I have spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over this one case of a celebrity’s child being hauled into jail for possession of drugs. Or something. From what I can tell, it is a pretty big deal. Not to me though – as much as it feels like it. I went to Instagram (which honestly seems like the only place I get my news from nowadays) and because of the way the algorithm works, in a few clicks, my entire feed was full of accounts either demanding the kid be released or proclaiming that its a great thing he’s been caught (serves that rich man right, am I right?). The week before that my feed was full of V’s dating scandal (V from BTS). So many opinions, so many takes…so many people caring about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and about people who don’t even know they exist.
Now, I’m not saying I’m not a gossip. I love celebrity gossip. I can discuss Khloé Kardashian’s breakups to death. I probably know a lot more about Addison Rae than I do about the latest climate change convention (and as you can see I have no qualms in showcasing the dumber side of my personality). But the thing I can’t figure out is, why? What do I have to do with these people? Why do I care? Anyway, you know me, I had to get into it. For whatever it is worth, here is what I think about it.
The Nature of Celebrity
So, if you’re between the ages of 18-25, and you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year and a half, you know who the D’Amelio sisters are – Charlie and Dixie. They’re TikTok royalty. Charlie, I think, is one of the most followed individual creators on the platform. They shot to fame doing, well, not much. Dancing, and having fun in front of a camera. You may like them, dislike them or even dismiss them entirely, but you can’t deny that they have caught the public’s fancy. For whatever reason. A byproduct of such intense fame is that there are a lot of people waiting to make money off of you. Cue the many, many brand deals and associations. Next up, an entire Hulu series capturing their lives a-la-reality TV format (you know, the kind of TV the Kardashians made profitable). The show itself is quite boring. It has already received a lot of criticism online. I can understand why. The show follows around a very normal family that never expected to get famous, never thought it was possible, and certainly does not know what to do with the fame now that they have it. I don’t quite agree with all the criticism the girls themselves receive. There are a lot of moments you can see their own self-doubt regarding their fame. They are, as they put it themselves, just kids who decided to dance on the internet. Do they really deserve all this fame? And this brings up my first point. The nature of fame, and by virtue of that, the nature of celebrity has changed.
It used to be that people would work for years, if not decades, honing a talent or a skill. You would practice singing, or you would attend acting school, or you would produce music, and after years of struggle and strife (less, if you were lucky) you would be recognised for your talent. So in effect, fame was a by product of something internal – your talent, your ability. Such fame then, to you, was secondary to what you were actually put on earth to do, and to the public, was well deserved.
This is not the case anymore. Or at least, not entirely. You can still get famous for any of these talents. But you can also get famous (extremely) while possessing no special ability. Like the D’Amelio sisters. And in the absence of such innate ability, you are bound to second guess your fame, the perks that come with it, and also (more often than not) be perceived to be undeserving of such fame. When you have nothing that sets you apart from the masses you are viewed as more ‘relatable’, and I think a side effect of that is that people tend to think they have more of a stake in your fame.
At least, this is what I feel. I like celebrity gossip, but there are levels to it. Gossip about ‘proper’ celebrities isn’t as exciting as gossip about ‘newer’ celebrities (TikTok stars, YouTubers, Instagram influencers) is. I think people feel some sense of ‘I told you so’ when the newer kids on the block mess up.
This is not to say that obsession with celebrities is a recent phenomenon. We have always been obsessed with people that are unattainable, people we perceive to be at the top of the social pyramid. Our ancestors were as obsessed with the movers and the shakers of their times as we are with the Addison Raes of our times. Maybe a little less. But that can be chalked down to access. Because of social media, we have unprecedented access to celebrities.
I’ve spoken quite a bit about social media and how it has had an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Here is another thing it has impacted. The ways in which celebrities interact with us. Before the advent of social media, we had access to only what the large media houses or tabloids put out into the public sphere. There was a bit more control over the kind of news that was being generated, and in turn, consumed. Now that that bit of control has gone out of the window, celebrities have to come down to our level and interact with us in the ways we interact with each other in order to stay relevant. I think about this a lot. The antics on Instagram and TikTok make sense if you’re starting out and trying to become famous (for the sake of being famous). But if I was already an established artist, would I hop onto the inane trends of dancing around meaninglessly to a 15 second audio clip to gain more relevance? I don’t think I would. I find it kind of sad honestly when celebrities who are famous for a certain trade / craft sink to this level of eyeball catching behaviour. Anyway, regardless of why they do it, they do it. And this means that we get more access to the people we consider to be on the top of the pyramid – and as we have already seen, there was never a time when we didn’t enjoy it.
The more we enjoy it, the more we consume it, and the more we are fed the same thing by the algorithms. Algorithms only care about getting you onto your screen and keeping you there (Social Dilemma anyone?). And if celebrity gossip is your juice then that is what you will get. Constantly. In fact, this false proximity to celebrities has given rise to an increase in the number of para-social relationships i.e, relationships characterised by a one-sided affair with your celebrity of choice. A strong example I can think of is the relationship many fandoms in the K-Pop industry have with their ‘idols’ (that is what pop stars are called there). The way some of us (myself included) delude ourselves into thinking we have a strong personal connection with these K-Pop stars is fascinating, sometimes even scary. If you don’t believe me try googling the term ‘Sasaeng’. You’ll see.
This behaviour on the part of the fans is cultivated by the production houses – in the ways they present the K-pop idols. These men and women do a lot more than just put put music – they have game shows, they have live telecasts (often from a homely and cozy environment to make you feel like you’re in that room with them) and a bunch of other things. They also have to remain single (at least as far as the public eye is concerned). Now isn’t this a recipe for developing a para-social relationship? Because they are marketed as ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’, it comes as no surprise to me that obsession with such celebrities goes beyond what is considered normal.
Are you more susceptible to this than others?
But not everyone is affected in the same way. Yes, all of us love to take our mind off our lives with a bit of harmless gossip now and then – and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. My issue is that each and every single thing celebrities do nowadays – all the mundane things about their lives that no one should care about – gets discussed with an unhealthy amount of fervour. And it turns out, these things are not interesting to all of us (makes sense). They start to mean a lot more, and do mean a lot more, to people who generally suffer from low self-esteem issues. It allows us to live a life vicariously, outside of our own lived experiences. This form of celebrity worship also starts to mean a lot more when we are going through major changes or periods of uncertainty in our lives.
No wonder this form of entertainment became the behemoth it did during the pandemic. Anyway, I’m going to get back to the debate on whether or not that celebrity’s kid deserves to be prosecuted. Talk soon.