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- ATHYNEA BURCHALL
Outline and Evaluate what psychological research has shown about celebrity worship and intense fandom. What do you think are the real world implications?
The topic of celebrity worship and intense fandom was once a media interest but this new phenomena is now a focus of psychological investigation and has been researched into by social; psychologist. This assignment is going to look into why people form parasocial relationships with celebrities sometimes with people they have never met. Intense fandom can be described as “Fandomis a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices” wikipedia  Celebrity worship is the idolisation of a celebrity or a group of celebrities, and therefore goes hand in hand with fandom, as groups of individuals come together in their worship of a specific celebrities or idols. Most of the time this fascination with their idols is a harmless activity hobby or past time however sometimes it can develop into an obsessive disorder coined as Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS). The term CWS first appeared in an article “Do you worship celebrities?” by James Chapman 2003 in the Daily Mail. “Celebrity worship syndromeis an obsessive-addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life. Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over glamorous film, television, sport and pop stars, the only common factor between them is that they are all figures in the public eye. The term Celebrity Worship Syndrome is in fact a misnomer.” Wikipedia 
Gibson in her study goes on further to explain “Much research has been conducted about who engages in celebrity worship and what drives the compulsion. Celebrity worship for purely entertainment purposes likely reflects an extraverted personality and is most likely a healthy past time for most people. This type of celebrity worship involves harmless behaviours such as reading and learning about a celebrity. Intense personal attitudes towards celebrities, however, reflect traits of neuroticism. The most extreme descriptions of celebrity worship exhibit borderline pathological behaviour and traits of psychoticism. This type of celebrity worship may involve empathy with a celebrity’s failures and successes, obsessions with the details of a celebrity’s life, and over-identification with the celebrity.” Gibson (2009)
Psychological research done in this area by Mc Cutcheon, Lange and Houran developed a scale on which to assess the level of obsessive behaviour a fan was exhibiting known as the Celebrity Attitude Scale. Mc Cutcheon from this study suggested that people who scored lower on the scale were “involved individualistic behaviour such as watching, listening to, reading and learning about celebrities whilst the higher levels of worship are characterized by empathy, over-identification, and obsession with the celebrity. Mc Cutcheon (2002)
In another study by Mc Cutcheon, he developed the absorption-addiction model to try and explain cases of celebrity worship. The study found a lack of personal identity and life fulfilment in a person’s life contributed to psychological absorption into a celebrity’s life, and could then develop into more extreme and obsessive behaviour, to try and sustain this identity that they have formed in relation to someone else.
Later research done in the UK done by Maltby (2003) used a larger sample of participants for his study; found that there were 3 dimensions or levels to celebrity worship. Entertainment social, Intense personal and Borderline pathological. “Entertainment social refers to a normal degree of interest in the life of a favourite celebrity. It is manifested by, for example, a desire to discuss the celebrity with friends, and agreement that learning about the celebrity through magazines or newspapers represents “having a good time.” “Intense personal” celebrity worship involves the feeling of a strong personal “connection” with a celebrity. It is manifested by, for example, a feeling that the celebrity is a faultless soul mate, about whom the individual has frequent thoughts. Finally, “borderline pathological” worship is arguably the most detrimental form. It is manifested through a variety of bizarre beliefs such as a shared secret code through which the individual can communicate with the celebrity, a belief that the celebrity would come to help the individual in times of distress. North and Sheridan (2007).
There have been various reasons attached to why celebrity worship happens, mass media has been blamed as celebrity stories are bombarded constantly by the media, via TV, magazines, and the internet, and even reputable newspaper high lighting celebrity gossip as front line news. “When we are incessantly being exposed to figures through any medium, par asocial interaction can be fostered, which is the building of an imaginary relationship between audience and the figure (Keas, 2008). DNA has also been cited as a reason behind celebrity worship. “Fischoff, who has academically studied the cult of celebrity, says the very need to find an idol and follow him is programmed into our DNA.”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,” says Mischief. We are sociologically pre-programmed to “follow the leader,” he says, and notes that we are biochemical sitting ducks for the Hollywood star system; even the stars themselves get caught up in the mystique.” ABC news . Also with one in three relationships now starting via the web may be social fragmentation can be contributing factor as well, “ In today’s individualistic world, perhaps fantasy relationships with celebrities are easier to form than the real one Harrison,” (2006).
Statistics done by Ramanires in 2011 found that 1/3 of the worlds population is afflicted with some form of celebrity worship and this number is growing. What are the implications of these phenomena in everyday life? Fans who are addicted or obsessed with their idol will spend most of their time, energy, and money on following their celebrity, whether on-line, via magazines, papers or in person to find out new information, meet them, or find out what they are doing, in order to have a sense of knowing their celebrity and following their lives to be apart of the celebrity life themselves. This is detrimental to their own lives because a substitute for their own lives and is not real. It is instead of concentrating on productive activities and forming real relationship dint heir own lives. Fans are also willing to spend a lot of income on fan memorabilia, CD’s, downloads, and other promotional material. Aronowitz agrees, but also says entertainment media is at least partly to blame for creating the “monster” known as the celebrity super fan. The whole Hollywood spin machine works together to create images that are impossible for any of us to live up to. They purposefully set us up to admire and even covet something we can never have…. when we are completely vulnerable, they sell us the image even harder — from headlines that titillate us with “celebrity secrets,” to the books, diets, cosmetics, foods, jewellery, and clothes that promise we’ll be closer to the ones we adore. Aronowitz. . However Houran argues “that people who worship celebrity at low level tend to be happier, more outgoing and more amiable as it is a form of social bonding, stress reduction, escapism and entertainment (Harrison, 2006). In addition, social mutual support and strong companionship can be found belonging to a Fandom group. Where fans can meet new friends with same interest through conventions, the fans club meeting or Internet, feel a sense of acceptance, support and belonging they don’t feel anywhere else in their lives, where they have a common interest and have something in common straight away so can communicate and form relationships easily. “Like most things there’s a dimensional approach here; there are some people who are fascinated by celebrities’ lives, but also involved in meaningful activities and relationships in their own lives, and for these people star watching is usually a harmless diversion,” says Hollander
This idolisation of celebrities and wanting to be like them as role models can have both positive and negative implications. Due to the exposure of the media a celebrity’s life is completely on display, showing the negative behaviours as well as the positive ones, such as smoking, taking drugs and drinking. “Prior to Marilyn Monroe, a star’s life was hidden from the public. But now, instead of a glossy ideal, we see celebrity’s ugly messes, including their drug and alcohol abuse, which, for many who admire these people, translates into a very dangerous message,” says Aronowitz. A survey done by Downing () “shows that many teenage girls confessed to changing their own opinions because of the influence of a celebrity, some even admitted to smoking after viewing smoking in movies; the same may be true for drug and alcohol use. Roughly half agree that their own peers drink or smoke cigarettes because they see their idols doing it. The survey revealed that most adolescent completely wants to look or going as far as plastic surgery and act like famous people. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of teens said they wanted to pierce a body part or get a tattoo because a celebrity has. And 77 percent believe that when a star loses weight, they would also do the same and loss weight. Downing ().
A lot of picture found in magazines and on the internet of celebrities have been air brushed and the celebrity have had tanning, make up and hair done by professional artists. Fans try and imitate their idols, even though they do not look like this naturally in real life, and the fans will go to extreme lengths to copy them. There have been links to celebrity worship and anorexia and cosmetic surgery in teenage girls. This might explain why eating disorders are prevalent amongst teenagers to date. For some people, they are willing to undergo plastic surgery in virtue of imitating their favourite celebrity’s outlook. They believe they can have a better life like the celebrity if they look like the celebrity (Hareyan, 2006). However it can be argued that then celebrities can be positive role models as well and therefore celebrity worship can have positive implications. For example living a healthy lifestyle, highlighting a cause and decreasing a stigma attached to issues such as Brooke Shields bringing post natal depression into the spot light. Many celebrities have used their popularity and fame to motivate people or to change their behaviour to be more positive. A Taiwanese celebrity, Chen Jian Zhou launched “a project named ‘Love Life’ to promote the important values of loving life. To date, there have been more than a hundred artistes join this project to promote ‘I Love Life’” (Wang, 2010). Giles also argued “the adoration of celebrities as role models or idols has been prevalent for many years and it can be argued that it is normal and a part of identity development within childhood and even adolescence” (Giles et al 2004).
However there have also been psychological implications of celebrity worship. It starts to be mentally harmful to someone when a person starts to substitute idolising their celebrity for real life and real relationship, as they can lose focus on their own lives and became obsessed with a fantasy world escaping their reality. In North study in 2007 he found that celebrity worship can be associated with depression, social dysfunction, anxiety, stress, negative and reports of illness. Maltby also stated that celebrity worshippers have a lower psychological well-being than non-worshippers. “Though low levels of celebrity worship (entertainment-social) are not associated with any clinical measures, medium levels of celebrity worship (intense-personal) are related to fantasy proneness (approximately 10% of the shared variance), while high levels of celebrity worship (borderline-pathological) share a greater association with fantasy proneness (around 14% of the shared variance) and dissociation (around 3% of the shared variance, though the effect size of this is small and most probably due to the large sample size) These finding suggests that as celebrity worship becomes more intense, and the individual perceives having a relationship with the celebrity, the more the individual is prone to fantasies.” Wikipedia  Some fans are so obsessed that it becomes dangerous to themselves and the celebrity. For example “a dozen of Michael Jackson’s fans committed suicide after his death. One of them barely survived, yet he killed himself anyway as he wanted to be with Michael” Thompson, ( 2009)”. However Aronowitz argues “A lot of these people who fall deeply into celebrity worship are just abnormal pathology waiting to happen. The fact that it comes out in the form of idolization of a particular celebrity is less important than recognizing the pathology was there all along. And if it was not focused on a celebrity it would be focused on something else, but it would still be there.” Aronowitz
Celebrity Worship and intense Fandom although has recently been researched by Psychologist I feel more investigations are needed into the implications of this growing phenomena as the research is based on small sample sizes, and mostly done in the UK and US. As statistics state this has become a worldwide phenomenon, which is only going to increase. Also mental health issues for the more extreme cases needs examining as the implications for these can negative and even dangerous. I feel mild forms of celebrity worship and intense fandom is harmless and can even be beneficial. As long as it doesn’t take over your life and a person is still participating in their own lives and reality.
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