In a flash, it’s all over. The celebrity disappears. And you’re left with a sense of loss that turns into regret and, perhaps, embarrassment”.
However, as there is no academic research on the topic of being starstruck (at least not to my knowledge), the rest of this article is pure speculation and uses non-academic sources. The most in-depth (and by that I simply mean longest) article that I came across on why people get starstruck (i.e., being completely overwhelmed and speechless when in the company of a celebrity) was by Lior on the Say Why I Do website. The article claimed there were five reasons that may contribute to being starstruck. These are being (i) excited from a feeling of anticipation of meeting a celebrity, (ii) pumped up from the effort of wanting to impress a celebrity, (iii) excited from receiving undeserved attention from a celebrity, (iv) starstruck because that is how other people act around a celebrity, and (v) excited from overwhelming sexual tension towards a celebrity. More specifically:
Excited from a feeling of anticipation of meeting a celebrity: This simply relates to the anticipation that is felt after taking an interest in someone that the individual has admired and revered for years (i.e., they have become “idealized” and “bigger than life”). What will the celebrity really be like to the individual? Will they meet the expectations of the individual?
Pumped up from the effort of wanting to impress a celebrity: This relates to the fact that when meeting someone an individual admires (in this case a celebrity), the individual is trying to make the best impression they can and to put forward a persona that the individual would like the celebrity to perceive them as. This can be a situation that brings about a lot of pressure resulting in being starstruck.
Excited from receiving undeserved attention from a celebrity: This relates to the idea that the individual perceives the celebrity as somehow better (i.e., more successful, attractive, and/or talented than themselves) and that to even acknowledge the individual’s existence is somehow undeserved. The lower the self-esteem of such individuals, the more undeserved they feel by attention from a celebrity.
Starstruck because that is how other people act around a celebrity: This simply relates to the idea that individuals feel starstruck because everyone around them does (or they perceive that everyone else does). Similar situations arise when a crowd goes wild, screams, cries and faints when watching their favourite pop bands. As Lior’s article notes:
“Before Frank Sinatra became a celebrity, it wasn’t common at all to see screaming fans. In 1942, a publicity stunt was done to promote the 25-year old Sinatra, where they planted a number of girls in the audience who were told to scream and swoon when he stepped on stage. What began as a publicity stunt spread through the whole theatre to become a mass hysteria of screaming and fainting. It’s in human nature to copy behaviour around us”.
Excited from overwhelming sexual tension towards a celebrity: This relates to the idea that many celebrities are sexually attractive to individuals that admire and revere them. As Lior notes:
“When some people find someone good looking, they may start to behave in a way that’s quite similar to being star-struck. Star struckness from sexual tension may arise for several reasons. It may be a manifestation of embarrassment about having had fantasies about the person who is now standing in front of you. It may be that every time you look at that person, your thoughts go to places you can’t quite control and that makes you unable to think straight”.
If you are someone who thinks they might be starstruck if you met someone famous, there are various articles on the internet that provide tips on meeting famous people either out in public or within the confines of your job (see ‘Further reading’ below). I’ve been fortunate to meet many celebrities in my line of work with all the media work that I do but I always tell myself that celebrities are human beings just like you or I. I treat them as I would any other human being. No worse, no better. I’m friendly and I’m professional (at least I hope I am). I’ve yet to be starstruck although I’ve never met anyone famous that inspired me to get to where I wanted to get. There is a well known cliché that you should never meet your heroes but if David Bowie or Paul McCartney fancy coming round to my house for dinner I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be lost for words.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Chadda, B. (2013). Starstruck, fame-obsessed and suckers for Hollywood culture. Lots of Words, March 3. Located at: https://biancajchadda.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/starstruck-fame-obsessed-and-suckers-for-hollywood-culture/
Edora, A. (2012). Seven tips on how to avoid being starstruck. Brittle Paper. May 21. Located at: http://brittlepaper.com/2012/05/meet-celebrities-starstruck
Intern Like A Rock Star (2012). Starstruck: How to talk to celebrities you meet at work. January 2. Located at: http://www.internlikearockstar.com/2012/01/starstruck-how-to-talk-to-celebrities.html#sthash.JBtzCC9Y.dpbs
Lior (2011). Why do people get star struck? SayWhyIDo.com. February 7. Located at: http://www.saywhydoi.com/why-do-people-get-star-struck/
“Our Diego/Who art on earth/Hallowed be thy left foot/Thy magic come/Thy goals be remembered” (excerpt of The Lord’s Prayer, Church of Maradona)
For some people, football could arguably be described as a religion. However, I discovered earlier last year while being interviewed for a television documentary that for some people, there is a football-related religion with Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona as its deity (arguably an extreme form of celebrity worship that I examined in a previous blog). I thought this was a joke or hoax, especially as a Wikipedia entry claimed that:
“The Iglesia Maradoniana (English: Church of Maradona; literally Maradonian Church) is a parody religion, created by fans of the retired Argentine football player Diego Maradona, who they believe to be the best player of all time. The Iglesia was founded on October 30, 1998 (Maradona’s 38th birthday) in the city of Rosario, Argentina. It could be seen as a type of syncretism or as a religion, depending on what religious definition one chooses to use…Supporters of the Maradonian Church, supposedly from all parts of the world, count the years since Maradona’s birth in 1960… [D10S] is popular, among the followers of this religion (and also among other football fans), the use of the neo-Tetragrammaton D10S as one of the names of Maradona: D10S is a portmanteau word which fuses 10 (diez in Spanish), Maradona’s shirt number, and dios, the Spanish word for god”.
Most football fans here in England generally accept that Maradona was a footballing genius and the best player of his generation. However, our abiding (if not the most painful) memory is his goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Finals (where he scored with a clear handball but was not spotted by the referee). After the match, Maradona described it as the ‘Hand of God’.
However, many Argentinians say the Church of Maradona is not a joke or parody but a “serious celebration of their love for the soccer legend”. In the home to the church (Rosario), Maradona worshippers frequently gather for mass, and sing songs to honour and venerate Maradona. Alejandro Veron who runs the Church of Maradona website says: “Our religion is football and, like all religions, it must have a god. We will never forget the miracles he showed on the pitch and the spirit he awoke in us, the fanatics”.
The church also has its ten commandments: (1) The ball must not be stained, as D10S has proclaimed; (2) Love football over all things; (3) Declare your unconditional love of football; (4) Defend the colours of Argentina; (5) Preach the words of ‘Diego Maradona’ all over the world; (6) Pray in the temples where he preached, and to his sacred mantles; (7) Do not proclaim the name of Diego in the name of a single club; (8) Follow the teachings of the Maradonian Church; (9) Let Diego be your second name, and that of your children; and (10) No ser cabeza de termo y que no se te escape la tortuga (that translates to “don’t be a hothead and don’t let the turtle escape you”). [I ought to add that some online versions of these ten commandments omit the final one and split the ninth commandment into two separate commandments].
It is estimated that the numbers of members of the Church of Maradona is 15,000 worldwide (although the church founders claim the number of followers is 200,000). In the TV programme that I was interviewed for, two people were interviewed (Pamela, aged 22 years, and Ivan, aged 23 years). They met and fell in love in 2009 at an event on Maradonian New Year (October 30, Maradona’s birthday), and were planning to get baptized and married at the Church of Maradona. Pamela says: “For us this will be a traditional wedding, contrary to what people think. We’ve been dreaming to make this happen for years”. They had asked Maradona himself to marry them but he was ‘otherwise engaged’. According to the television program’s research team:
“The baptism is a joint event, which will gather around 15 fans of all ages…Called in to the altar, one by one, each will try to do the most accurate simulation of Maradona’s prolific ‘Hand of God’ goal…Once ‘admitted’ into the group, Pamela and Ivan take the equivalent of the host – Napolitan pizza – Maradona’s favorite. They’re now ready to get married. Instead of an ordained clergyman, Hernan Amez, church founder, will be getting them married – wearing a football shirt…Their families won’t be present, because they find the notion of Pamela and Ivan getting married through the Maradona Church ridiculous. For the young couple, it doesn’t matter. Other friends and Maradona followers will join the celebration…The bride’s dress is carried by two children with D10S t-shirts…They will promise their love for each other in front of the Maradonian bible – Maradona’s autobiography”.
There are some other interesting journalistic accounts of members of the Church of Maradona. One of the most detailed is a 2008 article by Jonathan Franklin for The Guardian who was there to cover the Church’s tenth anniversary after being founded in 1998. Franklin reported that the “Iglesia Maradoniana does not yet have its own building. It is a travelling display of love and affection, whose icons and statues visit all corners of Argentina”. Franklin gives his account of his time at the Church’s ceremony:
“I walk up to the stage, take off my top, and the crowd screams as I slip on the No 10 shirt and remember my rehearsals. Just one shot. Do it right, I tell myself. The baptism ceremony aims to recreate the sacred moment during the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in which Maradona scored his famous mano del Dios (hand of God) goal by swatting the ball into the England net with his fist. Match officials stuck with a poor angle assumed Maradona had used his head, but replays clearly show Maradona punching the ball away from the England goalie, the startled and then indignant Peter Shilton. At a press conference after the game, Maradona would not admit his hand had touched the ball. ‘The hand of God’ sent it into the net, he claimed. I move over to a life-size poster of Shilton jumping at Maradona. In this version, Maradona and the ball have been Photoshopped out of the frame. This is where the baptism ceremony begins. I prepare to leap. As the ball is tossed in, I jump, trying to shield my hand with my head, then ‘pow!’ I punch. It works! My re-creation is worthy of a certificate and now I am signed into the register, an official member of the Church of Maradona”.
Franklin also notes in his article that Maradona’s fans from all around the world have come to celebrate the Church’s tenth anniversary including people from the Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and USA. As Franklin reports:
“Some take pictures; others simply toast their god. A pile of gifts and tokens piles up – old photographs, sports cards, even an oil portrait of Diego with brushed curls and a yellow halo. The Maradona Bible lies near the altar – a worn copy of Maradona’s bestselling biography ‘Yo Soy El Diego’ (I Am Diego)”.
Parody or not, the Church appears to have some genuine believers including Jose Caldeira, the author of La Iglesia Maradoniana, a book that recounts the Church of Maradona’s first ten years. I don’t think the Catholic religion in Argentina has anything to worry about in terms of competition, but at least the Church of Maradona can claim their deity actually exists. As another article by Johnny Chadwick in The National Student concludes:
“No footballer inspires such devotion and unconditional fandom. Diego Maradona transcends his status as merely the most talented footballer of all time. He provides an example of someone who made countless mistakes and errors of judgement, yet still managed to rise from the streets of Rosario to world champion and international icon. While the obsessive following is extreme, it is in part understandable for a man who is at once a heavily flawed human being and a God”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Chadwick, J. (2012). What people believe: The Church of Maradona. The National Student, August 13. Located at: http://www.thenationalstudent.com/Features/2012-08-13/the_church_of_maradona.html
Franklin, J. (2008). ‘He was sent from above’. The Guardian, November 12. Located at: www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/nov/12/diego-maradona-argentina
The Offside (2007). Worshipping at the Church of Maradona 10 years on. October 25. Located at: http://www.theoffside.com/south-america/worshipping-at-the-church-of-maradona-10-years-on.html
The Original Winger (2013). The Church of Maradona. February 6. Located at: http://theoriginalwinger.com/2013-02-06-the-church-of-maradona-documini-from-vice-d10s
Wikipedia (2013). Iglesia Maradoniana. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iglesia_Maradoniana
In a previous blogs I have examined both Celebrity Worship Syndrome and whether fame can be addictive. Another behaviour allied to both of these is celebriphilia. There has been no scientific research on celebriphilia and I have only come across a few passing references to it in academic texts. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal describes it as a sexual paraphilia where a “pathological desire to have sex with a celebrity”. The online Medical Dictionary is slightly different and defines celebriphilia as “an intense desire to have a romantic relationship with a celebrity” (and is therefore slightly different is the focus on this second definition is romance rather than sex, although there is an implicit assumption that having romantic relationship would involve sex). Finally, the only other definition that I have come across is in the online Nation Master encyclopedia that was a bit more padded out and claimed that:
“Celebriphilia is the sexual fetishism and obsession with sex with a celebrity or famous person. Celebriphiliacs may stalk these celebrities and either observe them for sexual pleasure voyeuristically or try and approach them and have sex with them. Some may simply masturbate to images of them”
Despite this more in-depth definition, it actually complicates matters as it brings in other behaviours such as voyeurism and stalking that are separate entities in and of themselves. As far as I can tell, the first reference to ‘celebriphilia’ appeared in an article written by journalists Benjamin Svetkey and Allison Hope Weiner for Entertainment Weekly. Their article was about Bonnie Lee Bakley, the wife of American actor Robert Blake (star of shows like Baretta and films such as In Cold Blood), who was shot in 2001 (May 4) while sitting outside a Los Angeles restaurant in Blake’s car. (Blake was eventually charged with his wife’s murder but was found not guilty. The murder remains officially unsolved although Bakley’s grown-up children from previous relationships took out a civil suit on Blake and was later found guilty of wrongful death).
The focus of the article by Svetkey and Weiner was Bakley’s celebriphilia and her ‘celebrity obsession’ (more specifically, her long-term history of pursuing relationships with celebrities). Bakley’s close friends all stated that her aim in life was to marry someone famous and all of her actions were geared around achieving this goal. Bakley was quoted as saying “being around celebrities makes you feel better than other people”. Her pursuing of celebrities began in 1990 when she became obsessed with wanting to marry rock ‘n’ roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis. She even moved to Memphis where Lewis was living, met him, and befriended Lewis’ sister as a way of getting closer to him. Bakley may have had a brief sexual relationship with Lewis, and in 1993 she gave birth to a daughter and claimed Lewis was the father (and even went as far as to name the baby Jeri Lee). Paternity tests later proved that Lewis was not the father of Bakley’s daughter. Following a move from Memphis to California, she continued her celebrity obsession by pursuing many different celebrities including actor Gary Busey, singer-songwriter and guitarist Chuck Berry, singer Frankie Valli, actor Robert De Niro, singer-songwriter Lou Christie, publisher Larry Flynt, entertainer Dean Martin, and musician Prince, before having a relationship with Marlon Brando’s son, Christian (following his release from prison in 1996).
It was in 1999, that Bakley met American actor Robert Blake while still dating Brando. She became pregnant again (telling both Blake and Brando that they were the father of the baby). She believed Brando was the father of the daughter she gave birth to (naming the child Christian Shannon Brando). However, later paternity tests showed it was Blake who was the father (and the baby was then re-named Rose). In November 2000, Bakley and Blake married (and Blake became Bakley’s tenth [!!!] husband). When I first read about Bakley’s attempts to have a relationship with someone famous, the first words that sprang to mind was ‘groupie’ and ‘stalker’. However, the article by Svetkey and Weiner specifically stated that:
“People who attempt to make themselves ”feel better” by romantically pursuing the famous [are] not groupies: Groupies are merely overzealous, oversexed fans. They’re not stalkers, either. Bakley’s relationship with Blake wasn’t imaginary…nor is she known to have ever threatened him with physical harm. And although her past was hardly squeaky-clean…she wasn’t simply a grifter. What Bakley pursued with meticulous and methodical precision wasn’t so much cash as cachet, the reflected glory of being with a star. Any star would do — even one like Blake, who hasn’t shone for the better part of a decade. Unlike stalkers and groupies, people like Bakley generally don’t develop crushes on the stars they pursue — it’s fame itself that flames their desires, regardless of whom it’s attached to. Sometimes they don’t even seem to like those they’re chasing. While Bakley was attempting a relationship with Blake, for instance, she was also apparently involved with Marlon Brando’s son Christian”.
Most of the famous people that she pursued most actively (i.e., Blake, Brando, Lewis) had careers that were on the wane. She chose people that wanted validation that they were still famous. Both Bakley and the ‘stars’ she chased appeared to be yearning validation, attention and wanting to be perceived as special. An American psychotherapist – Donald Fleming – was interviewed for the article by Svetkey and Weiner. He speculated about celebriphiles:
”Often these people have serious identity problems. They lack a centered sense of self. They’re usually people that have not developed any particular skills or abilities in life. They never developed out of their grandiose childhood wishes and fantasies to be important. The only way they can feel important or special or unique is through famous people being part of their life…People who follow stars often have the obsessive-compulsive trait. They can fool almost anybody. They become so acute at reading how to meet another person’s needs that they can pick up on their vulnerabilities and play them like a violin”.
Dr. David Giles who wrote one of the best books on the psychology of fame – Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity – explains the relationships that people have with celebrities as a parasocial interaction:
”One of the things about fame is how incredibly new it is to human experience. It started with mass communication, which is only about 100 years old. And the speed with which it’s developed – radio and then TV – has been astonishing. In an evolutionary sense, we may not have caught up with the phenomenon of fame as a species”.
Celebrity (and therefore celebriphilia) is as Dr. Giles would argue a completely modern, man-made phenomenon. In typical journalese, Svetkey and Weiner wrote that celebrity has “been injected into the cultural bloodstream like an untested drug – with a similar rush of disorienting results”. They also speculate about other people that display celebriphilia:
“Courtney Love may have once suffered a touch of it. (‘Become friends with Michael Stipe’, Kurt Cobain’s widow supposedly jotted in a journal years ago, mapping her road to fame)…And certainly Whitney Walton – known around Hollywood as the mysterious ‘Miranda’ – has something like it. She became infamous for charming her way into telephone friendships with Billy Joel, Warren Beatty, Quincy Jones, Richard Gere, and…other celebrities [including] Robert De Niro”.
As noted above, there has been no empirical research on celebriphilia unless you include the small amount of research on ‘celebrity stalking’ (although very few academics who have written on the topic use the word ‘celebriphilia’). However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, Dr. Brian Spitzberg and Dr. Michelle Cadiz wrote a paper on the media construction of stalking stereotypes and described one of the types as ‘stalking as celebriphilia’ in a 2002 issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture (although the authors didn’t actually define what celebriphilia was in this context). In a 2006 book (Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems) edited by Dr. Victor Kappeler and Dr. Gary Potter, the authors briefly noted (in what seems a follow on from the paper by Spitzberg and Cadiz) that “media reports eventually moved away from a dominant image of stalkers as exclusively experiencing ‘celebriphilia’”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Giles, D. (2000). Illusions of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kappeler, V.E. & Gary W. Potter, G.W. (2006). Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
King, G. (2011). Who murdered Bonny Lee Bakley? (part 7: Bony the celebriphiliac). Crime Library, Located at: http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/family/bakley/7.html
Medical Dictionary (2012). Celebriphilia. Located at: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Celebriphilia
Nation Master (2012). Celebriphilia. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Celebriphilia
Spitsberg, B.H. & Cadiz, M. (2002). The media construction of stalking stereotypes. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 9(3), 128-149.
Svetkey, B. & Weiner, A.H. (2001). Dangerous game. Entertainment Weekly, June 22. Located at: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,256019,00.html
Wiktionary (2012). Citations: Celebriphilia. Located at: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Citations:celebriphilia
Celebrity worship syndrome has been described as an obsessive-addictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested (i.e., completely obsessed) with the details of the personal life of a celebrity. Any person who is “in the public eye” can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music.
Among academic researchers, the term “celebrity worship” (CW) is a term that was first coined by Dr. Lynn McCutcheon (DeVry University, US) and her research colleagues in the early 2000s. However, it is commonly believed that the first use of the term ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’ (CWS) was in a Daily Mail article by the journalist James Chapman (in an article entitled “Do you worship the celebs?”) who was reporting on a study published by Dr. John Maltby and colleagues (University of Leicester, UK) in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease entitled “A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship”. CWS was actually an acronym for the “Celebrity Worship Scale” used in the study. Chapman also called the behaviour exhibited by such people as “Mad Icon Disease” (obviously a play on ‘Mad Cow Disease’ that was high on the news agenda in the UK at the time).
Despite the (presumably) accidental misnomer, the condition may in fact be indeed indicative of a syndrome (i.e., a cluster of abnormal or unusual symptoms indicating the presence of an unwanted condition). US research carried out on a small sample in the early 2000s by Dr. Lynn McCutcheon’s team using the ‘Celebrity Attitudes Scale’ suggested a single ‘celebrity worship’ dimension. However, subsequent research on much bigger samples by Dr. Maltby and his team identified three independent dimensions of celebrity worship. These were on a continuum and named (i) entertainment-social, (ii) intense-personal, and (iii) borderline pathological.
- The entertainment-social dimension relates to attitudes where individuals are attracted to a celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a social focus of conversation with likeminded others.
- The intense-personal dimension relates to individuals that have intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.
- The borderline-pathological dimension relates to individuals who display uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies relating to a celebrity.
Maltby and colleagues have now published numerous papers on celebrity worship and have found that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of CWS and poor mental health in UK participants (i.e., high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, poorer body image). Most of these studies have been carried out on adults. However, studies relating to body image have also included adolescents, and have found that among teenage females (aged 14 to 16 years) there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (i.e., those teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups studied). Maltby’s team’s research also seems to indicate that the most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness. Dr. Maltby summarized his team’s research in an interview to the BBC. He said:
‘Data from 3,000 people showed only around 1% demonstrate obsessional tendencies. Around 10% (who tend to be neurotic, tense, emotional and moody) displayed intense interest in celebrities. Around 14% said they would make a special effort to read about their favourite celebrity and to socialize with people who shared their interest. The other 75% of the population do not take any interest in celebrities’ lives. Generally, the vast majority of people will identify a favourite celebrity, but don’t say they read about them or think about them all the time. Like most things, its fine as long as it doesn’t take over your life”.
The same article sought other scientific views from a biological angle. They reported that.
“Evolutionary biologists say it is natural for humans to look up to individuals who receive attention because they have succeeded in a society. In prehistoric times, this would have meant respecting good hunters and elders. But as hunting is not now an essential skill and longevity is more widely achievable, these qualities are no longer revered. Instead, we look to celebrities, whose fame and fortune we want to emulate. Evolutionary anthropologist Francesco Gill-White from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia told New Scientist: ‘It makes sense for you to rank individuals according to how successful they are at the behaviours you are trying to copy, because whoever is getting more of what everybody wants is probably using above-average methods’. But Dr Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Liverpool, said following celebrities did not necessarily mean they were seen as role models. ’We’re fascinated even when we don’t go out of our way to copy them’. He said people watched how celebrities behaved because they received a great deal of wealth from society and people wanted to ensure it was invested properly”.
Maltby and colleague’s reasearch also shows that CW is not just the remit of adolescent females but affects over a quarter of the people they surveyed (across the three levels mentioned earlier). Their paper in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, reported that CW brought both positive and negative consequences. People who worshipped celebrities for entertainment and social reasons were more optimistic, outgoing, and happy. Those who worshipped celebrities for personal reasons or were more obsessive were more depressed, more anxious, more solitary, more impulsive, more anti-social and more troublesome. So where do you fit into this in terms of celebrity worship? I’ll leave you with some statements so you can assess your own level of celerity worship (I answered ‘no’ to all nine statements)..
– Say yes to the following and you may have low-level CWS:
- My friends and I like to discuss what my favourite celebrity has done.
- I enjoy watching my favourite celebrity.
- Learning the life story of my favourite celebrity is a lot of fun.
– Agree with these more intense feelings and you may have a moderate case of CWS:
- I consider my favourite celebrity to be my soul mate.
- I have a special bond with my celebrity.
- I have frequent thoughts about my celebrity, even when I don’t want to.
– Agree with these and you may be obsessed, borderline pathological and suffering seriously from CWS:
- If someone gave me several thousand pounds to do with as I please, I would consider spending it on a personal possession, like a napkin or paper plate, once used by my favourite celebrity.
- If I were lucky enough to meet my favourite celebrity, and they asked me to do something illegal as a favour I would probably do it.
- I would be very upset if my favourite celebrity got married.
BBC News (2003). Worshipping celebrities ‘brings success. August 13. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3147343.stm
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