by Candice Carboo-Ofulue @Candaloo
Yesterday, I received a considerably frustrated phone call from my friend Penguin. It transpired that yet another round of strikes within the Antarctic Post had delayed his copy of the National Enquirer, and he and the polar bears were desperate to know the latest in the Tiger Woods scandal. Surprised that a penguin as educated and informed as he cared about celebrity gossip, I suggested that he should probably be more concerned about the real events of Copenhagen, at which he laughed.
Unfortunately for Penguin I have been righteously ignoring the Tiger Woods story, so I could not divulge much. I half-heartedly relayed what I had glossed over in the Guardian that weekend about the National Enquirer being bribed to “bury” a story of one of Woods’ affairs back in August 2007. Rejuvenated with his celebrity fix, Penguin sadistically mocked that the reason for Woods’ indefinite leave from golf, was because he had been deafened by the sound of his life crashing down, and had lost his balance. I replied that it was wrong that his public life had been so catastrophically affected by personal matters. After all, he’s an excellent golfer, who cares who he sleeps with. Penguin told me I was naive and then hung up.....and I was left pondering.
Why is the world so obsessed with celebrities? Admittedly, this is not a new question, simply type the words celebrity and obsession into your search engine and it will readily respond with an abundance of hypotheses from religion to consumption. But recently, it seems that the slime of celebrity obsession is proliferating, blocking all news outlets with its infectious gunk, and even contaminating the channels of serious news. For those of us who refuse to care, camping out within the pages of the Guardian or other ‘broadsheets’ is no longer possible, with even those publications giddily spooning out celebrity trash as a side to our world news dish. That’s not what we ordered. All we can do is sew our ears shut, but then they’ll just get us through our eyes.
So I propose that we fight back with why? Most answers I have come across fall short of providing a comprehensive explanation. This obsession is more than just passively ‘gorking’ at the rich and famous through the OK window. It’s dynamic. Our celebrity diet simultaneously combines all the virtues and ‘unvirtues’ of human nature; we admire, adorn, mythologize, imitate, criticise, judge, sympathise, desire, fanaticise. In fact, over the last decade we have even been actively manufacturing celebrities through the reality TV machine, so that we can create our very own ‘celebridolls’. It’s more than complex, it’s a phenomenon. And in accordance with the phenomenon tradition it should be awarded it’s very own ‘ology’. So, ‘Celebriology’: The Study of the Obsession of Celebrity - let’s give it a crack.
The first important question for ‘Celebriology’ is whether our obsession is instinctual? Possibly. Some essential characteristics that underpin our celebrity fetish also worked for our branch swinging ancestors. Gossip; many evolutionary psychologists agree that gossip was an effective means of helping our ancestors make sense of the world, which may explain why we ruthlessly air Tiger Woods’ dirty laundry through every possible news outlet.
How about the desire to imitate high status individuals; used by our ancestors to ascertain scarce resources and secure their reproductive success, maybe that why we rapaciously consume mags that salivate over celeb lifestyles and offer cheap routes to the latest must-haves flaunted by Posh.
But does our desire to imitate explain why we’re so ruthlessly judgemental when celebs go bad? Maybe we can’t distinguish between their private and public lives? We believe that the price for enjoying life’s luxuries is that they follow a higher code of ethics. The ‘Gucci Ethics Code’. This may explain why Tiger Woods has fallen from the pantheon of Gillet, but it fails to explain why one day we’re pillorying Jordan and the next we’re dowsing her with compliments and admiration. So maybe, familiarity provides a more sufficient answer (another of evolutions wonders). We are more flexible in our judgements towards people we know. Jordan, through living her life within the media, has exposed her many faces, which makes her an intimate and our memories short-term. But the ‘private’ Wood’s is a stranger, so we struggle to be empathetic.
Ahh, the mind ponders and boggles. Don’t even get me started on religion. All I will say is that the distant world of celebrities is looking suspiciously similar to Greek Mythology, with its nefarious and incestuous goings-on. Although, this arguably a product of our desire to mythologize than how celebrities actually live.
So, there it is. The beginnings of Celebriology. Of course, before it can compete with the likes of Sociology, Psychology, Pathology etc, it will need to be developed. Share your comments, so we can collectively build a theory that will contain this monster. Either that or we find a suitable place to hide, and given my discussion with Penguin, the Antarctic is off.
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