the cult of celebrity: how sinister is our obsession with fame?

A look at whether our hunger for fame is a product of a consumerist society, or something that touches on a deeper level of our psyche.

by Greg French
05 April 2017, 10:26pm

"In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes," said Andy Warhol -- famously. Indeed, nowadays, it seems almost impossible to escape the culture that surrounds fame and celebrity. They stare back at us from our phones and computers. We watch a Greenpeace fundraiser and they're giving the speech. We ride the tube, and they're the face of the latest nutrition advert. Celebrities are everywhere.

Recently there's been a spike in celebrity involvement within fashion, way past the conventional rules of supermodels and front rows. Just last month, Rihanna took to the stage in Paris to debut her Fenty X Puma collection. Gigi Hadid shot boyfriend Zayn Malik for VERSUS Versace's new campaign and Dolce & Gabbana's usual frow were found not on their seats, but rather on the runway itself. While many in the fashion industry fervently turn their nose up at such flashiness  -- is this simply a sign of our times that we must learn to accept? Or perhaps, there's a darker side to our fascination with celebrities that speaks more broadly of our own fears.

The cult of celebrity is by no means a post-Warholian term, far from it. Its foundations can be traced as far back as the Stone Age. Even in early society there were those who, be it for looks, possessions, skills or sexual ability, were idolised by the wider pack, scrawled onto the walls in cave paintings; projections of supposed perfect ways of being, placed on idyllic pedestals for all to love and adore.

We see instances like this throughout history. Religion gave us saints and gods for whom people would travel to the furthest corners of the globe to quite literally worship the ground they walked on; in Greek mythology -- the handsome and beautiful were a role models for all (there was even a Greek god, Pheme -- that was the personification of fame. Her wrath? Scandalous rumours). Sound familiar? Take a look at the crowds nowadays who queue to catch a glimpse of favourite personalities, the obsessive following of superstars on Instagram or the countless gossip sites and pages that are trawled every day. The Daily Mail online boasts 20.1 millions visitors daily.

Of course, this is not to say that celebrities are gods -- but there's certainly a similarity, as writer Cooper Lawrence highlights. Our gods are "all seeing, all doing, all knowing, all powerful". Let's apply that to Rihanna's latest Puma gig. There's no denying that the aura that surrounds her -- the image that has been created through social posts, attitude, music, popular culture -- commands an allure to the everyday consumer that draws them into any product associated with her. She even sings it herself: "Bitch better have my money, y'all should know me well enough." Saint, Rihanna is not. Bad girl gone good? Perhaps. Well, at least for Puma's sales.

Read: What makes a muse? A look at the models who came to embody an ideal and the creatives who love them.

Herein lies the problem. Celebrity is no longer attached to a belief or a way of life, rather a tangible, commercial product that personifies it. Is there something morally corrupt with that? While some may disagree, it seems a little futile to point the finger of blame at the companies utilising this celebrity phenomenon. After all, fashion is a business. We all make our own consumer decisions on why we buy things; colour, functionality, the (perhaps imagined) ability of an object to bring us kudos. Celebrity culture is, and has always been a part of our day-to-day lives. Successful businesses have cottoned onto the fact that our celebrity-craze has reached dizzying heights and gets us opening our wallets.

The recent trend of celebrities shooting major fashion campaigns proves the growing celebrification of fashion. Brooklyn Beckham caused a creative furore after being asked to shoot the Burberry Brit 2016 fragrance campaign. Photographers were up in arms. The young son of a major celebrity taking their job? Outrageous. How could this happen? Yet the campaign was in every major publication and shared the world over, and over again. The reason? Not the quality of the photographs or the notoriety of the brand. It was the Beckham effect (and the surrounding discourse). The Beckham offspring had already proved their bankability with Romeo's festive campaign in 2014, which resulted in a 10% rise in the sale of trenches.

Is it time then, for us to turn the lens back on ourselves to examine a bigger problem inherent within our society and to better make sense of this celebrity obsession? Society is responsible for the creation of fame. We build up our own heroes; projecting onto them everything we wish we could be. In reality, however, they symbolise a form of abject unattainability. If we could be so easily like them, their magnetism would simply vanish altogether.

The cult of celebrity, in essence, is a distraction from our own progression as human beings. Just like Alice Through the Looking Glass, the more we peer into this phoney world, the more we fall into an unrealistic realm altogether. Of course, an indulgent look every now and then is part of humanity. But perhaps if we were to stop looking for hope in false gods, and focus more on our own talents and unique identities -- we'd waste far less time trying to be like someone else. There's something much more alluring about being the only one of you in the world, don't you think?


Text Greg French
Image via Wikimedia Commons

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