Feature image: ‘The Work’ by O O
By James Clark Ross
Through the medium of celebrity culture we feed into a consumerist and self-serving industry for the benefit of self-centred attention seekers. But, you may ask, so what?
The system may be pervasive and celebrities may be inauthentic but this culture provides a large and accessible platform for people to entertain us. Furthermore, the notion of a celebrity in itself fosters a sense of aspiration and can be utilised to promote positive causes. Insofar as all of this is true, then, celebrity culture is innocuous.
Actually, I argue that celebrity culture is pernicious.
More than just plain entertainment, this is a culture that taps into our underlying predispositions to feel inferior and removes us from reality. Cunningly operating beyond what is presented to us, the media machine systematically exploits our insecurities.
An examination of celebrity culture would lift its favourable veneer and expose these ugly ulterior motives. So allow me to do just that. More specifically, allow me to deconstruct celebrity culture’s common content into its wicked components.
Celebrity culture demands that celebrities exhibit flawless appearances at all times: the need for them to look exceptional is paramount to their reputations.
Fashion, with its contrived importance, is an important factor here since people who impressively showcase the latest and most aesthetically-pleasing garments are afforded high prominence. This is exactly what many celebrities seek and why celebrity stylists are employed to peddle their relevance.
Detailed analyses of their outfits are undertaken. Hair and makeup are also positioned under the microscope as further superficial judgements are cast. Verdicts can be harsh but praise is delivered when it’s apparently due: ‘That dress doesn’t suit her complexion’ but ‘she looked stunning in that blouse’ (as she stands on the red carpet, vacantly smiling toward a frenzy of camera flashes).
As we digest this material we simultaneously consume polarised ideals of perfection and disappointment. This information appeals to its human audience because it conveys an expected set of standards: a guide on how to appear physically acceptable.
However, we can only gaze in awe at some celebrities whilst looking down at others. Neither of these outcomes does anything for our genuine confidence levels. To the contrary, when it comes to fashion, this shallow culture fosters insecurity through interpretations of relative adequacy.
Celebrity culture’s obsession with physical appearance extends beyond the fabric shells with which celebrities adorn themselves as we’re encouraged to judge peoples’ bodies, regardless of whether they can help it or not.
It was only when I walked past the section for glossy magazines in a shop recently that I realised the full of the extent of this problem.
Some of us will be familiar with the designated perpetrators—TMZ, OK!, Hello, MTV, and so forth—but do not underestimate the influence of tabloids and other less obvious sources too.
In all of this content we are force-fed the idea that we need to enhance our bodies. What makes this even worse is that this is irrespective of the implications for our physical and mental health.
We’re subliminally ordered to lose weight. We’re shamed if our bodies possess any abnormalities. Our natural shapes are scrutinised. Facial features, including symmetry and lip sizes, are examined.
Is this all designed to make us feel better? If the answer is yes—that such satisfaction can only be achieved by sniggering at others—then this world is simply nasty and shallow. However, I doubt that happiness can even be found like this: relying on external judgements to find contentment with one’s appearance will leave one in a constant state of insecurity.
The consciences of the people who produce these stories cannot be clear, for they must understand the psychological impacts on the impressionable. That or they’re either naïve or malicious; and I wouldn’t bet against the latter.
Attaining the unattainable
A drive to achieve unrealistically-high standards is also communicated, however futile that may sound.
Airbrushing is common practice. We’re taught to fight and conceal our bodies’ completely-natural aging processes. Astronomical expectations are forced upon us by an industry that routinely disseminates images of notionally-beautiful people. Attractiveness is treated as a requisite of success to boost reputations, whereby good-looking celebrities are easily sexualised and commodified.
There’s an immense burden on us as a result. Regular people have been conditioned to think that their physical appearances are comparatively inadequate. Inevitably, these desires become so great that they wish to permanently alter their bodies by putting themselves under the knife.
Research undertaken by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery demonstrates a worrying trend in how we are reacting to body self-perception, with the number of cosmetic procedures continuing to rise with time. In 2015 Americans spent more than $13.5 billion on liposuction, Botox, buttock lifts, skin tightening, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, and more. Interestingly, people aged between 35 and 50 years old were most likely to undergo a procedure, signifying the substantial weight of age many of us allow ourselves to bear.
Celebrity culture informs us that we should be totally fixated on appearance. The desire to mask human imperfections reflects a tremendous pressure on our society. Ask yourself: for whom?
Have you noticed that all of the above examples relate to women and how they should focus so much effort on their appearances? This is because there’s a massive disparity between how men and women are regarded by the media, whereby women are treated as child-bearing subjects of men who must meet their needs at all costs.
Celebrity culture has exaggerated and reinforced the concept of gender roles, which is crude and unscientific but can engage us. Such reductionist and old-fashioned views pander to tendencies to attribute our convictions to those of our tribal ancestors (as if it makes them acceptable). Although our society as a whole can still lag behind in the Dark Ages, it is celebrity culture that is the grand purveyor of these antiquated views.
This problem invades all forms of widespread media. For example, the Bechdel test for films uncovers a systemic problem for actresses, where many big movies do not pass three modest criteria: Namely that a film (1) has to have at least two [named] women in it, who (2) talk to each other and (3) about something besides a man. A surprising number of movies fail, as countless women fit into heroine roles or play no significant part whatsoever. Further, as recently discovered by Jennifer Lawrence, women are serially underrepresented and underpaid.
The music industry is definitely guilty too. Artists and dancers frequently portray both genders in extreme but relatable social situations in music videos. Women in barely any clothing dance around men for their pleasure. Men parade materialistic possessions, including gold jewellery and cars, boasting their dominance and ostensible success.
Elsewhere, through celebrity culture we are generally taught that men age well but women don’t, further empowering men. More perversely, though, children—particularly girls—are often sexualised. In one case The Daily M*** referred to an eight-year-old as a ‘leggy beauty’. Following some thought on this topic, I believe that this is a strategy designed to sexualise women from an early age. That is, all the way until they are adults, at which point they begin to fear aging!
Jennifer Aniston rightly contested these attitudes: ‘The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing…I resent being made to feel ‘less than’ because my body is changing…We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child…We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies.’
Celebrity culture also forged the idea that, through ‘Team Jolie’ and ‘Team Aniston’, women should be fighting over men and that women fail to recover from breakups. How archaic.
But there isn’t a winning gender here: male celebrities also set unrealistic standards. Whereas women are ordered be lean, men are encouraged to lose their guts and gain muscle mass. Moreover, both groups are scared into convention. Women are encouraged to have a family by a certain age; men, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, are derided for being bachelors.
Celebrity culture relies on these messages to build its ugly narratives, which we subconsciously absorb.
Heroes and villains
Celebrity culture thrives on sentiments of superiority and inferiority. A warped sense of joy is derived from watching people hit rock bottom, whilst the sycophants in us enjoy worshiping the ‘elegant’ and the ‘flawless’.
One such underlying theme is the thinly-veiled disparagement of lower social classes. Take the rise and fall of Tulisa Contostavlos, for instance. It was almost as if she was always destined to fail. And then consider how Jade Goody, Danniella Westbrook, Cheryl, and others with modest beginnings, such as Wayne Rooney, were and have been constantly frowned upon by the press. Contrast this to how the press fawns over those who fit into upper social classes.
Is all of this carried out to remind people that, no matter how successful they become, they’re still inherently inferior?
Hounding the vulnerable
Celebrities are humans too. Unfortunately, at times of great stress the press prey on their weaknesses.
Paul Gascoigne, for example, suffers from mental health problems and addiction yet so much of the coverage isn’t intended to help him. This is also true for Shia Labeouf, Lindsay Lohan, Kanye West, Britney Spears, and so on.
Sometimes reporters purport to care about these people but really their motivation is to contrive stories. Such coverage can’t even be classed as empty gestures since the attention predominantly brings more harm than good. We buy into it—partly because me care but partly to selfishly make ourselves feel better.
The final component of celebrity culture that I want to discuss is the tendency for achievement to be expressed monetarily.
A disproportionate number of people in the limelight own vast sums of wealth. The ‘achievements’ of an individual celebrity are interpreted from his or her net worth, even if they had a little help along the way. The success of films is more often than not quoted in terms of box office sales, not on levels of enjoyment. Singles and albums charts assume a correlation between commercial success and artistic quality.
All of this information and more conditions us to think in the same way: to gauge ‘success’ with financial mechanisms and not by our value to ourselves and others. The material world intends for us to interact with the external and the consumable. Celebrity culture epitomises this.
This is worrying for a number of reasons. We’re being driven to unhappiness and isolation and celebrity culture perpetuates these ideas by celebrating financial attainment. Even if this world can facilitate happiness, it assumes that wealth accumulation is predicated on merit when, conversely, this industry is grossly unfair. Financial assistance and favourable opportunities are ignored, whilst we, as consumers, watch and suffer along with our overdrafts, student loans, and mortgages.
In the world of celebrities the notion of entertainment has been consumed and diluted into a giant, money-sucking monster with fake tits and shiny white teeth. This is a culture personified by Kim Kardashian and exemplified by the dark world of glossy magazines.
We inhabit a society where celebrities lead prominent lives and in which the media have so many platforms to influence us—TV, social media, radio, tabloids, music channels…And, as mere humans, of course we’re exposed.
Celebrity culture impacts our society in ways more toxic and far-reaching than many of us acknowledge. This vacuous and frothy world does offer us some entertainment but only in exchange for pernicious damage of our mental wellbeing. It exploits, sexualises, and monetises. We’re made to feel inadequate, whilst hollow obsessions with a material world are encouraged. All of these factors render us more likely to buy into a system in a vain attempt to relieve our anxieties. But this is futile: this callous culture breeds and feeds off insecurity in a vicious cycle which never fulfills our superficial desires.
Food for thought
Celebrity culture nullifies and placates us: its vapid shit disengages us from reality and distracts us from introspection. We’re left mentally sanitised and less emotionally aware of our own happiness. Consequently, we’re more exposed to manipulation—economically, socially, politically—and so celebrity culture is the antitheses of empowerment. Let’s change this.
Let’s detach ourselves from the artificial importance of celebrities. Let’s dispose of our manufactured reliance on them to fulfil needs which are never met. Instead, be proactive in immersing yourself in topics that relate to you as a person: seek meaningful interactions.
‘This is ideal, of course: keep the masses ignorant and pacified on the couch; distract them with violence, death, and illusions of celebrity. Reduce resistance and thought: make them choose the bland over the brilliant; the meaningless over the thoughtful…This is now what people around the world accept as normal.’