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Celebrity fixation is just another addiction

CelebrityMost of us have become enraptured with a famous person at one time or another. If it’s because we respect their talent and enjoy their artistry, that’s healthy admiration. But if our obsession with the star is a form of escape, a way to numb ourselves, a vehicle to distract us from the pain and regret we feel about our own lives, then we are “using” the celebrity as a drug, write Jane Velez-Mitchell and Sandra Mohr.

10 April 2011

Disposable culture has created disposable celebrities

We don’t fix appliances anymore. We throw them out and get new ones. The same holds true for our celebrities. We’re churning out disposable plasti-fame that’s cheapening our culture. Reality TV is Exhibit A, granting attractive, quirky, hot-tempered, or even unstable people stardom for simply showing up on TV as themselves, with some careful behind-the-scenes glamorizing and staging of course.

The Real Housewives phenomenon has become an instant-celebrity factory. For every genuine star produced by American Idol, we create a subset of mocked pseudostars whose primary purpose seems to be to get their names on everyone’s lips even at the price of intense humiliation.

Whatever did happen to Sanjaya Malakar, one of the finalists on Idol’s Season 6, whose excruciating performances and wild hairdos created a firestorm of debate? Incensed that Sanjaya had not been eliminated, one female viewer went on camera and announced, “As a result of this I am going on a hunger strike. I am doing this because I believe that other talented contestants, who deserve a chance to win, are being eliminated because there are other people that think it would be funny to try and sabotage American Idol by voting for a lesser contestant.”

Her hunger-strike announcement garnered hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.

Gandhi went on hunger strikes to protest British rule in India. Suffragettes endured hunger strikes in their fight for women’s right to vote. And, in early twenty-first-century America, we have devolved to holding a hunger strike to protest a contestant on American Idol.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not humorless. I do find Jersey Shore’s Snooki and The Situation good for a chuckle. But where is our addiction to junk celebrity leading us as a culture?

It’s leading us to what I call the Tila Tequila syndrome. Now you don’t even need to audition for American Idol to become a celebrity.

All you need to do is become a Twitter addict like Tila Tequila, whose incessant tweeting and wildly provocative, hypersexualized self-promotion garnered her millions of followers, crowned her the person with the most “friends” on in 2006, and landed her as number eight on Forbes’s Web Celeb 25 list, which purports to track “the biggest and brightest stars on the internet, the people who have turned their passions into new media empires.”

Her “empire building” included hosting a TV show where contestants stripped, hosting a bisexual reality dating show, writing a selfhelp book, producing songs and videos like “I Fucked the DJ” and “I Love U,” where the phrase “I love you” is repeated over and over again to images of a very sexy Tila wielding a riding crop.

She also won Spike TV’s annual Guys’ Choice Award for “So Hot They’re Famous” as well as Bravo’s A-List Award for “A-List Drama Queen.”

You’ve got to hand it to Tila, considering she came out of nowhere in 2002 after being named’s “Cyber Girl of slightly demented genius for self-glorification. I actually have a perverse admiration for Tila and her ability to pull herself up by her Gstring.

It’s her fans that I wonder and worry about. Why are so many people getting drunk on Tila Tequila?

The more available an addictive substance becomes, the easier it is to get hooked. As fast-food outlets and drive-thrus became ubiquitous, the number of food addicts skyrocketed in the United States.

As prescription medications pervaded the culture, the number of pill heads soared. Similarly, as “celebrities” proliferate, accessible to us anytime via television or the iinternet, the number of Americans obsessed with them is snowballing.

Addictions occur when our natural instincts go awry and betray us

Our natural instincts betray us when we fixate on someone who symbolizes something that is lacking in ourselves, be it beauty, fame, charisma, genius, or even something like sobriety. When I was a practicing drunk, with an out-of-control personal life, I developed a crush on someone who was sober and who lived a life of relative simplicity.

I thought I desired that person as a lover, but I was subconsciously eroticizing my desire for the qualities and strength of character that individual possessed. Once I got sober and developed those same qualities myself, the crush evaporated. I had finally figured out how to personally embrace and express those same traits, so that the “other” person ceased to appear mystical and magical to me.

But when the object of one’s obsession is famous, it’s generally impossible to develop the unique qualities that made that person a star.

It’s a short leap from desiring to acquire the qualities someone else has to . . . desiring them, to stalking them. Remember that classic eighties’ Calvin Klein fragrance ad? Between love and madness lies Obsession. How true is that?

We live through our shining star

The celebrity with whom we identify becomes our avatar in the rarified world occupied by the famous, allowing us to vicariously navigate it. We want to be that living, breathing model of success and drink in the adulation. Our imaginations exploit it to the max.

In our subconscious there’s a moment where we merge. That experience of feeling like the star ourselves causes a pleasure rush. Suddenly, the wiring gets crossed and—for a moment—we’re supercharged. We are on stage, we’re getting the wild applause, we’re swamped by the paparazzi, and we are hustled along the red carpet past the nameless, faceless people whose pathetic club we desperately seek to escape. That’s the addictive hit!

Addiction always gets down to motive

The big question is: Why are we so interested in the celebrity? What’s our motive? If it’s because we respect their talent and enjoy their artistry, that’s what I would consider healthy admiration. But if our obsession with the star is a form of escape, a way to numb ourselves, a vehicle to distract us from the pain and regret we feel about our own lives, then we are “using” the celebrity as a drug.

And when we do that too often, we become addicted to the escape of focusing on their lives and not our own. Flipping though the gossip magazines while getting your nails done is one thing, but if you’re fretting over Angelina Jolie’s relationship with Brad Pitt, you’ve become a bit player in your own fantasy life.

But what about ME?

Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, and other social-networking sites have “tuned in” to our desire to be famous. I often hear people validate themselves, their projects, and even rate their prospective romantic partners according to how many times they pop up on the Internet. In fact, if someone doesn’t turn up on a Google search, they’re often regarded with suspicion. Are they a fraud? It’s as if the person doesn’t exist.

We all know people who are hooked on self-promotion—constantly updating their “followers” and “friends” about every new development in their lives. Each clever tweet and video they post delivers a brief rush of adrenaline as the blogger presses send, and the possibility of finally becoming recognized for a special talent or unique contribution to the world is launched into cyberspace.

False idols

Like all addiction, our fixation on celebrity is the result of spiritual bankruptcy. We are trying to fill a void within ourselves by either puffing ourselves up into something we’re not or becoming obsessed with someone we consider above us.

Ironically, this is a perversion of a desire for enlightenment and spiritual fulfillment. When we are emotionally sober, we can revere “something greater than ourselves” in a number of healthy ways. Some might want to pray to their concept of God. Others may want to focus on their reverence for nature. Still others may aspire to learn from the life experiences of truly evolved individuals, like Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr.

If we can take away one lesson from our culture’s fixation on celebrity, it’s that nobody is the center of the universe. A culture that puts some people on a pedestal is also telling other people that they don’t count.

We’re all interconnected parts of a larger mosaic. Therefore, we should strive to treat everyone with the kindness and deference we now reserve for so-called VIPs.

As for becoming famous ourselves, when we humbly listen to our higher power, we will hear our true calling. That will lead us to do what we’re really meant to do on this planet, whether it makes us famous . . . or not.

AddictNationJane Velez-Mitchell is a television journalist and author. She currently has her own show on HLN, Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell. She is often seen commenting on high-profile cases for CNN, TruTV, E! and other national cable TV shows. Jane frequently guest hosts for Nancy Grace on her Headline News show. She reported for the nationally syndicated Warner Brothers/Telepictures show Celebrity Justice. Jane authored the non-fiction book, Secrets Can Be Murder: The Killer Next Door, which delves into the secrets unearthed in more than 20 of the most widely covered murder cases of recent times, and in September 2009, she released her memoir on addiction recovery titled iWant: My Journey from Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life, which became a New York Times Best Seller.

Sandra Mohr is a director and editor in Los Angeles and recently released the feature documentary Stock Shock-The Short Selling of the American Dream. She co-founded the media site which provides free stock video of animals to the press and public, and edited the documentary Behind the Mask about people who are imprisoned for helping animals. Behind the Mask received several awards including “Best Documentary Feature” at the Independent Features Film Festival and The Other Venice Film Festival. In addition to shooting and editing hundreds of videos to help animals, her company Mohr Productions, Inc produces programming and commercials for television, film, and the internet

This is an edited extract from Addict Nation: An Intervention from America by Jane Velez-Mitchell and Sandra Mohr. Published by Health Communications Inc. Reproduced here with publisher’s permission. More information about the book can be found at Addict Nation.

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