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Celebrity Worship Syndrome: the New Religion for Many People

Britney Spears Has Been Celebrity Stalked - US Navy Officer Seth Rossman

Longing to be famous for being famous, to bask in media spotlights, to share celebrity lives: these are the dreams of sufferers of this condition .

Celebrity Worship Syndrome was coined in 2003 to describe an obsessive-addictive disorder displayed by individuals who follow the day-to-day life of people in the public eye. Even people from modest, unlikely backgrounds can suddenly become media celebrities. In the past, British people had a fascination for details about the Royal Family, as there was limited information available. By the time the life and death of Diana, Princess of Wales (from marrying Prince Charles in 1981 to her death in 1997), the media coverage led to a national obsession.

Even after her death, Princess Diana remains in the spotlight, with frequent media mentions, a continuing conspiracy-murder theory and so many visual images of her that she is well-known to the world over, even to children who were born after 1997. The blame apportioned to press photographers who chased her car before it crashed is well documented. At the other end of the scale, BBC TV presenter and journalist Jill Dando was murdered, with the suspect in the case described as a mentally ill worshipper. Suspect Barry George, however, was acquitted after two trials.

Fanatics Don’t Let Go

John Lennon caused a huge stir when he said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. He was, perhaps unknowingly, tapping into the idea that personality-adoration is a kind of religion. In December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot him dead, having asked for his autograph earlier that day. For many, Lennon’s assassination served as a reminder of both the hazards of celebrity status, and that the word ‘fan’ is a shortened version of the term ‘fanatic’.

Paula Goodspeed confessed her obsession with American Idol judge Paula Abdul before reportedly committing suicide in 2008. Halle Berry, Uma Thurman,Tyra Banks, Janet Jackson are among others in the public eye who have been targeted by unwelcome fanatic attention. Britney Spears’ Circus Show at the Mohegan Sun was interrupted by fan Kyle King, who said that he simply wanted to dance with her. Intruders have been also been caught on Spears’ property.

It’s not only female celebrities who are targeted by obsessed fans. Justin Timberlake got a temporary restraining order against a woman described by his attorney as ‘a mentally unstable celebrity stalker’. A 49-year old man was taken into custody after allegedly breaking into Jamie Fox’s Philadelphia hotel room. Whether the stalker is male or female, the effect is described as terrifying, particularly when the stalker’s mental state can verge on the psychotic.

Sometimes it’s merely delusional, or heavy wishful-thinking that leads to an obsession with a celebrity. In some cases, the stalker believes he or she is actually in a relationship with the celebrity, like Mark McLeod who told police he was secretly engaged to Miley Cyrus. The celebrity has no way of knowing what’s in the ‘fan’s’ mind, so massive personal protection is the order of all day, every day.

Celebrities Serve as Role Models to the Young

A 2008 British survey of teachers conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers discovered an unhealthy obsession with celebrities/fame damaged young people’s health. Celebrity football star David Beckham and his pop-wife Victoria ‘Posh’, were found to be the favoured inspiration of British youngsters.

Teachers named sports stars, pop stars and TV presenters as inspiring figures for youth and setters of career aspirations. Warhol’s ‘fifteen minutes of fame dictum has been made a reality, and the ‘stars’ of numerous TV reality shows themselves inflame that notion. Some claim that the media feeds it still further, as many develop obsessions with celebrities, both dead and alive.

The findings revealed that youngsters felt academic achievement was unnecessary for success. Teachers bemoaned how obsessions have a negative impact on students’ learning, lifestyles, dress and fashion decisions. Icons and role models are regularly portrayed in the media, and it is hard for young people to avoid learning about these individuals. Sometimes, of course, it is accepted that celebrity influence can be beneficial and positive on teenagersas leaving education and looking for work.

In the survey list UK Chelsea football midfielder Frank Lampard was third favourite; actors Keira Knightley (4th) and David Tennant (5th) and pop singer Leona Lewis (9th): all work hard for fame and fortune. Paris Hilton came 6th, for being an heiress and socialite.

Celebrity Obsession – It’s All in the Mind

The obsession is stronger than a teenage crush on a teacher or a hysterical youth screaming in a pop concert. It’s fixation that can be dangerous, but celebrity culture is in many ways understandable. Celebrities personify lifestyles of wealth, glamorous travel, beautified health-consciousness, and recently, some as star ambassadors for the United Nations and other charities going into war, famine or geophysical disaster zones spread some of their aura to cheer people up, just as Vera Lynn, Bob Hope and countless others have done in conflicts of times past.

Today, many people believe that the virtual reality they see on screen is the norm. They read and see so much about celebrities, they feel these people are their friends, their lovers and the myths of their red carpets, flashing press lights, big cars and idol adoration are in fact reality and worth sharing and imitating. Psychologists also recognise that despite the drawbacks, “celebrities are common currency in our socially fractured world.”

First published on Suite 101, 3 May 2010.

Photo: Britney Spears Has Been Celebrity Stalked – US Navy Officer Seth Rossman

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