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We need to talk about: Celebrity

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In his most recent column, William Cafferky discusses celebrity culture, focusing on the famous Ellen DeGeneres “selfie”.

Earlier this month, Ellen DeGeneres took a “selfie” that marked a significant milestone moment for social media outlet Twitter, by becoming the most “retweeted” post of all time. Her photo, which included a cornucopia of Hollywood stars, comprehensively smashed the previous record, set by Barack Obama’s “4 more years” tweet receiving, at last count, a whopping 3,379,301 “retweets”, compared to 778, 801 for Obama’s victory photo.

In a sense, it’s a story that paints its own picture. It will come as little surprise to most. We are keenly aware of the disparity between our perception of celebrities and politicians, discounting disturbing hybrids like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lembit Opik. Whilst celebrities find themselves immortalised in various unnerving shrines on Tumblr, few greet “Prime Minister’s Questions” with similar levels of vigorous adoration. The reverential commitment to celebrity culture, presents a level of interest completely alien to those within politics, instead being confined to the hazy dreams of electoral commissioners and party campaigners. Indeed, the closest that politicians come to a brush with the lofty heights of celebrity lifestyle, is the unerring scrutiny of their personal and professional lives.

Image Credits: ABC
Image Credits: ABC

I cannot claim to be qualified to identify the psychological or sociological reasoning behind our obsession with stardom. Nonetheless there are a number of reasons why celebrities find themselves at the forefront of our interest. I imagine, for many, it provides a break from the realities of life. Despite our fervent interest in fame culture, it’s ultimately an alien world, albeit one that we’ve created ourselves. The beautiful faces, tight abs and perky breasts of movie stars, the razor wit of comedians, the flawless voices of musicians; it’s a far cry from our own imperfect reality. Some people escape into books or films, others through music, some people trudge across moors, others bungee jump off bridges, and some people read gossip columns. Something that seems so bizarre to many of us, is in some ways driven by the same desires we all experience.

Whilst the motivation behind the celebrity obsession may be rooted in common ground, it has a number of notable differences. Amongst all the glitz and glamour, there is a seemingly forgotten human element. A relentless obsession with Harry Potter is potentially worrying for a host of reasons, but nonetheless there isn’t the danger that all the attention will have a negative impact on the way in which Harry Potter lives his life, or cares for his family. In fact, nothing you say or do matters to Harry Potter in the slightest. He’ll never know how you feel about him, and you’ll never know how he feels about you, because he isn’t real. The same can’t be said for celebrities, as much as many of them may appear as mythical or enigmatic as Harry Potter, they are in fact real living breathing people. Our feelings and actions impact on their lives, maybe not singularly, but certainly collectively, both negatively and positively.

The common retort by many journalists regarding their borderline stalking of celebrities is an intriguing one. In their view, as prominent figures within society, it is important that celebrities are held accountable to the public for their actions. Unconstrained scrutiny is the least these people owe us, in return for the fame that we have granted them. This argument bears the hallmark of an almost enforced brand of Stockholm syndrome; we have created a zoo in which to observe celebrities, and simultaneously expect them to accept, or even enjoy, our constant ogling and probing.

Now perhaps I am exaggerating the plight of fame. We can hardly claim that celebrities are living rough, that they don’t enjoy the tightness of their abs, the speed of their cars, or their multiple affairs. There is nevertheless a unique quirkiness to our simultaneous adoration and criticism of their lifestyle. Whilst for some the obsession provides a passive escape from the grim reality of essay deadlines, unpaid bills and cold pasta, it’s easy to see how one can lose sight of the human element of celebrity culture. Planet Hollywood may seem like a different universe, but ultimately it’s full of people, obsessive, paranoid, imperfect people just like you and me.

Perhaps all of that explains the marvel of Ellen’s “selfie”, it provided all of us a glimpse of Hollywood letting it’s neatly photoshopped hair down; a glimmer of similarity between their world and ours, soon swept away in a tide of Internet euphoria.

William Cafferky, Online Features Columnist

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