The Vicious Cycle of Celebrity Culture

When it comes to celebrity culture, do the negatives outweigh the positives?


Maison de Victor Hugo – Hauteville House

Pictured above is actress Sarah Bernhardt playing the role of Thisbe. Bernhardt is recognized as one of the first “modern-celebrities”, so to speak. She was able to achieve fame in a way that is reminiscent to that of today’s—millions of people would read about her in the papers, which would report on almost every aspect of her life, no matter how trivial. Remind you of anything?

by Jada Cowley, Reporter

The idea of celebrity is one that has been around for millennia. Even before the general public had grown accustomed to the likes of tabloids, radios, and television in their homes, the names of acclaimed athletes, politicians, philosophers, and performers have lived on through them. 

The drive for the immortalization of self has been a rampant theme in humanity, perhaps even dating back to the beginnings of civilization. For one to live on past their lifetime through the respect, admiration, and public reputation amounted in their time alive was something deeply sought after. 

To receive mass renown and recognition, which we regard as fame, is often used synonymously with celebrity. The word fame derives from the Latin term fama, meaning “talk, rumor, and renown,” though focusing more heavily on gossip being carried out through a mass of people. 

If fame is obtaining a widespread reputation, how exactly does that separate it from celebrity? The distinction between the two is simple: fame is having renown, while celebrity is the marketing of it. 

We see celebrities plastered on billboards, displayed in the windows of storefronts, headlining in the news, and arguably everywhere online. The modern celebrity is the product, and they are putting their personal and public life on the market. 

Celebrity culture, with mass media as it’s aid, has created an artificial connection between the average consumer and celebrity. Consumers are falsely led to believe that they know, understand, and are cared about by actors, influencers, musicians, and star athletes. 

In 1956, researchers Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl created the term parasocial relationship to better describe this phenomenon. Through the use of modern media and technology, celebrities are able to create and foster the illusion of intimacy. 

Parasocial relationships, and how deeply encouraged they are by celebrity culture, backfire on both the celebrity and the consumer. Celebrities are casted in a unique category of being “above-than,” and because of this, they are treated far differently than your average person. 

Boundaries are overstepped, privacy is disregarded, and the modern-day celebrity is often spoken about as if they are not human.  Serious matters, no matter how personal they may be, are commented on in a completely inappropriate fashion by audiences in a way that is unique to celebrities. 

Audiences are led to believe that they are entitled to the personal lives of the celebrity, and the harsh criticisms and comments that celebrities receive are more often just seen as a consequence to stardom than it is seen as harmful. 

Celebrities aren’t the only ones hurt by this process, however. Our lives are more impacted than ever by celebrity culture in the 21st century. 

In the last couple decades, there have been ample academic studies conducted on the impact of celebrity culture in the digital age. An increasing amount of research is showing that there may be a significant link between celebrity culture and mental health concerns, predominantly affecting younger audiences and women. 

The chase for well-knownness is hastening and a significant amount of people are showing a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve fame, even if it comes in the form of notoriety. 

The ability to be seen online and gain fame in a substantially low amount of time from doing something is an alluring concept. We are currently in a gray area of celebrity in which you can receive renown through means other than job title. 

Social media influencers have been able to accumulate fame through their platforms, many of which now on tv shows, starting their own brands, and working alongside big companies. This has forged a new kind of connection between the celebrity and the audience; if anyone can get famous from anything, this means the average consumer can too. 

People are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve fame, even if that means they get it for the wrong reasons. Many are even engaging in risky and/or illegal behaviors in hopes of being seen, and the worst part is, it works. 

Perhaps it could be argued that this applies to some of the nation’s worst criminals, too. Ted Bundy is now a household name, but do you know the names of his victims? By elevating many of the people that we do, we are forging a path for other people to do the same thing in the vein of well-knownness. 

When living in a world that is so strenuously focused on status, it can be beneficial to step back and try to look at the circumstances from a different perspective. We do not know our favorite celebrities, and they do not know us. Better yet, what truly separates you from your favorite celebrity?