Why are we fascinated by the lives of celebrities?

By Marya Yasin

Although my interests lie in serious, hard-hitting issues such as racism, immigration, government cuts etc, I have a confession to make.

I am fascinated with celebrity.

Okay so, this confession is not all too bad or horrifying. But, my celeb fascination has become a great source of concern for family and friends alike.

If I was locked in a room and had the choice between eating unlimited bars of chocolate and access to New/Closer/Hello/OK magazine, I would, as much as it pains me to admit, choose the latter.

But after speaking to a few friends and colleagues, it appears that I am not the only freak here. Indeed, many people find themselves drawn to showbiz pages on news websites such as The Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail.

It seems these days you cannot get away from the celebrity world.

Channel 5 have even replaced their daily 6pm ‘Live from Studio Five’ news programme with ‘OK! TV’, which showcases the latest in the world of showbiz.

There are more and more reality TV shows where people can achieve instant celebrity. This is not a new phenomenon.

The turn of the century saw Big Brother transforming your ordinary Joe into household names for having no noticeable talent.

Lecturer in Media and Performance at Salford University, Kirsty Fairclough said: “To be a celebrity in contemporary culture seems to have little to do with a particular talent, it is more concerned with visibility and the reproduction of that person’s image.

Ms Fairclough points towards famous figures such as Kim Kardashian, who has created her own multi-million dollar brand. However, very few people recall that Kim Kardashian actually achieved fame after making a sex-tape with ex-boyfriend Ray J.
Dr Andrew Frayn specialises in English and American Studies at Manchester University.

For him celebrity obsession is a very recent phenomenon, which has been born from the reality TV generation.

“It’s a very recent development that “being famous” is seen as an end in itself, that people hang round Chinawhite’s, or go on X Factor / Big Brother / So-You-Think-You’re-Good-At-Something (But- Really-Just-Want-To-Be-Seen-On-TV),” he said.

Dr Frayn refers to previous generations saying: “Previously, people tended to have to have done something noteworthy in news, culture, society, politics etc to be prominent in the public sphere.”

Indeed there is something to be learnt from history. Audrey Hepburn would not have achieved super stardom had she not boasted serious acting chops. Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin obtained fame due to their exceptional voices.

Moreover, very little was known about their personal lives at the time they were in their hey-day.

Now it appears that a famous figure has to divulge details of their lives or some form of weakness in order for them to become household names.

Just today, Angelina Jolie was in the news for allegedly keeping the dirty plasters of her children. A once Oscar nominated actress was relegated to such menial headlines.

But why are we obsessed with celeb culture?

Dr Frayn says: “The development of celebrity is tied closely to the development of communications technology, the growth of literacy and the consequent growth of the news.”

Dr Daniel Brockington, Reader in Environment and Development at Manchester University, says that celebrity fascination can be linked to the inequalities we face living in a capitalist state.

“No longer is the ability to participate in the public sphere dependent upon your birth. Anybody can be anything, you can vote, you can achieve fame and recognition and its more commonly built into most capitalist societies that you can rise to become anything and that is how we got our work ethics,” he said.

“Celebrity allows us to cope with that failure because oddly we cannot enjoy the things that they enjoy but we can get pretty close. You are precariously consuming their clothes, their cars. You can’t go to their parties but you can see the pictures.”

Dr Brockington’s explanation is echoed by Ms Fairclough who comments that the pursuit of fame or the adoption of certain elements of fame is believed to be the key to success.

There are also claims that a fascination with celebrity culture is due to changes in the way we live.

Previously, families were close-knit and would live within close proximity of extended families. However, as cities have become more industrial, we are now living in an urban society.

Dr Brockington explains that celeb fascination plays an important role in the modern day.

“We have more anonymity and lose connections with families and the media then provides you with access to public figures that are clearly desirable,” he says.

“You don’t know them yourself because it’s conducted through the media but you still get to build up a relationship with them.”

There is also a question of our celeb obsession stemming from something innate within us. We are, it appears, genetically programmed to trawl the internet for the latest celeb gossip.

“If you look at monkeys and their eye movements, young male monkeys will spend a lot of time looking at two types of the other monkey-attractive females and dangerous aggressive males.

“Because they are attracted to the female but they have to watch out for the dangerous aggressive male,” Dr Brockington explains.

“Power and beauty fascinate.”

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