Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Did you hear the one about the Tiger and the penguin?

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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  1. After reading the contribution by Candice Carboo-Ofulue I began to think that maybe there is a relationship between the decline in faith of the powers, authority and so called 'leaders', at local, national and international levels that has lead us to this period of celebrity worship?

    We, the general public are looking for inspiration and leadership to pull us up from our boring, small and dull everyday lives.

    The Church has lost respect, the Government and political leaders have also proven to have their price.......so if we're in the market for new'leaders' or Gods and Goddesses to worship, then it seems an obvious place to draw them from the picture box we all have in our homes, pick them out and discuss them during our short and desperately needed lunch break and vote!

    Who's in favour and who's not depends on who they're sleeping with, how many times they've embarrassed themselves falling out of a club half cut and looking shabby, how many times have they fallen in love with the most inappropriate person....had a couple of their children, visited rehab and a few weeks later start over again. People.... regular folk get a feeling of power...... power to build them up, throw them out, kick them off or vote them off their celebrity pedestals.....people power is growing stronger and stronger with the age of the internet and 'globalisation'........ no worries we'll ever use it to cure any of the human invirutes...... no chance, we're all suspended in fear and'celebriology' to care enough to get together and kick political or multinational corrupt butts!

    Love the ponderbox,


  2. Is it all a DISTRACTION?

    I think people have become so obsessed with the so called celebrity, reality TV (tell-lie-vision),and all the gossip as this is there drug of choice. Consciously it helps to relieve them from there monotonous and dull life. For me observing, it has become a 'mental illness'.

    As Candaloo mentioned the rise over the last 10 years of the ‘celebridoll’ has been proliferating... I ask is it by systematic design? Why would i say that...? Well over the last decade many more significant events have taken place (like the introduction of laws that give politicians power to control our lives like never before) and the 'average man/woman' has been sleeping through it all. I get the impression the 'average M/W' does not want to awake from this dream like mental state.(The movie) Ignorance is bliss right?!!

    [Spare a moment for the treatment (or abuse) the alarm clock gets in the morning when it sounds for you to awake. Sometimes it gets thrown around the room, broken and the snooze button has become our best friend. All this and it was you who set the alarm in the first place] lol

    So...in turn as Niki mentioned 'regular folk' might feel so powerful when building up these mini celebrities and then knocking them down. As they feel its all they can do.??

    I was taught an Ancient African Proverb when i was younger..that 'MAN KNOW THYSELF'. This is a fundamental requirement when attempting to lead a meaningful life and I suspect that those 'regular folk' are lacking something internally, which leads them to seek verification and acceptance from the outside world. This is extremely dangerous as you become vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of 'stuff'.

    This brings me on to the systematic design. We are now living is a NEW WORLD where everything seems to be accelerating at a pace that is difficult to keep up with. A new type of society has really come to view in the last decade, which is based around ignorance, fear and insecurity. We are being bombarded mentally by all sorts of distractions; coercive marketing strategies, sexual confusion, music (which seems to lack soul), climate change etc.

    Ironically the reality celebrity has become one of the main players in a 'design', which appears to be based on no reality whatsoever.

    P.S. Does the 'public trial' of Tiger Woods reminder you of anything...?? Think O.J Simpson.