A Study of Celebrity Worship

A Great Film Tackling the Subject of Celebrity Worship, Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy

There are several types of obsessions, from war veterans obsessed with the act of battle to over religious terrorists obsessed with the act of violence, the list goes on and on; however, the most widely spread type of obsession is most commonly known as celebrity worship. As time passed celebrating celebrities has become more and more active. It started since the dawn of time when someone who was regarded as superior than the average human being was idolized by his fans. Sportsmen, actors, actresses, artists and singers are just some of the people that could be regarded or labeled as celebrities. Since the media nowadays is more than focused on celebrities, we live in the age where celebrity worship is most widely spread, for never before has the concept of celebrity worship reached the standard it lays at today. Since it has become of today’s main factors of life, many researches have been developed studying this form of obsession. Some researches study the aspect of why people tend to lean towards celebrity worship, while others study whether it’s a good habit or a bad habit. The truth is the only way to fully understand celebrity worship is to take all theories and opinions into consideration and drawing up conclusions.

Cartoon Sketch of Celebrity Worship

 A question that pops up in everyone’s mind is, why do we worship celebrities as if they were superiors? There are several theories and answers to that question. One of those so called theories is the American Dream Theory. To fully understand this theory one has to fully understand the meaning of the American Dream. The American dream is best known as having a happy hard working family, owning a modest home, and living the simple life.  However, the American dream has changed with time. Now the American dream seems to involve “mansions, plastic surgery, designer children, and teeth made of gold.”(Violent Acres). While the researcher was clearly being sarcastic, he/she has a point. Back in the fifties the needs of the average person was completely different than today, and now what everyone craves seems to be having the life of a celebrity. That same research facility by the name of Violent Acres digs deeper into the American dream theory by exploring the clear connection of the American Dream and celebrities, “The average American spends half of their time chasing this new unattainable version of the American dream and the other half of their time watching those who are living it.” (Celebrity Worship and the American Dream). Basically what he/she was trying to say is that since the new American dream is having the life of a celebrity, it is one of the major reasons why people are obsessing and “worshipping” them. Another theory would be the theory of Hero Worship, and it is basically the concept of idolizing a celebrity as if he or she were some kind of a hero. According to Stuart Fischoff who has academically studied the cult of celebrity, “What’s in our DNA, as a social animal, is the interest in looking at alpha males and females; the ones who are important in the pack. We are sociologically preprogrammed to ‘follow the leader’ and we are biochemical sitting ducks for the Hollywood star system; even the stars themselves get caught up in the mystique by worshipping other more celebrities in higher standards”(Fischoff). In other words, people tend to need a hero in their complicated lives and by looking at the perfect lives of celebrities and obsessing about them; they fall under the celebrity worshippers’ category. Both of those theories involve the aspect of addictiveness, for when a person idolizes someone or dreams of their lifestyle, he or she tends to get addicted to the idea and tries as best as he/she can to stay updated with a certain celebrity’s life or lifestyle. Now that we’ve found out about why people worship celebrities, and why it’s so widely spread, one has to wonder, is it healthy for the average person to obsess about the life of another individual?

     The answer to that question can go either direction, and while most researchers have proven that it is without doubt a bad and unhealthy habit, to every bad side there’s a good side. If the concept of celebrity worship was used correctly, it might as well act in a positive manner. For an example, if a young boy idolizes a soccer player and tries as hard as he can to live up to him and be like him, it clearly means that celebrity worship is a good thing, for it can be used as an inspiration. The fact that this young boy worked hard to become an actor, athlete, or any other successful human being proves that him idolizing a certain celebrity has in fact helped him achieve his goals, which clearly brings shows that celebrity worship as bad a reputation as it has can serve youth in a positive matter. A recent UK study done by psychologists from the Universities of Leicester and Coventry has backed up this statement with their research on teenagers and their often obsession towards celebrities. They claimed that, “Teens view celebrities as heroes, trend-setters and part of an extended social network of friends. Watching prestigious people is typical human nature. Celebrities are popular, successful people who model behavior on how a teen can become successful herself.” In addition to supporting the idea of having celebrities as an inspiration, they have also proved that celebrity worship plays an important role of growing up. The study looked at children between the ages of 11 and 16, and studied the survey before concluding that it is in fact healthy for teenagers to “worship” celebrities (Bayne).  Part of their conclusion was that, “Approximately one third of those surveyed revealed that gossiping about famous folk was a big part of socializing. That’s got to be less traumatizing than gossiping negatively about fellow classmates.”(Bayne). This has to do with sociology, and how people socialize with one another, and if one thinks about it, gossiping about a celebrity and judging his or her acts is better than doing the same about a classmate. Gossip magazines are very popular among teenagers, and this is a good thing because gossiping about celebrities serves as a substitution to gossiping about other fellow classmates. There is in fact some good that can come from the concept of celebrity worship and recent studies and researches have proven so; however, there’s one aspect that is common or can be found in all those researches trying to prove that celebrity worship is a good thing rather than a bad one. This common factor is the fact that they always prove that it is good and positive for the youth. They always seem to claim that celebrity worship is good for teenagers or preteens, which makes one wonder about the adults who worship celebrities. Since the only good celebrity worship includes turns out to be related to a certain age group, it is when people continue to worship celebrities after leaving a certain age group that it becomes an unhealthy and possibly dangerous habit.

Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster as Travis Bickle and Iris

      The main reason why this syndrome has been studied, analyzed, and researched numerous times over the past couple of years is because in several occasions those “worshippers” fall into an unhealthy habitat. In order to fully understand this concept one has to identify the connection between the addiction to worshipping celebrities and the behaviors of those same people or “worshippers”. According to Eric Hollander, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Anxiety Disorders program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, “for those who have the fascination with celebrities as a substitution for real life, with the focus on a celebrity replacing the focus that should be on our own lives, those are the ones who should start to calm down, for they are officially in trouble.” (Hollander) The reason for that being is because those individuals often encounter depression, anxiety, and a handful of other mental problems, which leads to them taking the focus off their own lives and instead focus on the lives of celebrities. In one of the largest studies of celebrity worship in the UK, researchers questioned 372 men and women about their views towards celebrities; what they found out was that just over 22 per cent of these could be classed as ”celebrity worshippers”.(Brown). This group could then be divided into three distinctive forms of worshipper: entertainment-social celebrity worshipper, intense-personal worshipper and borderline-pathological worshipper. These are the three most commonly used categorize when it comes to studying the extension of a celebrity worship. Psychologists Lynn McCutcheon of DeVry University in Florida explained those three categories in an extremely detailed article, and in summary this is what she had to say. The entertainment-social group is the largest of the three, and they often tend to be social, lively, active and adventurous. However, intense-personal attitude towards an idol is when trouble starts to appear for they tend to develop a belief he or she had a special bond with the star. This stage often involves people stalking their idols or favored celebrities. Those in this category are often neurotic, tense, emotional and moody. (McCutcheon) However, things start to get too dangerous with the third category, borderline-pathological. The reason for that being is because “At its most intense, celebrity worship is a condition found in one per cent of celebrity worshippers. These include celebrity stalkers and people who are willing to hurt themselves or others in the name of their idol. They correlate with symptoms of psychosis, such as impulsive, antisocial and egocentric behavior.” (McCutcheon). Looking at the three categories, one can clearly see the transitions from one step to the other. The first category and least harmful is entertainment-social, and it is basically the idea of celebrity worship used to entertain and socialize about. The second, however, is intense-personal, and now it gets too intense for it involves stalking celebrities and invading their privacy. The third and most dangerous category is borderline-pathological, and this involves acts of violence committed by those “worshippers” that are somehow related to their favorite celebrities. An example of such an act would be that of the infamous John Hinckley, a typical borderline-pathological worshipper who took it a step too far. John Hinckley started to have mental problems the minute he watched ‘Taxi Driver’, a movie starring Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. Travis is a lonely character who wanders the streets of New York alone until he crosses paths with a twelve year old prostitute played by Jodie Foster. Travis tries to save her by killing her employees and those who force her to work as a prostitute. John Hinckley connected and identified with De Niro’s character in an abnormal way to the point that he became psychotic. Samuel Rodriguez, a law student who studied the case of John Hinckley clearly states that “Hinckley saw the movie at least fifteen times, read and re-read the book it was based upon, and bought the soundtrack to the film, listening to it for hours on end. Hinckley even began to model certain aspects of his life on the actions of the main characters. Most importantly, Hinckley developed an intense obsession with an actress in the film, Jodie Foster.” (Rodriguez). However what placed him in the borderline-pathological category was his act of violence which he claims was dedicated to Jodie Foster, the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. According to Rodriguez, “‘Taxi Driver’ was shown by the defense during John Hinckley’s trial. Hinckley’s reaction to the showing of the movie demonstrated the depth of the impression it had made on him. Twisting in his chair to get a better look at the main character as Robert De Niro’s mug appeared on the screen, he was so engrossed in the movie that he watched it mouth open, eyes fastened to the screen.’ Instead of facing death sentence or prison by life sentence, Hinckley was sent to a mental institution where he is still being studied by experts.

Sketch of John Hinckley's Assassination Attempt

     After days of research, one can see that studying celebrity worship isn’t as simple as one may think, for it can serve as a positive influence on a teenager, yet serve as an extremely harmful and mental issue for an adult. There are several stages and categories of celebrity worship and anyone can categorize himself in one of the three main ones. What people should defiantly take into consideration is that whenever he/she sees himself/herself, or any other beloved one in that matter pass the first category also known as entertainment-social, and start entering the later two more intense, physically, and mentally harmful ones, the first thing one should do is calm down, and see a psychiatrist before things get too personal. Almost anyone nowadays can be placed in one of the three categories, and although by now we know the stages and reasons for celebrity worship’s existence in our every day life, one has to wonder who is to blame? There’s no doubt that the answer to that question is the media. The media focuses and invades the lives of celebrities like never before. It may have started around the fifties when Marilyn Monroe started appearing on headlines worldwide, but today it’s not just one star but almost every celebrity gets his share. They are often followed by the paparazzi, and photographed without permission, which is a very serious form of lack of privacy. Now that there are a variety of headlines on all kinds of celebrities, every celebrity worshipper has at least a clue of the celebrities’ personal life and current location. This may trigger various acts of violence committed by celebrity worshippers to increase in number. The only solution for that matter is for the media to stop documenting every single detail of a celebrity’s life and start focusing on more realistic and serious subjects. At the end one can conclude that while celebrity worship is healthy for teenagers, as people grow in age, their probability to fall into the second and third type of the worship syndrome increases.


7 thoughts on “A Study of Celebrity Worship

  1. Great post, as always. I would like to point out, however, one error in your essay. Shouldn’t “the famous John Hinckley” be changed to “the infamous John Hinckley?”

    Also, the rise of media coverage of stars in the U.S. can be attributed to money. News about celebrities makes money for newspapers, magazines, and even the evening news. Perhaps the same is true in other countries, as well, even though newspapers in England, for example, are subsidized by the government, and so–one would think–wouldn’t have to publish stories of celebrities, and yet they are worse offenders than their American brethren. The same goes for other nations where the press is quite strong. And don’t get me started on “reality” TV…


    1. I agree I’ll correct that mistake. Thanks for the heads up. Interesting you mention the media coverage of stars being attributed to money because why do they earn so much money in the first place…celebrity worshippers ha? Teens who just have to find out whether Pitt and Angie are still together or not. It’s disgusting.


      1. While I do admit to checking out celebrity news in the newspaper, most of what I encounter there can be summed up in two words: WHO CARES? It’s their life, people, not yours. Go live yours and let them live theirs.


      2. I do come across news as well..it’s impossible not to read celebrity news every now and then in the world we live in today but the extent of what news is these days is becoming disgusting. “Jude Law Caught Picking his Nose.” Really? That’s just going too far. Do do you live in the UK or US?


  2. U.S., but I spend a semester abroad in the UK (London, to be specific), so I am familiar with their news media, too. Plus, anyone interested in the entertainment scene in America is well aware of the British media scene, since they are referenced quite a bit on entertainment shows and celebrity bios over here.


  3. thank you for this article.i was also a celebrity worshipper and i used to search about their lives.i used to relate incidents in the serials with my own life and used to get very upset.i used to dream about it in my dreams and make stories with those incident were myself is the hero .i know i am a bit wierd but its happening.


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