Out on a Limb: Celebrity Worship

From the Housatonic Times (New Milford, CT):

….That has led me to contemplate once again why we invest so much importance in people we do not know, but who have certain high-profile jobs: actors, singers, athletes, even people with no discernible talent other than for just being a celebrity. We imbue them with a mystic aura that sets them apart from mere mortals, and, if we are very young or particularly susceptible, we may project on them a glamour and excitement that probably does not exist in their everyday lives any more than it does in ours.

So why do we do this? What is lacking in our own psyches that makes us look to others for a sense of fulfillment? There are several interesting theories, one of which has been put forward by Dr. Frank McAndrew, professor of social applied psychology at Knox College, who says our interest in gossip and celebrities may be a byproduct of our evolutionary past.

He theorizes that natural selection pressured our forebears to learn as much as possible about the people in their social network—be they authority figures, potential mates, teachers, political allies or enemies. Knowing about group members helped people in negotiating the tricky social landscape of small, mutually dependent societies.

He also contends that gossiping helps to develop interpersonal bonds by demonstrating a willingness to share information and that because celebrities’ images and voices are constantly before us on television, radio and in magazines, they are perceived as being part of an extended social network.