It has become hard to tell if the media is simply giving us what we want, or if we are blindly consuming the information it gives us. Search engine rankings consistently show celebrities and sports figures near the top of online searches. The majority of Americans are obsessed with famous people. There’s a real escapism to it. Instead of the world of inflation, job losses and rising debt, we can turn our attention to someone else, often to feel better about ourselves in the process.
Schadenfreude is defined as pleasure taken from observing the misery of another. We follow the trials and tribulations of the rich and famous as they rise or fall from grace, sometimes hoping they overcome, and other times casting judgment upon them, measuring our own lives against theirs. Many watch with morbid fascination as famous people go bankrupt, have their relationships fall apart, and succumb to drug abuse. When we tune in to the latest celebrity plight, it’s often easy to grab a secret joy from seeing their misery.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of Celebrity Rehab and Loveline, says, “We deify people, and then tend to scapegoat them. Nobody is immune from our desire to scapegoat. Underneath that, ultimately, is a deep acting out of a common feeling of which we seem to have an excessive burden these days: envy.”
James Houran, Ph.D., is a relationship expert and co-author of Celebrity Worshippers: Inside the Minds of Stargazers. He opined: “When we see people looking perfect and glamorous on TV, we may think they have a perfect life. Money, influence, and nice things often equate to joy for people, and we forget that there is a price associated with all of that.” We become intoxicated by the clout they appear to have. Who wouldn’t want to walk into any fancy restaurant and get seated immediately, or have the velvet rope at an exclusive club opened when they walk up? The world of famous people is surreal to the rest of us. Fancy beach houses, lots of cars, red carpet walks, private jets, high fashion, it all seems like a life we would love to have.
Beyond our motives or opinions, some people follow the lives of their imaginary friends closer than the ones in their real lives, sometimes to the point of obsession. We track their social circles, and their personal victories and failures become a central topic of conversation. Of the social element, Dr. Charlotte De Backer of the University of Leicester, Department of Media and Communication, concluded in a study, “Living in scattered societies, we often don’t know who to talk about with the many people we know, and celebrities can act as our mutual friends and acquaintances.” Celebrities are a common bond between us. Like sports and world news, they are a social reference point we can use to relate to others, giving us a sense that we are all living in the same world.
The quest for fame is nothing new. Achilles, the Greek hero, performed his amazing deeds for glory, as did Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. How deeply does the quest for fame influence people’s drive? Are people seeking fame simply to be known in a world that is rapidly getting smaller, while the population explosion continues?
Could this be a manifestation of the human need to be noticed? Perhaps fame has become an end to itself. Some people are famous simply because people know who they are, the same phenomenon that drives popularity contests in high schools. One need look no farther than reality television or game show winners to see this play out. These days you see people doing all sorts of crazy things on You Tube just to get noticed. Is it the human condition just playing itself out through the technology that is now available? Or perhaps is it something more sinister?
I will discuss the fact that 60% of all reality shows are “fake” in my next blog. For now back to glamour.
Jake Halpern, author of the book, Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction suggests, “Kids see fame as a cure-all for problems.” And why wouldn’t they? In culture-filled viral videos, young people today see fame as something that’s achievable for everyone, even if, like Joe the Plumber, it’s a brief flash. All it takes is one headline, and anyone can have a book deal, or be a movie of the week. When Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” he may not have known how accurate his prediction would be for our society. We grab onto the newest craze, idea, or person, then promptly discard it when we become bored, or the next flavor-of-the-week arrives. A recent article in Newsweek suggested that the “Internet is actually driving us mad” and the human brain is actually being re wired for the constant borage of information it takes in. Much of it has little to no value, but that’s not stopping hundreds of millions for consuming it.
So, what is the price of fame? In reality, their lives are as messy as everyone else’s, and people like to have the flaws of others paraded. We take a grim satisfaction in taking them off their pedestals, and experiencing their humanity. Celebrities live in a bubble, their day to day reality is a macabre reality TV show where nothing is private, and no personal problem is sacred enough to be considered off limits. They live with constant stalking by reporters and photographers, and often find that the most mundane elements of their lives can end up as a news piece. And beyond all that, celebrities are scrutinized for every word and action. While we may snap at a waiter, or get upset when something happens, celebrities can find themselves crucified publicly for displaying the same emotions as the rest of us.
In marriage, normalcy is a true blessing. While most of us may have to deal with opinions of our friends and families in our personal relationships, we have no worries of tabloid scandal, no fear of public discussion or scrutiny of our relationship. We have the opportunity to work our relationships out privately, as compared to having every argument and dispute aired publicly for everyone to see and discuss. It’s hard to comprehend what it must be like to deal with a rocky relationship, and be reminded of it everywhere you go, or to have your marriage be a topic of conversation among people you have never met, but who seem to know far more about you than you might like. Truth is that the media almost always only gets a small piece of the puzzle.
So what is the solution to this seemingly endless mindset? That’s a big question with a huge answer. My humble opinion is that it all begins with values. What are the values you have chosen to live by? Are you constantly searching for something to distract you from your own life? Are you focused on being the best person you can be and constantly learning how to stay immune from the distractions of others? Are you stuck believing that “if you only had…X, you would be happy”? Fact is that it takes effort to overcome these issues, and it all begins and ends with your personal will. What are you focused on and what are you working on as a child of God while you are here on Earth?