Can we define the celebrity culture as a religion?

 

When constructing a community, laws to abide by and a culture to exist within, the value of religion has been paramount in capturing the interest and affection of the public. Religion also enables it’s believers to seek answers to rhetoric, to find comfort in the unknown, ‘[offering] peculiarly powerful affirmations of belonging, recognition and meaning in the midst of the lives of their audiences, lives that may otherwise be poignantly experienced as under-performing, anti-climactic or sub-clinically depressing’ (Holmes & Redmond 2007, p.172). As ‘all cultures possess rites, myths, divine forms, sacred and venerated objects, symbols, consecrated men and sacred places’ (2007, p.172), celebrity as an entity is simply another religion that attracts mass interest from all walks of life.

What celebrity includes however, unlike most major religions of today, is a greater element of charisma and dramatics that appeals to the human element. Like the tales from Greek Mythology, celebrities are the topic of gossip, specifically surrounding their romances, wealth and health. As is evident over the centuries, ‘religiosity and spirituality respectively have always been and will be subject to change’ (Celine 2010, p.71). Branches from Christianity and Catholicism where rules and beliefs have been adapted to better suit the community display this continuing adaptation of religion, which in turn arguably helps in constructively developing and strengthening the community. More specifically, in today’s society, the volatility of celebrity as a religion always depends on the health and livelihood of the star or collection of stars. As seen with One Direction, religions can be as easily destroyed as they were created, and the devastation left in its path causes widespread pain and hysteria.

Following on from the recognition of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and James Dean, the death of Princess Diana held this same indisputable hold on the public. It was so publicly apparent that ‘the veneration of Diana and similar phenomena that feature religiously connoted imagery and practices simply show that these spheres are intermingling and cannot be strictly distinguished from one another’ (2010, p.78). Thus, it appears that the misfortune of others, more specifically on celebrities from a “Golden Age”, ‘[shows] that nobody, however talented, fortunate or rich, can escape certain strokes of fate’ (2010, p.78). Celebrity, therefore, becomes a platform for learning, with fame being a metaphor to educate. Whether it is through the misfortune of perhaps Kim Kardashian’s robbery, or the joy experienced through Beyonce’s pregnancy, the public learns from the actions of those they idolise.

By becoming, without effort, learning tools for the general public, celebrities become immortal as their ‘identity remains rooted within the context of certain moral, ethical and religious values, all of which shape the contours of [their] public profile’ (Holmes & Watson 2015, p.224). This alludes however to a fairly utopian ideal of celebrity as more idolatry and less obsessive. What may be forgotten however is that in today’s society where democracy and vast freedom is afforded to members of the Western world, ‘we live in what remains, under the surface, a rather Puritanical culture’ (Carroll 2010, p.489). Thus, although realisations about celebrity may be new in modern discussions, this obsession and wonderment has circulated for many millennia and has always included ‘ancient Greek roots’ (2010, p.489). What is startling obvious and is now being replayed in modern society is how ‘Greek gods and demi-gods have been reborn as “stars” and “celebrities”, with their own divine attributes. Those Greek gods and goddesses …were, in the main, vain, fickle, and spiteful—entertaining themselves by playing malicious tricks on each other, or interfering in the lives of mortals down below, for their own sport. They took drugs and they suffered from chronic boredom’ (2010, p.489). The striking similarity of contemporary celebrity and the tales of Greek gods displays how easily humans fall into the same routine of gossip and religion to ease the woes of their owns lives, removing elements of depression and boredom.

Celebrity and fame have always divided the masses, as the discussion topic is either heavily respected as news, or heavily disregarded as trivial knowledge. What is forgotten however is how celebrities bring together different individuals, develop communities, encourage discussion and produce immortal images and film for future generations. Rather than discouraging a para-social interaction with a member of the mass media, we should instead encourage discussion about why we find comfort, excitement and understanding through an essentially unrelated body compared to our loved ones and family.

 

 

References:

Carroll, J 2010, ‘The Tragicomedy of Celebrity’, Society, 47, 6, pp. 489-492, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 April 2017.

Céline, G 2010, ”Our queen of hearts’ – the glorification of Lady Diana Spencer: a critical appraisal of the glorification of celebrities and new pilgrimage’, Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, Vol 22, Pp 71-86 (2010), p. 71, Directory of Open Access Journals, EBSCOhost, viewed 17 April 2017.

Holmes, S, & Redmond, S 2007, Stardom And Celebrity : A Reader, Los Angeles [i.e. Thousand Oaks], Calif: SAGE Publications Ltd, eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost, viewed 17 April 2017.

Parker, A, & Watson, N 2015, ‘Sport, Celebrity and Religion: Christianity, Morality and the Tebow Phenomenon’, Studies In World Christianity, 21, 3, pp. 223-238, Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 17 April 2017.

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