When Justin Bieber fans frantically took to cutting themselves and posting pictures online to stop the star from smoking pot, celebrity obsession among young people reached new heights. Celebrity obsession in modern culture is a serious issue and regardless of the source that fuels this crazy fire, youth are the most at risk.
According to Holly Watson, a York University student studying sex, gender and popular culture, several factors contribute to this obsession: exposure / access, desire for power, portrayal, treatment, and economy. These factors appeal most to those who are unconscious viewers of the messages sent by media: teens.
Social media, the Internet and reality television have become increasingly accessible to young people.
“Watching these shows from our living rooms makes us feel connected to celebrity life. We feel like we know them because their personal lives are made public,” Watson said.
Celebrities as gods
Humans crave power and stability; it is in our nature. “We see celebrities portrayed as gods: masters of their lives in all their riches and opportunity,” Watson said.
We crave that freedom and power and we want to be as close to that image as we can. This can lead to the obsession with celebrity life and for youth.
Television shows such as Degrassi, Pretty Little Liars, Skins, and Gossip Girl are prime examples of shows in which teens on screen are portrayed in sexual relationships, violence, and using drugs.
The setting is primarily high school and college: places that evoke a sense of reality for teens. According to a Web MD study, youth see these behaviours and many have not reached the mature state of mind to separate their personal lives from them.
This content puts mature ideas into their minds too early, when the part of their brain that considers future consequences of present actions is not fully developed, the study explains.
Teens are also drawn into the celebrity obsession by the serious treatment of the shows and celebrity news.
“Celebrity scandals are treated like serious stories,” Watson said. Everything is over-exaggerated and dramatized to hook audiences, especially young ones.
Watson believes the poor state of the economy also contributes to celebrity obsession.
“People fantasize about being wealthy – it’s a distraction from the world’s real problems and reality TV has made this obsession stronger. We are made to believe the lives portrayed are reality, without awareness of the scripting and instruction given.”
Teens may not be as concerned about the state of the economy as adults, but they are influenced by the portrayal of celebrity wealth and material possessions.
Teens fantasize about this wealth without an understanding of the economy and this contributes to their desire for the best mobile devices, fashion, cars and jewelry – all shifting their values to physical attributes and having money over ethics and personality.
The obsession with celebrities affects teen values, mentality, and perception of the world. As social media, Internet and television amplify these messages youth are affected more than ever before.