Jul 11, 2019 in Culture

Celebrity Culture

The celebrity culture has risen significantly in the current time. The rise has seen some authors such as Rojek to conclude that it has replaced religion. Marshall perceives celebrity as the elevation of certain personalities to public approval based on media propagation of their engagements. The trend has taken root in the society given that television, film and popular music industries continue to play a significant role in the glorification of celebrities. As Marshall indicated, the culture of celebrity worship focuses on the extra-textual attributes of a public persona. Surprisingly scandals and gossips, which surround the so-called celebrities, do not seem to amuse the public as it waits in anticipation to hear something about famous personalities. Thus, the public has also played a critical role in the encouragement of the culture. Despite regular condemnation of the celebrity way of life as idolatry from given quarters, triviality and superficiality are cited as contributors. Regardless of the argument, the connection between fans and celebrities entails an unusually high level of a misaligned emotional dependence where fans perceive celebrities as gods. The former always seeks to match the latter in terms of marriage, work and family life. Behind this backdrop, the current paper argues that celebrity worship has come close to replacing religion in the society. Some of the main factors considered to have contributed to the rise of the celebrity culture explored in the paper include the role of the media, secularism, traditions, and evolutionary biology.

Celebrity and Religion

In order to understand the association, reference is made to anthropological studies on comparative religion. According to Rojek, all cultures have divine forms, rites, venerated and sacred objects, and symbols. Each of the categories is connected to a distinct morphology, which arranges experiences and behavior. As such, it is to perceive the morphologies as standards of inclusion and exclusion. In practice, religious systems draw from such principles. In secular societies, sacredness and religious tenets disappear as societies align themselves around celebrity power. For instance, witnessing performance of the rock stars demonstrates the power enjoyed by celebrities over other people. 

The existence of celestial life also helps in understanding the connection between religion and the celebrity culture. According to Marshall, anthropologists believe that religions present the idea that celestial beings and sky gods exist. Based on the views of the anthropologists, human experience has three realms (the underworld, earth, and sky). Men and women operate within the earth, although they have close attachment to the underworld or skies through religion. Thus, it is not surprising that many religions embrace a variety of rites and superstitious ceremonies. The journeys that people engage from the earth to the two alternative places are often filled with ecstasy. The same experience is said to occur whenever fans attend events where stars perform given that the levels of excitement of the fans often reach fever heights.

Transgression is also important in understanding the rise in the celebrity culture. Transgression, which is against both, moral and conscious guidelines explain the feeling of excitement as observed by Marshall. According to Marshall, human character is full of transgression. Often, the trait instills anxiety or curiosity, anticipation and pleasure. Making a journey to either the skies or the underworld is a transgression because such entails entering different realms that are not visible to the earthly life. Through penetration of the veil of prohibition, religious ceremonies and rites, people manage to satisfy their need for ecstasy. However, the journeys are supposedly intended to serve different roles. For instance, the journey to the underworld facilitates contact with the dead while entry into the skies allows one to experience divine power, which rules the world. In other words, individuals who make the journeys have access to knowledge, which cannot be learned while on earth. This explains why medicine men, shamans, sorcerers and the ilk were revered in ancient societies. In this regard, the overriding issue is the role of religion in connecting people.

The association between religion and the celebrity culture is also seen based on the early works of Emily Durkheim. Durkheim indicated that the power of religion in uniting a community was the biggest influence, as it provided collective effervescence (a frenzy or state of excitement). The role of religion declines as individual morality develops. As the position of religion falls across societies, the principle of equilibrium states that a change in one aspect requires a counterbalancing change to ensure stability. As a result, it is a logical development that with the decline in the influence of religion, a new development (celebrity worship) springs up. As already mentioned, religion would generate an effervescence feeling among the people. In the face of its declining power, artists or star performers in various fields emerged to claim a leading role in exciting people.

Secularism has also played a role in the rise of the celebrity culture. The decline of religion has coincided with the rise of secularism which has seen the number of celebrities increase. Similarly, the number of secular holidays has increased. Although they are not organized in a manner that enhances effervescence, they contribute to the creation of the necessary conditions for it to be realized. The secularization dogma is critical towards understanding the elevation of the celebrity culture. In particular, the rise in the former witnessed the de-institutionalization of religion. Despite the development, religion has not been entirely relegated to oblivion. Evidently, what has happened is that religion has been restructured to fit the changing times. It should also be noted that events such as sports, rights movements, and environmental campaigns have assumed great significance in raising ecstasy among people. Thus, many other aspects have emerged to compete with religion in its ability to arouse excitement. Such groups have laid down values and beliefs that they are fervently supporting. Consequently, it is apparent that religion and popular consumerism culture are converging. As a result, the argument on the role of celebrity culture in replacing religion should revolve around the theme of convergence rather than replacement.

Many attributes demonstrate that religion and celebrity culture are moving towards convergence. Within secular societies, individuals construct their reliquaries underlying the celebrity culture. Based on standpoint of the fans, the principle to such organization focuses on diminishing the separation between them and the celebrity. This is apparent from the early days of Hollywood given that fans would request for items held by a celebrity, just to feel closer to the star person. Within secular communities, examples of celebrity reliquaries include the clamor for the possessions of Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Diana, and Andy Warhol. Items solicited from the above individuals attracted huge sums of money. In the present times, it is common practice for individuals to throng streets in the hope of getting an autograph signed by a celebrity. It is also not surprising that cemeteries where star people are interred remain popular tourist attractions.

The use of symbols is a major feature that characterizes both, religion and the celebrity culture. Bread and wine have been used to symbolize the body of Christ. The consumption of the products exemplifies partaking in the body of Jesus for those in the world. The exercise is also held highly as an indicator of Jesus being the supreme creator. In the culture of celebrities, ash scattering is a common activity. The activity achieves the same goal given that it is symbolic of sharing. One of the best examples of the ritual is the scattering of Shankly’s ash at Anfield (the home pitch of Liverpool Football Club). The exercise reflects the godlike status that Bill Shankly enjoys among the faithful of the club. It is also a way of sending a message that the team keeps the traditions espoused by Bill.

A departure between religion and the celebrity worship is however visible in certain aspects such as the issue of morality. Regarding celebrity cases, morality does not play a significant role. For instance, when family members of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims decided to auction the serial killer’s items, there was a strong demand for them. A similar response was registered when the Cromwell Street in Gloucester was put up for sale. This building housed serial killers Fred and Rosemary. Within the Christian faith, perverts are never admired. Whenever they are mentioned, only disdain is reflected.

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Rising Stature of Celebrity Culture

One of the biggest contributors to the elevation of celebrities is the media. Without a doubt, the media has the ability to set and dictate the public agenda. Thus, it is not surprising that media has significantly brought celebrity life into focus. Although many issues take place at any point in time, looking at tabloids and magazines demonstrate that the only important thing occurring revolves around celebrity life. This is in contrast to the fact that armies are at war, healthcare is facing challenges, and the economy is under intense pressure. Thus, it is quite fascinating that instead of focusing on ‘real’ issues, news outlets are focused on the celebrity issue. Without mincing words, the points of discussion in celebrity coverage are trivial, and lacking in substance. For instance, passing information about the pregnancy of a musician, birthdays of stars, and the food they are consuming or where they shop is pure nonsense.

Based on academic studies, human beings are wired or programmed to idolize and follow. Arnould and Thompson noted that the DNA structuring predisposes people to be social beings. As previously pointed, religion has a primary role of providing leadership. Thus, it coincides with the human nature, which is always looking for a way to follow. In this regard, it would appear that following stars is also a natural development. Celebrities are individuals who have excelled in certain areas of life. In the eyes of the followers, the stars achieved success in life. Consequently, they serve as the standard of success, and following them is a logical development. As a result, it is not far-fetched to argue that celebrity worship plays the role of religion by providing leadership on various aspects of life. 

Research conducted to understand celebrity worship shows that some people do it for entertainment purposes only. In such a case, personalities following celebrities are those with an extraverted character. Thus, such conduct is healthy since it only serves as a leisure engagement. This type of worship is not harmful as it only involves an individual interested in breaking away from routine. However, the connection might involve empathizing with a celebrity based on failure or success. According to North, Bland and Ellis, intense attitudes to celebrities reflect neuroticism, which is a health concern. In the extreme cases, celebrity worship gravitates around pathological conduct and traits that are reflective of psychoticism. A concern arises when the follower becomes obsessed with the personality reflected in an attempt to over-identify with the celebrity. It appears that at the beginning, listeners, or viewers of the program are only doing it as a pastime, in this case it is arguable that the kind of worship does not compete with religion. However, at the point where obsession sets in, it is held that the celebrity replaces religion.

Researchers have found more damaging evidence about celebrity worship. Maltby, Day, McCutcheon, Gillett, Houran and Ashe indicated that celebrity worshippers were more likely to suffer from poor health state due to depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. Drug abuse, smoking, alcohol use, and eating disorders are also the outcomes of celebrity worship. Viewed differently, it is asserted that celebrity worship acts as a religion given that followers of the celebrities ape some behaviors from the stars. In the process, the followers are lost, as they find themselves in difficult scenarios. In such a case, it is observed that celebrity worship is assuming the role of religion in shaping lives. 

Religion is supposed to provide leadership in terms of what is expected of an individual. Traditionally, religion played a major role in shaping people's lives. The position holds given that religion provided values and norms that persons were required to abide by. Celebrities have also assumed this role given that a big percentage of their followers are interested in matching most aspects of their lives. Up to this point, it is discerned that celebrity worship is replacing religion.

McCutcheon, Scott, Arugate and Parker acknowledged that since time immemorial, societies have always formed crowds to follow those who are able to get ahead of them (in securing fame or fortune). Towards this end, it is arguable that celebrity worship is nothing new. The only difference is that nowadays, the media is propagating it to the new levels. Regardless of the time of its commencement, it is evident that celebrity worship competes with religion. The view is held since religion attempts to provide a guideline on how to lead a life. Celebrity worship is doing the same.

Evolutionary biology also helps in understanding the connection between religion and the celebrity culture. Referring to evolutionary biology, it seems natural that human beings look up to people who do well in a given field. Even in prehistoric times, individuals who outperformed others were respected and revered. For example, successful hunters were treated as heroes. However, with the end of the significance of hunting, their prowess would count for nothing. Today, people look up to stars whom they would aspire to emulate. In essence, it is sensible to rank people based on their performance. Based on this account, it appears that following models is a natural thing, which has no association with the role of religion. Thus, arguing that it is now taking the role of religion would be a fallacious observation.

Conclusion

Celebrity following is not a bad idea. However, worshiping celebrities as idols is a problem. In some cases, following the famous personalities can push people to excel as they seek to scale the same levels of performance. However, many people ape celebrities for the pursuit of fame. The endeavor leads to a scenario where true heroes (police officers, military men and women, firefighters, teachers, paramedics, mothers and fathers) are ignored. Based on the current paper, celebrity worship competes with religion. In effect, celebrity culture is taking some roles of religion by replacing them. However, available evidence suggests that the two are moving towards convergence rather than celebrity worship replacing religion.

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