Thursday, September 22, 2011

Celebrity and What it Means for Us

I was at a conference when I worked in the mental health field where the presenter was talking about how people like celebrities because they are a substitute for friends. They went into much science that was above my head, but the gist of it was that friends develop partially because of familiarity. And in our modern world we are familiar with celebrities - even if we try not to be.

This has a couple of obvious problems.
1. These people are not your friends and when you need a friend they are not going to be there for you.
2. While you're obsessing over what Taylor Swift is wearing, and pretending she's your friend, you're missing opportunities to make real friends with real people in your real world.
3. You could be thinking about other things that might have more long-term impact in your life.

I was thinking I see this mainly in women, but then I realized how many men own shirts with their favorite team's logo on it. It's just that I notice it more in women, not because it's more prevalent.

Now, this is coming from someone who has developed ongoing relationships with people I know largely from online. And I maintain those online by and large, although I love it when we are in the same place and can interact face to face. The difference is that it's a two-way interaction. Reading Paris Hilton's tweets is not.

My true friends are people I know I can count on in multiple ways. The people who will drive you to the mechanic's, pick you up at the airport, bring you a generator during an ice storm, or show up when you have a crisis. There's a limit to what people who are not in your physical world can do. However, people you have an ongoing interaction with can add to your life in multiple ways.

As I watch so many people try to emulate celebrities I realize just how desperate we are as a society. There must be some part of the psyche that believes if we look and act like them they will notice us. Mimicry has been well-documented in multiple mammals as a way to connect, so it's not surprising, really. However, I find it really sad.

The question I keep asking myself is why I find it sad. What does it matter to me if people want to wear the same sunglasses as Scarlett Johansson? I'm still mulling that over, but I think it's because I believe people have so much more potential than that. They could accomplish something amazing if their energy weren't going into worrying what jeans to wear.

I think it's making us dumber. Really, I do. Obviously, we have some brilliant young minds, but I think we are losing some potential to "celebrity worship." There's nothing wrong with entertainment. There's nothing wrong with enjoying an escape. It's when daily life begins to be consumed with the trappings of that. We are all fascinated by creative thinkers, people who are doing something unusual, but there's a difference between wanting to hear how an actor prepares for a role and what kind of underwear he buys.

At the conference this week I learned a couple of stats that surprised me with regard to this. In the last decade, there has been a 70% decline in the number of students studying science, technology, engineering and math. In the last 10 years. That seems really big to me. Those were the "smart kids" where I went to school. Are we just making fewer smart kids? So it would seem. There are more honor students in China than there are students in the U.S. That is a matter of scale, of course. But, it's interesting nonetheless.

I'm sure there are many contributing factors in all of this, but I don't think worshiping the Kardashians makes us brighter in any way, shape or form.
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