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The greatest peril of modern society – Celebrity Culture

March 18, 2008

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 becks.jpg(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 ofmsnindia.jpg 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:raakee-sawant.jpg

“…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

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    March 18, 2008 8:16 am

    Nita,

    1. I don’t know at what time you posted this, but am surprised that by 8.15 a.m. there is not a single response. What else could ANYONE have to do that was more important than to come to the rescue of popular hinid film stars, fashion models and other assorted bags of shit?

    Vivek, I think you underestimate people’s intelligence! haha!😀 and overestimate the time they have on hand!🙂 – Nita.

  2. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    March 18, 2008 8:19 am

    OK, now that I’ve got into the first slot, I have many more things to say, but am busy. So later in the day, maybe. In my hurry to click “submit” I did not proofread, so I missed the typo in the name of a certain language which, in any case, is of no conequence. It is as disposable as the main topic of this post.

  3. March 18, 2008 8:25 am

    A nice topic to discuss. As you said the responsibility is largely with the parents to control this addiction to celebrity culture.
    1.Parents must watch and guide their children more in their teen age.
    2.They must guide them in a friendly manner in stead of imposing restrictions in a harsh way.
    3.They must find out whether they are in the right group of friends either in school/college or neighborhood friends.
    4.There is nothing wrong in giving pocket money but let them account how they spend it.
    5.Give them some responsibility in the day to day activities of the family

  4. March 18, 2008 10:09 am

    i wouldn’t call it the greatest peril … i would think that hunger and war are far greater perils…. but it is the greatest smoke screen…
    Media and audiences are so immersed in celeb culture that the rest of the world passes by without a concern…
    there was this story i was reading about environmental activists going on a hunger strike in Sikkim protesting against hydel projects. there is no sign of it in the media… and yet if kareena and saif have a tiff it is breaking news and headlines…
    a certain amount of news media responsibility is not out of order. Rakhi Sawant beating up her boyfriend on Valentine’s day and then patching up, may give a channel more viewership …. but is it news ?

  5. Ashwin permalink
    March 18, 2008 11:10 am

    Celebrity culture is more dangerous than Islamic fundamentalism?!

    I doubt this very much😉

  6. March 18, 2008 11:11 am

    Nita,

    I like this post very much.And these so-called celebrities are usually not as good as the real performers.For instance,I don’t think Beckham is as talented as Ronaldinho or Zidane when it comes to football.

    I agree with Harini.I think hunger and war are far greater perils than celebrity culture which is a great smoke screen.A smoke screen can blind one to the truth🙂

  7. Ashwin permalink
    March 18, 2008 11:14 am

    On a less literal note, much of the reason people look for celebrities with frailties rather than those with virtues is that people are “living through them” – most people will never have the popularity to get away with what these people get away with (i.e. the nonsense and farce of the Indian justice system that was the trial of Sanjay Dutt).

    Most of these people are pretty good themselves, but very few have the charisma to flaunt their breaking of society’s rules and get away with it (or be idolized for it).

  8. March 18, 2008 12:03 pm

    Well, I am glad someone hasn’t taken my heading literally!😀
    I can however still argue that celebrity is the greatest ‘modern’ peril as all the other things cited, like hunger, war and fundamentalism are as ancient as the hills! So you see I am still right!😀
    On another note, I have to say that I love the entertainment industry and I love films and I great admire all artistes and actors too, but I have never been much of a reader of gossip. No, I won’t deny that I don’t read gossip at all…I’m just saying that it is not all that I read.😉
    However what upsets me most about the celebrity culture is the way it’s affecting children and that is what prompted me to write this post. We adults can read about something avidly, like say Britney shaving off her hair (!) but we know exactly what to make of it…we dismiss it, ridicule it and ridicule ourselves for even getting attracted to that headline. But kids unfortunately cannot always get that balance. I don’t know what the solution to this is. We have ‘Adult’ films but more damaging that a sex scene or a violent scene is a writeup glorifying someone’s drug use.

    And hey, thanks all for commenting here.

  9. March 18, 2008 12:31 pm

    Ashwin, was thinking about what you said…here’s another reason why people love reading about the frailities…some sort of jealousy? The feeling that hey, these famous people are weak too and vulnerable just like us, and not superhuman! Also the feeling that they have all the fame and money but they are suffering…!

  10. March 18, 2008 1:14 pm

    I feel very sorry for most celebs. The only thing I envy them for (if I can permit myself to use such a verb) is their financial freedom. Otherwise, the rest is downhill all the way. Their financial freedom comes with restriction of movement and expression.

  11. March 18, 2008 4:03 pm

    hmm…i am not this celeb maniac type…that was i guess one of the reasons why i guess it took me sometime to get used to people of my age group..of course there is no harm in following someone on the field(in football,cricket etc)…but whats happened is what happened to our religion,the main virtue or truth is lost because of the masala…
    people have started to see others as “idols and ideals” and have started losing there confidence and self belief and aping in the thing…

    as for 15minutes of fame…i can’t stand a few shows…like roadies…they don’t know whos the president of india!
    and in another show someone was asked who was the first man on the moon and blank!

  12. Padmini permalink
    March 18, 2008 7:37 pm

    OldSailor has good points on the parent’s role. How much can a parent do without being too intrusive, literally to the point of policing and creating bad vibes? There is only so much that you can do to “control” this tsunami. I can see the effects of this culture on my 14 year old daughter who is quite obsessed with looking good and spends a lot of time on it. My hope is that this is a passing fad and that she will get over it sooner than later. I see my role as a facilitator to this process knowing fully well that she has to go through this stage and come out of it with a little help from us.

  13. March 18, 2008 8:02 pm

    Hi Padmini.🙂 It’s really great when you comment, as I think you are the only person on this blog whom I know personally. You stay far away and I really miss you, but this is a great way to keep in touch! Exchanging ideas! You have addressed your comment to Old Sailor, but let me intrude…🙂
    About your 14-year old it is indeed difficult because at that age they are in a rebellious stage. Actually I don’t think there is anything wrong in a girl (or boy) wanting to look good per se, and well, that’s very very important in American society. It is not possible for you to go against what will help her in that society…because she will not survive and thrive in that society otherwise. My only take on this is that as long as she knows the implications of it it’s fine…the superficiality of it I mean. As long as she realises that she will maintain the balance, and I think you can help her best by not disapproving but understanding.
    I know it’s easy to say as I live in India but I too have had to face some amount of rebelliousness from my teenager and hey, remember, we two were the rebellious ones too. So you know where the genes are coming from!😉

  14. March 18, 2008 8:05 pm

    Rdoc, that’s true, but at times I think these celebs to some extent enjoy the awful behavior of the papparazzi. Quite a few of the celebs would feel very depressed if they were not recognized and I think it’s some form of narcissism!

    Vishesh, always great to hear the views of a teenager! Thanks! Good to hear that you don’t imitate the behavior of the peer group.

  15. March 19, 2008 5:09 pm

    Actually people are are just curious about celebrities be it Actors, Sportsman or business tycoons.

    They sometimes just want to know “…That with over 65 billion in assets, what type of underwear must Mr. Gates be wearing, I mite not afford to buy it, But I am just curios….what he does with all this money and power” , thinks the roadside Pan wala.

    Sure, for some it’s just curiosity, for others it can be an unhealthy obsessions…where to draw the line is the question – Nita.

  16. March 19, 2008 9:43 pm

    Right Nita, many people just follow the fashion…like white cargo’s with white shoes and bling…like on rappers, and many people follow there life style of drugs, easy money etc….its just that who ends up where…

  17. Ravi permalink
    March 20, 2008 5:07 am

    Well I m not surprised to see the comments targeting celebrities. And those are exactly the way I expected after reading the introduction of this post. I would like to tell all the ‘worried’ people to stop worrying and do not freak out on your kids. I don’t think cricketers are role models anymore because they all sold out for millions of rupees and you can’t just tell your kids to sell him/her self for money like our cricketing heroes did. so cricketers are out and who else would YOU people suggest or recommend your kids as role models to worship. Nobody come up with any celebrity so far but guess what you don’t actually know whom you could suggest🙂

    Let me list out some and I m not afraid to suggest people like Ambani, Lakshmi Mittal, Ratan Tata…..wait wai wai…I m just kidding. If somebody especially a teenager choses any from the above list as their role model…..I will say….. Hey kid! Do you have an army…No? Go and get one…..BECAUSE YOU ARE WEIRD AND NEED HELP.

    Most of the teenagers admire Daniel Radcliff , Hayden Panettiere, Miley Cyrus….. they are talented, popular, beautiful importantly they earns millions of dollars a year. What else could anyone expect from a teen celebrity? Britney and paris are messed up and they must be put in rehab for ever and even if kids chose them as their role models they can only think of the brands paris/britney endorses. I don’t think teens will be interested in how many kids britney had and whats the runtime of paris hiton’s sex tape and things like that. I agree they are terribly dumb but they are not endorsing segregation by any means. They are dumb but teenagers are not dumb, at some point they will realize the need to change their idol who ‘deserves’ their admiration. Whats wrong if a teenager sports white shoes and his ipod lists songs of genre gangsta rap? They are not gonna go out and engage in a school shoot out by just listening to ’em and here comes the parents role and all they need to do is to show them that they are their priority and anything else comes later.

    Teens are not dumb, in a survey by VH1 most of the teens didn’t liked paris hilton eloping in her car while chased by cops in Los Angles.

    Nita
    I have to disagree with your opinion on celebrities and their influence on teens. Please see the positive side of them. Look at the celebs and their lifestyle some of them might be regulars to rehab centers but celebrities are legendary figures. Politicians, sport stars and business personalities can be corrupt and get attention for doing something extraordinarily stupid but celebrities get attention just for being themselves.

    Nobody cares if you or I sport a different style but they does if a celebrity wears an ear ring, white shoe or bling. I don’t see anything wrong is spending some time to look good or to add some vibe to their lifestyle. Its cool to see people around who got some fashion sense. But if SRK or Dhoni does something like that then the response is a BIG NO!

  18. March 20, 2008 7:47 am

    Actually Ravi you may disagree with me but I don’t think I disagree with you!🙂 In fact it’s the unhealthy interest in celebrities that I was cautioning against, but everything you have written suggests moderation in worship of celebrities. And ofcourse teens are not dumb, frankly I think they are more intelligent than adults The brains of adults start to deteriorate by about 25 I think!🙂
    However teens do need guidance and need to be exposed to ‘heroes’ and I mean historical figures for example. They need to be exposed to books etc…what I am saying is that you cannot leave a teen to fend for himself on his own.
    If you think I am advocating strictness, no that’s not the case because I believe in freedom for teens (that’s how I have brought up my own) but they need to be exposed to choices! If a teen’s whole world is TV then I would feel sorry for the kid. Such a kid could well want to become paris hilton!
    Parents need to lead by example by living by strong values of hard work and leading a lifestyle devoid of drugs etc..

  19. Ishq permalink
    March 22, 2008 9:07 pm

    At least in India celebrities like cricketers and Bollywood stars earn their stripes to become stars. The masses worship them like Gods.

    In the west, any talentless idiot can appear on reality TV or get spotted dating a famous person, and become a star or something. It’s pathetic, because you have youngsters aspiring to be like that, instead of wanting more out of life. They think celebrity is an actual job title!

    Ish, true what you said. when I watch american idol I feel really sad for those talentless people who feel thrilled because people are now recognizing them! But slowly we too will move in that direction if the increasing amount of reality shows are anything to go by!
    thanks for your comment Ish. In fact recently I put you on my surfer and read your post on movie quirks. Did want to comment but right now the minute I go on the laptop my family starts complaining because we are now on holiday. But you will see me there sometime next week!🙂 Hope your exams went off well! – Nita

  20. January 31, 2009 10:10 pm

    can we just stop arguing about celebrity culture.it is fundamental of human right to choose what is right and what is wrong.we have no power to prohibit them.as long as it is not againts the law or unacceptable standard of conduct.just look at ourself first,are we good enough to advice people???no we not.

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