Featured image: 'The Work'. (O O)
Through celebrity culture we have been conditioned to feed off a consumerist and self-serving industry for the benefit of self-centred attention seekers. ‘But so what?’ You may ask. What harm are they doing? The system may be pervasive and celebrities may be inauthentic in their presentation to us through the media but it provides a large and accessible platform for people to entertain us. Furthermore, celebrities can be utilised to inspire aspiration in people and promote positive causes. Insofar as all of this is true, then, celebrity culture is innocuous—or even good.
Beyoncé in a remake of a wartime poster that aimed to boost female worker morale. Is this a useful message or an empty gesture?
Actually, celebrity culture is pernicious.
More than being plain entertainment, this is a culture of toxicity that taps into our underlying predispositions to feel inferior as it removes us from our healthy, honest realities. Cunningly operating beyond what is presented to us, the media machine systematically exploits these insecurities for the gain of few celebrities.
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.
In showbusiness, fashion, with its contrived importance, is an important factor in success: people who impressively showcase the latest and most-aesthetically-pleasing garments are afforded high prominence in magazine pages and social media feeds. As such, celebrities need to be seen as fashionable: their careers depend on it. Celebrity stylists are, therefore, employed to peddle their celebrities’ relevance in this vein.
Detailed analyses of their outfits are undertaken. Their hair and makeup are 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). But, really, what did the celebrity do other than have a preference?
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 (the dos and don’ts).
However, we can only gaze in awe at some celebrities because can look down at others. Neither of these outcomes does anything for our genuine confidence levels. To the contrary, the shallow fashion culture encourages us to internalise notions of adequacy and inadequacy in people at a very superficial level and forces us to judge ourselves by the same unmeetable standards.
The contrived importance of body shape.
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.
A photo I took down the shop recently. Women, just lose weight already!
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.
'5 celebs you didn't know had freaky body secrets'. Lovely.
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 in oneself 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 impact 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 better-looking celebrities are more-easily sexualised and commodified.
There’s an immense burden on regular people as well as celebrities as a result. Regular people are conditioned to think that their natural physical appearances are inadequate. Inevitably, these desires become so great that they wish to permanently alter their bodies by putting themselves under the knife.
Celebrities alter their bodies to abate intense media scrutiny—but the paparazzi will still find out.
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 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 yourselves: 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 sexualised, child-bearing subjects of men who must meet their needs at all costs.
Women's health. (Source)
Celebrity culture has exaggerated and reinforced traditional notions of gender roles, whereas other places in society continue to break them down. Celebrity culture’s reductionist and old-fashioned tendencies pander to our desire to have evolutionary origins to our physical features and our behaviours; we want to attribute our convictions to those of our tribal ancestors as if it makes them acceptable. And 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 in that a surprisingly high number of movies fail to 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. 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 men’s pleasure. Men parade their possessions materialistically, including gold jewellery and cars, and diss rivals, boasting dominance but only within a silly game.
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 I saw the Daily Mail refer 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, as members of ‘Team Jolie’ and ‘Team Aniston’, women should be fighting over men and that women generally fail to recover from breakups, not men. 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. 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 of people. 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. And they all get away with it. Ironically, they are held to different standards than good people, who they help punish for small mistakes.
Tulisa Contostavlos, famous for being in N-Dubz and judging singers on The X Factor.
Celebrity culture maintains structures of division between people. Celebrities then feed from us as media outlets make a profit. This relies on a false narrative: we are reminded that, no matter how successful we become, we’ll always be 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 when really their motivation is to contrive stories; their gestures are empty. Even if their intentions are good, such coverage predominantly brings more harm. I think journalist are aware of this and we buy into the stories partly because we care but also selfishly to make ourselves feel better about our own lives.
Money equals … success?
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 their 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 gauge ‘success’ financially and not by value to ourselves and society. This material world intends for us to interact with the external and the consumable. Celebrity culture thrives off of this.
Dan Bilzerian and Floyd Mayweather.
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 celebrity culture 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. Its culture is personified by Kim Kardashian and exemplified by the dark world of glossy magazines.
We inhabit a society in which celebrities lead prominent lives. The media provides so many platforms for this such that we can be influenced—TV, social media, radio, tabloids, music channels … As mere humans, we’re eroded to the bones of our insecurities.
The celebrity rabble.
Celebrity culture affects our society in ways more toxic and far-reaching than many of us acknowledge. This vacuous and frothy world does offer us some entertainment value 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 really fulfils our truest desires. We are left isolated from ourselves.
Food for thought
Celebrity culture nullifies and placates us: its vapid shit disengages us from reality and detracts us from introspection. We’re left mentally sanitised—almost vacant—and less emotionally aware of our own happiness. This makes us susceptible to consumerism’s unapologetic manipulation. Celebrity culture, in this way, disarms us.
Let us change this if we care to empower ourselves. Detach yourself from the artificial importance of celebrities. Dispose of your manufactured reliance on them to fulfil needs which are never met. Immerse yourself in topics you value as a human being, not just a consumer. Experience meaningful interactions.