The Three Types of Celebrity Worship

Celebrity Worship

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by Jayaram V

Summary: Is celebrity worship a mental abnormality? This is essay is about the different sets of attitudes and behaviors associated with celebrity worship or celebrity obsession.

Admiring celebrities is a normal part of growing and learning among the young and the adolescent, but in some it assumes abnormal and extreme proportions, whereby they become excessively attached or obsessed with their favorite celebrities, which is considered a delusional disorder with sexual or erotic connotations. This type of obsessive behavior is popularly known as celebrity worship or celebrity obsession.

The celebrity can be anyone who catches people’s imagination, a film star, singer, politician, businessman, a spiritual guru or even a porn star. Celebrity worship is more visible when the object of such worship is a secular person such as a singer or a film star, but when a celebrity guru is involved, then it may become camouflaged as mystical adoration or spiritual worship. The fact is there is hardly any distinction between the two when the celebrity guru thrives on his followers’ weaknesses rather than his spiritual merit.

It is not known how many people are affected by celebrity worship syndrome, but it is prevalent enough to catch the attention of behavioral scientists and even of general public in many parts of the world. However, the problem has not yet been studied that extensively due to the problems involved in conducting surveys and field studies on the subject. Besides, there can be many social and cultural factors and variables which may influence this particular behavior among different people in different regions of the world.

Celebrity worship is a rather abnormal and compulsive mental state, caused by ego-identification or absorption, in which the subject not only feels emotional or sexual or romantic affinity with the celebrity but also experiences oneness or unity at some level. It may take many forms in people, ranging from mild to severe. In extreme cases, which has been reported on many occasions in India, it can seriously affect the mental state of a person, so much so that it may lead to suicide if the celebrity dies or faces a serious personal or political crisis in public life.

Types of celebrity obsession

The extreme form of celebrity worship is the stalking behavior, which is well reported in recent times due to the growing incidence of celebrity stalking. John D. Moore, author of Confusing Love with Obsession, identified (2013) three types of celebrity stalking, namely Simple Obsessional, Love Obsessional and Erotomanic. In the first, the stalker becomes excessively interested in the celebrity due to personal problems such as inability to form relationships, social awkwardness, feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, insecurity, etc.

In the second type, the stalker develops love obsession with the celebrity and believes that he or she is in a real relationship without any basis in reality. Such delusional behavior may arise due to abnormal mental conditions such as schizophrenia or paranoia or depression. In the third, the stalker seriously believes that the celebrity is in love with him or her. This behavior is said to be more prevalent among women, and as in the previous case it may arise due to the same abnormal mental conditions.

There is another type of stalking, which is not studied, but which is widely reported by the media in some parts of India. It is the stalking of the critics and the opponents of a celebrity by his or her obsessed followers with an intent to harm them or silence them as a show of loyalty or admiration. This is prevalent in the South, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu and noticeable on social networks also.

Psychologists John Maltby, James Houron and Lynn E. Mccutcheon published a research paper on the attitudes and behaviors that are associated with celebrity worship, based upon a study which they conducted using a 34-item Celebrity Attitude Scale among two sample groups consisting both males and females from a “number of workplaces and community groups.  The first group was predominantly single persons, and the second group was predominantly married people.

For the purpose of their study, they identified “three increasingly more extreme sets of attitudes and behaviors associated with celebrity worship,” namely entertainment-social, intensely-personal and borderline-pathological. In lay people’s terms, we may respectively call them mild, intermediate and extreme forms of celebrity worship. The personality traits of each are discussed below

Mild celebrity obsession for social entertainment

This is a simple or mild form of celebrity obsession, in which people take particular liking or admiration for certain celebrities due to their exceptional qualities, charisma, talents, appearance, sex appeal, success, popularity, or their “ability to capture attention.” They may spend time talking about them, discussing about them, following them on social networks, watching their programs on television or following the news of their activities and private lives. Their obsession may also take other forms such as mirroring or imitating their behavior, mannerisms, dress habits, etc.

This form of celebrity obsession is mostly prevalent among the young and the adolescent, as they are easily impressionable and are mostly in the process of self-discovery. The celebrities may appeal to their rebellious nature or give them the impression of being trend setters. Extroversion is considered to be a main driving force. The obsession may not seriously interfere with their normal lives, but it may put them through a roller coaster of emotions and cause a few headaches to their parents, friends, family and peers.

In some it may trigger unhealthy habits, poor eating choices, low self-esteem, body image issues, etc. However, we know that everyone is a fan of someone at some stage in life, but in many cases, it does not become an obsession. Even if it is, it remains temporary. Most people grow out of it, as they and their circumstances change and they develop new interests and attachments. A few remain stuck as if they have never grown up.

Intermediate level of celebrity worship

What begins as mild or simple admiration may morph into more serious and intensely personal celebrity worship in some due to neurotic and abnormal obsession, whereby they feel connected to their favorite celebrities and believe they are in relationship with them. They may feel that they are their soul mates, about whom they cannot stop thinking or imagining. Their obsessive and compulsive thoughts about them may be due to strong ego-identification or absorption and other psychological factors.

Disassociation is another important psychological condition found in those who are prone to intensely personal celebrity obsession.  Because of their delusional thinking, they become detached from their own feelings, problems and reality and vicariously experience oneness with the celebrities, viewing their joys and sorrows and failures and successes as their own. As a result, they may spend time daydreaming and fantasizing about them. Some may undergo cosmetic surgery or change their lifestyle or dress habits to feel a further affinity with the celebrity.

Extreme level of celebrity obsession

This is also known as borderline-pathological celebrity obsession, in which the fans may experience extreme love and loyalty to the celebrities and may go to great lengths to reinforce those feelings. Their socio-pathological attitude is reflected in their delusional thinking and behavior. Some may keep a collection of products and memorabilia associated with the celebrities or used by them. Some may show willingness to make personal sacrifices to prove their loyalty and commitment or express their love and obsession. A few may become psychotic and engage in stalking and other forms of criminal behavior.

Although no studies are yet done, it seems very likely that psychotic celebrity obsession may lead to suicidal tendencies in some. In most cases, extreme, celebrity obsession seems be the result rather than a cause of mental abnormality. Those who are already predisposed to schizophrenia, paranoia, depression or bipolar disorder may become extremely obsessed with celebrities if they develop a particular liking for them and fantasize about being in love with them. In their delusional and hallucinating states they may believe that they are in secret communication with the celebrity through coded messages or the celebrity is scheming against them for some ulterior purpose to harm them or punish them.

Celebrity worship or obsession is a one-sided affair. Celebrities benefit from their fan following as it contributes to their popularity and commercial success, while the fans derive no apparent benefit other than a little ego satisfaction or entertainment. It is also an unequal and unfulfilling relationship. In many ways it is an illusion or a delusion, because the relationship is imaginary and with the image or impression of the celebrity rather than the real person. Therefore, at some point it is bound to open one’s eyes, break the heart and cause disappointment.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Disclaimer: This is not a scientific paper. The material for this essay has been drawn from various sources, and partly from author’s observations, and intended for information purposes only. Research in this subject is limited. More studies are required to understand the magnitude of celebrity worship or celebrity obsession, and the attitudes and behaviors associated with it.

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