The greatest peril of modern society – Celebrity Culture
Celebrity culture has spread its tentacles in urban India. And what’s worrying is that we aren’t worried. In western countries people have started sounding alarm bells. A recent report in the UK press about the findings of a small survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey said:
An unhealthy obsession with celebrity culture is damaging the academic success of British students, a survey of teachers found on Friday…with celebrity couple the Beckhams the favorite inspiration… Many students are ignoring career aspirations to pursue the chance of fame instead… Almost two-thirds of teachers said sports stars were the type of celebrity most pupils wanted to emulate while more than half of students wanted to be pop stars…. Almost half of the 300 teachers polled said pupils tried to look like and/or behave like celebrities they most admired…celebrity culture can perpetuate the notion that celebrity status is the greatest achievement and reinforces the belief that other career options are not valuable.
Celebrity culture and India
The obvious manifestation of the spread of celebrity culture is in the proliferation of tabloids as well as the glossies which accompany all major newspapers. Why, certain ‘respected’ newspapers themselves have fallen victim, and report the doings of the celebrities on their front pages. TV channels too air news about the trivial activities of celebrities, whether it’s Shah Rukh’s birthday party or Dhoni’s latest hairstyle. O.K. fine, at least these people have achieved something in life…but is it necessary to know all the details of their life? In any case, not all of those talked about are achievers. But it doesn’t matter, for the media has a voracious appetite and will gladly write about the doings of virtual unknowns, whether the person is a reality show participant or an upcoming starlet. So many channels running 24 hours a day and so many tabloids…how much real stuff can they find to write about? The amount of stuff you will find written about them in the newspapers by far outweighs their achievements.
The difference between fame and celebrity
A celebrity has been called:
“…a person who is well-known for his well-knownness ‘(Daniel Boorstin in his book The Image: Or What Happened to the American Dream)
and it’s been said that:
“In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” (Andy Warhol)
Fifteen minutes of fame is better than no fame at all – at least that’s what hundreds of aspiring hopefuls who throng reality TV shows and minor players in the entertainment industry who hire publicists to get their name in the paper seem to feel. It’s a high – to be recognized.
Another quote from the same article:
…one can become a celebrity with scarcely any pretense to talent or achievement whatsoever…. The ultimate celebrity of our time may have been John F. Kennedy Jr., notable only for being his parents’ very handsome son–both his birth and good looks factors beyond his control–and, alas, known for nothing else whatsoever now, except for the sad, dying-young-Adonis end to his life.
Notoriety is fuel for celebrities
No news is considered bad news. That’s probably why even sensational doings of certain people in the entertainment industry (most likely unethical, illegal or plain bizarre) are often reported widely. Whether it’s a driving demeanor or drug use or an adulterous affair…it doesn’t matter, notoriety adds to celebrity status.
It doesn’t seem to damage the image either. Example: The career of Kate Moss who was “embroiled in a drugs story” is doing just great.
The Wikipedia explains:
…that the public, instead of seeking virtues or talents in celebrities seek those who are the most willing to break ethical boundaries, or those who are most aggressive in self-promotion.
How celebrity culture rose to its present heights
An interesting analysis of how the celebrity culture rose in America is given here (article by Amy Henderson.) She explains that the celebrity culture grew as our media grew…it started with the advent of radio, then the broadcasting media…and the spread of magazines and newspapers. She also adds another aspect (deeper) for the malaise – the rise of individualism and the coming of age of a consumer society.
Star personality-celebrities fueled this energetic commercial culture, and in fact became that culture’s icons, packaged and promoted by tangential industries that grew up around the entertainment industry…it was a shift away from a hero-oriented stance to an embrace of celebrity…
But if sociologists think that the celebrity culture is harming the young, producing youth that:
…believes education and hard work are not important in achieving success…
What is the solution?
Well, the backlash against the ill effects of celebrity culture still seems mild, even in the west where celebrity culture is well entrenched. Yes, people in the west do speak out against this culture and some have even called for a ban on certain talent shows…but I don’t think anything will happen or should happen.
For one thing, clamping down on the media or the entertainment industry in this way is censorship and curtailment of freedom. That never did any good. The consumerist society is here to stay and so is individualism and I am not even sure that it’s bad. Some of the things it has spawned are bad and they need to be handled, not banned.
I believe the responsibility will fall on parents.
If one talks to one’s grandparents they will tell you that no one actually ‘brought them up’ – they did it on their own to a large extent. The families were large joint families and the society itself was relatively safe. The elders in the family, the teachers, and the simple values manifested in society all taught children valuable lessons. There was time to play games, read books and children modeled themselves on heroic figures, not paper celebrities.
Modern society is a jungle. Children left to learn things on their own or even left to develop at their own pace can get into trouble. In those days the peril was from an over-strict upbringing that could stifle a child’s personality…and today the peril is from too much freedom. Modern life demands that parenting should be taken more seriously than ever, but strangely, the very opposite seems to be happening. We are leaving our children at the mercy of the media and the mercy of society. The media has become the teacher. And at one time societal values were fine, but today they aren’t…
(The photo of Dhoni is from msn.india and the others from google images.)
Related Reading: The downside of participating in Reality Shows