This argumentative research paper written for my English 1020 (College Composition II) class. In order to keep the correct MLA formatting for my citations, I have included a file containing my works cited at the end of the paper that can be downloaded and viewed.
Empty Promises: Celebrity Worship in Our Society
Humans have worshiped idols for thousands of years. Be they gods or statues, people or places, animate or inanimate objects, people have been worshiping from the very beginning of humanity. The antics of gods and demons, most prominently in Greek and Roman mythology, were often used to explain natural phenomena and catastrophes. If a plague wiped out an entire village it was not, as we know today, the simple spreading of a contagious virus, but the work of some all-mighty being who was punishing the villagers for lacking a certain degree of faithfulness. Naturally, faith in these mystical beings inspired art, poetry, and allowed countless cultures to flourish. Today, however, a new form of worship has taken root in the form of celebrities. While even in ancient times there were certainly people who might be considered celebrities, the way we view these people has changed drastically. Celebrity worship has taken an alarmingly important role in our society. From basic
commodities such as food to luxuries such as nail polish, celebrities’ names are slapped across countless product labels. They can be found in magazines and newspapers, on television, and even have entire blogs devoted to them. Despite the fact that they are merely our fellow humans, our society has become obsessed with celebrities, placing them on impossibly high pedestals to be admired, adored, and followed with almost cult-like devotion. And with the constant whispering in our ears that we must reach these heights in order to obtain true happiness, it is no wonder that many worship celebrities with such fervor. While many view this as harmless entertainment, it is clear that effects of celebrity
worship are damaging our society, the way we think, and the way we act. Over exposure to sex, drugs and alcohol, and body image, to name a few, are creating generation of wild, self-centered, and generally unhappy children who will eventually become equally unhappy adults. Vapid articles on “who’s getting a divorce” and “who was seen wearing what” that somehow pass for news are distracting people from important issues such as a floundering economy, escalating tensions with North Korea, and wide-spread poverty. Celebrity worship is causing our society to crumble at the hands of thoughtless entertainment and needs to be removed from the place of extreme importance it now sits in before its effects become irreversible.
The alarming effects of celebrity worship can easily be seen in the simple examination of how we use the word culture. Traditionally, the word culture is used to describe a group of people from a certain part of the world and their traditions, religious beliefs, languages, etc. In his article “Celebrity Culture is Pervasive,” writer and editor, Joseph Epstein, describes his belief that the word culture has come to mean “the general emotional atmosphere and institutional character surrounding the word to which ‘culture’ is attached,” (Epstein). “Culture,” Epstein further explains, has become to a word used describe the behaviors of groups of people rather than their ancestry and languages as was originally intended (Epstein). Celebrity or popular culture is, naturally, a phrase commonly used by the media to describe the world of the rich and famous. It holds up provocative and often extremely inappropriate behavior as perfectly acceptable. Why? Because those who act this way are
celebrities and it is part of their culture. Celebrities are expected to act and look a certain way in order to fit the mold celebrity culture has created for them. This is bad, not only for those who worship, but for those being worshiped. Countless actors/actresses, musicians, professional athletes, and others who live in the public eye have admitted to struggling with eating disorders or have been driven to plastic surgery or drugs to keep up their appearance if for no other reason than for fear of the ruthless criticism they would very likely receive from the media and their
Conversely, devotees of the famous often become victims of indirect criticism from the media via the glorification of their idols. Adolescents in
particular are affected. Girls who are exposed to photographs of ultra-thin models and often times photo shopped images of celebrities are similarly driven to eating disorders, drugs, etc. in sheer desire to be what celebrity culture media defines as beautiful. Boys too are increasingly turning to eating disorders in order to control weight, most commonly for sports. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), more than one half of teenage girls and one third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as fasting and purging (“Eating Disorders and Statistics”). Because of the glorification of celebrities in the media, teens feel that they must look like these elite persons in order to be accepted by society. When they find that they cannot reach the level of perfection found in the usually-fake images of those they admire, many are propelled into depression.
More alarming still are the effects of celebrity culture on younger children. Over exposure to fame and celebrities has changed not only the way some kids are raised, but how the kids themselves act. Parents can be seen flaunting their children on reality television and forcing their daughters to parade across pageant stages in heavy makeup and extravagant clothing that is generally short, tight, and somewhat suggestive. In her article “Celebrities are Poor Role Models for Young People,” Kathleen Deveny discusses an interview with a first-grade teacher from San Diego, California in which the teacher notes some of the visible change in her class of seven-year-olds: children singing songs with provocative lyrics, using inappropriate language, and even some degree of flirting (Deveney). I too see this change in children’s behavior at my job in a child-watch center at a local recreation center. Gone, it seems, are the days when children were punished, or reprimanded at the very least, for using words such as “sexy.” I have worked as an attendant for several birthday parties at the same rec center and have encountered countless parents
who have no problem with allowing their six-year-olds to run around screaming song lyrics such as “I’m sexy and I know it” and “Hey sexy lady” at the top of their lungs.
Of course, this change in behavior is not entirely children’s fault. The effects of celebrity worship on their parents’ generation have largely changed the way parents teach their kids. We are taught, argues Chris Hedges in his article “Celebrity Culture is Harmful,” that “Faith in ourselves, in a world of make-believe, is more important than reality,” (Hedges). “Celebrity culture encourages everyone to think of themselves as potential celebrities, as possessing unique if unacknowledged gifts,” Hedges further explains. It is on this principle that many children are brought up on and who, in turn, apply it to their own children. While it is not necessarily bad to encourage children to pursuit a talent, many parents take this to the extreme by forcing their children to participate in activities that, in some cases, the children themselves have no desire to be a part of. This again leads many children to live unhappy childhoods. While fear of disappointing their parents often leads to anxiety and depression later in life for some of these children, for others the desire to defy their parents’ wishes instills an attitude of rebellion which can have extremely dangerous consequences. Ironically, many of these rebels begin to worship celebrities, copying their actions and styles in order to drive home the point that they do not want to be what their parents want them to be, or perhaps simply in order to embarrass those who brought them up on the very celebrity worship they have turned to in order to defy the principles of their upbringing.
Many argue that celebrity worship is not harmful whatsoever; it is merely a form of entertainment. While it is true that celebrity culture is certainly entertaining, this does not mean that it is not damaging. Many people observe celebrities with simple, passing interest. They may read an article on an actress in a movie they like, or watch an interview of a musician whose music they enjoy from time to time, but other than that, they could not care less about the world of the rich and famous. For these people, celebrity culture truly is just a harmless form of entertainment. It is on those who worship celebrities excessively, who spend hours watching interviews, reading articles and blog posts, and looking at pictures from the latest awards show that celebrity worship effects negatively. “Without celebrities, whole sections of the New York Times and Washington Post would have to close down,” (Epstein). While celebrity gossip can provide a temporary distraction from the stress of everyday life, it does not eliminate it; the stress is simply pushed to the back of one’s mind to be worried about later. Many take this too far and, rather than deal with reality, live almost constantly in a fantasy world revolving around them. This in itself is incredibly dangerous for our society as it consistently causes people to think that important issues that should be resolved as quickly as possible can be set aside to be dealt with at a later date. Celebrity “news” is quite commonly used to distract us from important issues that will affect not only the future of our society and our country, but the future of the entire world. We sometimes forget distractions do not eliminate the problems, but instead cause them to pile up, eventually leading to an issue almost too large to resolve.
Celebrity worship has become a ridiculously important aspect of our society. While some use celebrity culture and media merely as a form of
entertainment, others take the worship of celebrities to the point where they follow them with nearly cult-like devotion. The effects of this worship are especially visible in children and adolescents whose exposure to the standards set by celebrity culture often catapults them to depression, anxiety, and a general feeling of worthlessness. Teenagers who are exposed the image of perfection established by popular culture often times are driven to eating disorders, drugs, and other dangerous behaviors in order to achieve the image that they are told will bring them true happiness. The alarming change in the behavior of younger children, due partially to their parents’ exposure to celebrity worship, demonstrates clearly how celebrity culture has changed how we think, feel, and what we consider acceptable and appropriate. Celebrity worship is unhealthy for both the celebrities being worshiped and those who worship them. We often forget that celebrities, despite their fame and large quantities of money, are not gods, or idols, or sacred and perfect beings. Celebrities are merely human. They have strengths and talents, but they also have weaknesses and flaws that are often glossed over or covered up, hidden away from the world. Our society is crumbling because of our obsession with other people, our obsession with the desire to live in the fantasy realm of celebrity culture where everyone is attractive, rich, and happy. If we do not stop living in this dream, if we do not stop worshiping celebrities, reality will, eventually, tear away the veil that seemingly protects us from harm and force us into a world that has been all but destroyed by our negligence. If celebrity worship is not removed from its place of importance, our society will crumble if for no other reason than our dismissal of the real world in favor of dreams and empty promises.