Modern Concepts and Treatment of Stardom is Ultimately Harmful for Society
More and more tabloid newspapers, reality shows, gossip news programmes, and even whole TV channels are dedicated to showing and thrashing out the usual and unusual happenings in every celebrity's life. People turning on the television or reading the newspapers are constantly bombarded by “news” related to ordinary people who are famous just because they appear in movies or can sing better than the average. This ever more expanding focus on every aspect of a limited number of people's lives is making a noticeable change in the psyche of the modern society for the worse.
The most salient sign of these harmful effects is shown every now and then in the gossip media when a direct attack is carried out against a celebrity, most of which, fortunately, end without physical injury. Even though the assailants often have a history of mental illness and are usually prone to obsessive compulsive behaviour, every layman analyzing the issue must be inclined to think that the media must have something to do with the attacks since it is these peoples' main source of information on their targets. These attackers are only the tip of the iceberg, and there may be zounds of average people who are obsessed with the life of their individual target celebrity but have not acted on it so far. The problem has evolved to such a level that it was recognized by psychology in 2003 in an article by Maltby, Houran and Mctutcheon. It is recognized as celebrity worship syndrome, a term coined by James Chapman in an article in the Daily Mail.
The mass media, along with other, corporate elements, created over the course of the last four decades a “cult of thinness” as Sharlene Hesser-Biber (et. al.) has put it (16). In her book, Am I Thin Enough Yet? she states that the number of people (mostly women) with eating disorders is rising rapidly (3). It seems logical to assume that the corporate elements have a financial interest in creating this cult of thinness and celebrities, being in constant media focus, are the first who are expected to conform. Therefore, the current amount of media focus on the lives of actors, singers and other celebrities helps convey the unhealthy mental image that being thin equals being valuable to the minds of the greater public.
The mass media also tends to emphasize outward appearances of celebrities; it is often on the front page if a person has lost or gained weight or underwent cosmetic plastic surgery. The extended focus on physical appearances suggests to the public that beauty is the most important attribute of a person and ultimately creates a viscous circle: the public ever more strongly feels that beauty is above everything else and celebrities, being in constant spotlight, are the first to conform, which is reported back to the public by the mass media. The rise of importance of physical attributes can be clearly seen in the number of cosmetic plastic surgeries performed; according to cosmetic plastic surgery statistics, this number in the United States has increased by 162% since 1997, and has reached a staggering number of more than 10 million per annum in 2008.
This distorted self-image and self-esteem further harms the public's psyche by diverting attention from other, very often more important inner values: politeness, kindness, sincerity etc. With these values pushed to the background the newer generations will be all about looks, while neglecting the emotional plane of existence which would ultimately lead to a generation of shallow, burnt-out people. Evidence for this may be found in the number of teenage suicides which has been on the rise in the US in recent years with the number of high school students seriously contemplating suicide has reached 19% (Teen suicide statistics and facts), although it has to be admitted that there are other factors at play in the formation of these numbers.
Another argument for the harmful nature of the current media treatment of stardom can be seen in the immense popularity of reality TV shows. People, particularly those with impressionable minds like teenagers and young adults, are increasingly preoccupied with becoming celebrities so much so that they are willing to humiliate themselves in front of large public audiences. As media analyst Tom Alderman put it “There is a sub-set of Reality TV that can only be described as Shame TV because it uses humiliation as its core appeal.” (Alderman). While these shows are mostly the by-product of the social phenomenon of the cult of stardom, they nevertheless further enhance its harmful effects by showing that anyone can become a star without any talent or special skill.
A further harmful product of current media trends regarding celebrities is providing a tool for manipulation of the greater public by advertisers, politicians and even religious organizations. With more and more people viewing famous people as an example to be followed in every way possible they become vulnerable to people who are using those stars for their own monetary purposes. The most obvious examples for this are companies which use celebrities as elements of advertisements but an even more sinister example would be the Church of Scientology, which uses every famous person (e.g. Tom Cruise and John Travolta) in its midst to recruit new members.
A potent counter argument for the increasing media attention around celebrities is that there is a demand for it and in a free market system only demand can regulate the supply. While this statement in itself is true, it must be noted, however that quite often people simply do not know what is good for them in the long run. The best examples for this are provided by history: Hitler was elected in a democratic election in 1932; communism became so popular in Russia that it ultimately created a system that had more than 50 million victims. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that sometimes what people get must be regulated or the repercussions may be harmful, such as in the case of the gossip media.
All in all, for all these reasons, I believe that the currently observable extended focus on celebrities in the media is ultimately harmful for society. While it would not be a viable solution to ban all tabloid newspapers and gossip programmes, some forms of regulations should be instituted on a legislative level. It is regrettable, however, that people even feel the need for these kinds of news and entertainment.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. Am I Thin Enough Yet?. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
Chapman, James. “Do you worship the celebs?” The Daily Mail. Web. 6 May. 2010.
Maltby, John., Houran, James., and McCutcheon, Lynn.” A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 191 (2003): 25-29.Web. 6 May. 2010.
Alderman, Tom. “Shame TV: Why Humiliation Sells on American Idol and Others” The Huffington Post. HuffingtonPost.com, Inc. 13 Feb. 2008. Web. 6 May. 2010.
Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Statistics. Plastic Surgery Research.info. Web. 6 May. 2010.
Teen Suicide Statistics and Facts. Teensuicidestatistics.com. Web. 6 May. 2010.