The Celebrity Culture Sociology Essay

The celebrity culture continues to be elevated significantly. The culture, which according to Marshall (2006) involves the elevation of personalities into the public limelight, has become deeply entrenched in societies, which is partly so due to the role played by it in the mass media. In the past, avenues such as TV and radio stations were the most popular channels. However, in the present times, technology has opened its doors for the use of social media to propagate the culture in various ways. The current paper explores para-social interaction, celebrity status and political power, van Krieken’s celebrity society, new social media, celebrities, as well as religion and celebrities.

Para-Social Interaction

Among the most notable features of the new mass media is the face-to-face illusion created by the performing artists. The circumstances of responses to the celebrities are comparable to those across primary groups (Donald, & Wohl 2006). Thus, viewers perceive the illustrious artists as if they are within the same sphere. Hence, the para-social relationship is defined by the personal association that the new mass media creates. For example, if looking at television shows, the image that is presented relies on appearance and gesture nuances which capture attention of ordinary social imaginations. In the above mentioned instances, actors often face spectators and employ directness in addressing or talking. The approach influences the latter into thinking that they are directly engaged, at a personal level. On its part, the audience responds by actively participating in the shows through subtle insinuations. The process goes on, as performers alter their behaviours to suit their audiences, and vice versa. The conversational simulacrum, involving ‘give and take’, constitutes para-social interaction (Donald, & Wohl 2006). Such interactions are not subject to sense, effort and responsibility governance on the audience. Spectators are free to withdraw from engagement any moment. However, if the involvement continues, the relationship provides a framework for adding some fantasy. Differences are encountered based on experiences which often demonstrate the lack of reciprocity, although the audience can do nothing about the concern. The audience is also at a disadvantage because it can only withdraw from engagements, if unsatisfied.

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In the present times, programs full of celebrity rumors keep increasing. In such shows, petty issues form the agenda for discussion. Surprisingly, large numbers of people are addicted to following the programs for entertainment or to catch up on fashion trends. In this regard, the social relationship conveys a message that largely centers on challenging social norms. Thus, individuals who feel that the time has come to escape from the confines of routine are more likely to find the shows attractive.

In the case of radio and TV, the persona reflects archetypal indigenous individual of the scene that the media presents (Donald, & Wohl 2006). Besides attempting to portray the character as familiar and intimate, pervasiveness and closeness are also thoroughly put into consideration. Surprisingly, such personae claim they have intimacy with crowds, comprising of strangers. Hence, the intimacy is an imitation that is aimed at satisfying the protracted goals. Nevertheless, the high number of recipients seems happy about the association. The fact that the members who form the audience are invited using some informal channels show that celebrities are interested in ‘deceiving’ them into believing that they are relating at a personal level. Thus, through the creation and enhancement of fantasy, celebrities are in a position to generate many followers who ensure that the culture is sustained.

The intimacy bond is integral for the development of a personal relationship between the celebrity and audience (Donald, & Wohl 2006). The bottom-line lies in the creation of an intimacy illusion, since the relationship between the two parties is definitely one-sided. In creating the illusionary image, the persona duplicates gestures and conversational styles that are visible only in face-to-face encounters. The trend accounts for the high level of casualness that invitations of concerts take. The idea is to create an impression among fans that they are engaged personally. Similarly, spectators maintain small talks that demonstrate that indeed the connection is individual-based.

Celebrity Status & Political Power

Both social and political fields keep changing with time. In the present times, celebrities are using their popularity or elevated images to influence public opinion. Given the high level of fame that such personalities enjoy, their public utterances on various issues normally alter the way the public assesses matters proposed or supported by politicians (Merkel 2013). It is apparent that celebrities have the public attention. Hence, when they raise objections to matters affecting the people, chances of swaying opinions increase significantly. Despite the growing influence of celebrities, it is arguable that their power does not match that of politicians in shaping public opinion on governance issues. On the contrary, celebrities seem to hold more power regarding social matters, such as fashion. Nevertheless, their role in politics continues to rise. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most notable celebrities who have managed to take their influence from the celebrity status to public office.

The need for information is central towards the decision whether celebrities should play a role in politics. Given that information is useful in decision-making, the public needs its possession to arrive at sound choices. However, not all the individuals are equally informed. As a result, such persons are likely to make poorly deliberated decisions and celebrities emerge and influence them. However, such occurrences always happen, given the fact that high levels of apathy continue to affect many democracies. The implication is that the influence from celebrities on politics is growing in stature, although it might not inform audiences on what is right. In practice, celebrity figures are more likely to support their friends, instead of important issues or principles. However, in cases where celebrities base their support for issues on principle, they are likely to have a significant influence on politics. Another concern is that celebrity influence might deny a common person of a chance to assess issues being addressed by blindly taking the position being supported by the popular stars (Merkel 2013). Taking into consideration that a big percentage of people do not follow political debates, they are highly likely to take similar positions of those taken by celebrity figures.

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The connection between celebrities and politics lies on the former’s ability to provoke both positive and negative reactions on social and political matters. However, sometimes they exploit their statuses to access certain provisions or privileges, as well as support from political figures in a bid to further their personal political activism.

According to Merkel (2013), celebrity power is viewed in terms of the possessions of popular personalities that allow them to form social capital that they use when engaging the public. Owing to the power that celebrities have, they are able to publically tangle in hegemonic negotiations and struggles. Celebrities are constructions that are maintained through a combination of industry promotional activities and subordinates, such as people. In the absence of the two categories, celebrities cannot exist. The author proposes the need to investigate how celebrities influence audiences in creating meaning and understanding issues under discussion. In his observations Merkel (2013) claims that through their social status, politicians have found that star personalities are useful in creating a certain image on voters. The development explains the preference for such figures in political campaigns and other political activities.

Van Krieken’s Celebrity Society

Van Krieken (2012) has explored the celebrity society. According to van Krieken (2012), celebrity figures attract wide attention from the media (films, internet, books, magazines and television). The above author observes that the emergency of modernity is central to the rise of a new crop of star figures who are dominating social life. van Krieken (2012) also demonstrates that, as a culture, celebritism is beyond the Hollywood activities, given that it is a long-running historical process that started with art, theatre and print press.
By looking outside the precincts of the existing accounts of the celebrity culture, van Krieken (2012) focused on the constantly changing social structures and practices. Further, van Krieken (2012) assesses moral grammar, political economy, legal order, and the construction of self-identity based on attention, recognition and distribution of visibility. The author explains that the contemporary celebrity culture is a product of the court society which emerged after the democratization of a number of functions that were carried out by the aristocracy/ruling class. Similarly, van Krieken (2012) observes that the ‘economics of attention’ has risen to play a significant role in the development of the celebrity society. Attention is proving to be critical and valuable in the current information/digital age.

In the court society, social associations are structured on the lines of the princely or royal system that was dominant across Europe in the Middle Ages. The court society presented a form of social organization that placed some individuals on top of others. The emergency of alternative leadership to aristocracy placed an emphasis on hard work, rather than ascription. Despite all the attempts to bring rationality to social life, bourgeois which was the alternative leadership failed to accomplish the mission, as anticipated, given some form of irrationality remained as reflected in celebrity worship.

With the advancement in information technology and the development in social media, a show-off culture has developed among people all over the world. In particular, the young generations have sunk into the habit of sharing their new possessions on platforms, such as Instagram. Star figures, on such avenues, enjoy massive following. As a result, it is easy to find celebrities positing their activities and items on the sites from time to time. Through acts of this nature, the culture of consumerism is supported and taken to a new level.

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Van Krieken (2012) argued that although the concept of culture has its virtues, it lacks adeptness unless given a particular and an unusual definition. The author cites the inability to capture aspects that go beyond values, attitudes, behavior, ways of life, and cognitive orientations in order to understand economic, social and political structures and institutional bases of experience, such as what emanates from the celebrity customs. Reasoning alongside celebrity lines tends to demonstrate that a given obsession about a select class of people in the society. Although acknowledging that celebrity is a politically institutionalized phenomenon, van Krieken (2012) argued that social structuring is also critical towards understanding the assigning, distribution and organization of the status. In essence, van Krieken (2012) sees the celebrity culture as an institutionalized social life.

New Social Media and Celebrities

Without a doubt, social media has emerged as a leading contributor to the glorification of the celebrity culture. The media uses its ability to set and dictate agendas to thrust celebrities into the public domain. As a result, it is not surprising that social media has radically brought the culture into focus. Despite a number of issues taking place at a time, stories on tabloids and magazines gravitate on celebrity life, as observed by North, Bland & Ellis (2005). It is fascinating that instead of concentrating on issues affecting tangible issues, media outlets are attentive to the celebrity syndrome. However, celebrity coverage remains trivial, and it also lacks in substance. For example, informing society about the clothes that a musician adorns amounts to pure trivia.

In the present times, the celebrity culture has become tied to the new social media. The relationship between the two parties is mutually beneficial and, sometimes, destructive. The celebrity culture is profoundly entrenched in the media, such that in the absence of the latter, the former ceases to exist. By running constant updates about celebrity persons, the media attracts many followers. In the current times, having a big numbers of flowers enhances the ability of an entity to secure sales and marketing contracts. As a result, a lot of followers are beneficial both to celebrities and social media, as the relationship between the parties helps in to generate revenue. Apart from benefits, such as those listed above, some downsides are witnessed as well. In particular, the media always keeps a close check on celebrity figures, such that the individuals in question lack the freedom to go about their daily lives without scrutiny. Moreover, the media seems to be more focused on negative stories than productive ones. The media does not worry about criticism, so longer is generates viewer or visitor traffic.

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Although almost all celebrities can thank the media for the role it plays in elevating them into stardom, such personalities can also raise their concerns about the role of such avenues in bringing them down. Figures, such as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, are examples of the role of both the media in undermining artists. Taking Spears as an example, she was labeled a sensational figure but once her career nosedived, the same media began tearing her apart. In practice, it is commonly remarked that, “no publicity is bad publicity”. However, negative publicity is only productive if the star in question is viewed as a product. Thus, social media will carry stories to generate traffic on their sites. By sensationalizing stories, the media is able to create content and attract visitors with the intention of elevating its position as a largely visited site. The overall aim is to convince marketers that such a platform is the best tool to reach a high number of existing and potential customers. Such a culture perpetuates commercial imperialism because social media outlets do not pay attention to the feelings of the celebrities. On the contrary, generation of revenue is what matters for the media platforms. It appears that at the personal level, the relationship between the media and celebrities is not necessarily positive, although the association between the two in a commercial sense is largely satisfactorily.

Religion and Celebrity

The relationship between religion and celebrity culture emerges based on a number of observations. Citing Emily Durkheim, Marshall (2006) observed that religion’s power to unite a community was influential because it provided what he termed as collective effervescence (state of excitement). However, the role of religion dwindles as morality centered on individualism advances. The equilibrium principle sets into operation to counterbalance the changes in order to ensure stability when the place of religion comes under threat in societies. Accordingly, it is a rational development that a decline in the influence of religion results in a new development that is based on celebrity worship. As it was mentioned above, religion generates an effervescence feeling in people. Thus, in the face religion’s declining power, star performers in various fields rise to fill the void left.

Academic studies have shown that celebrity culture is assuming the place of religion. Arguing based on research, Arnould and Thompson (2005) found that the DNA structuring of human beings predisposed them to be social beings. As pointed earlier, religion’s primary role is to provide leadership, an aspect that coincides with the human nature of following. Based on the above account, following star performers is a natural process for people, since celebrities are individuals who have excelled in different spheres of life. In the eyes of the audiences/followers, the artists who scale high levels of success in life are worthy emulating. This is the case because they are viewed as role models. Hence, it is arguable that celebrity worship is similar to religion because the two play the same function of providing leadership about life.

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Ideally, religion should provide leadership regarding what individuals are expected to do (McCutcheon, Scott, Arugate and Parker 2006). Conventionally, religion shaped people’s lives, given that it provided values and norms for people to abide by. Celebrity figures have also taken the role, since a big percentage of their followers focus on matching their lives. Thus, it is arguable that celebrity worship equates to religion.

McCutcheon, Scott, Arugate and Parker (2006) observed that historically, societies always collected in crowds to follow those viewed as capable of leadership. As a result, celebrity worship has existed from ancient times, just as religion did. However, nowadays, the media has blown the issue out of proportion. Regardless of such variations, it is apparent that the culture of celebrity worship competes with that of religion, given that both attempt to provide guidelines on leading life.

Evolutionary biology is also among the fields that assist in demonstrating the connection between celebrity culture and religion. Referring to evolutionary biology, McCutcheon, Scott, Arugate and Parker (2006) observed that human beings always aspire to emulate people who do excel in a given fields. Such a trend was present even during prehistoric times, as individuals who outperformed others earned respect. For instance, successful hunters were viewed as heroes. However, following the end of the significance of such practice, their prowess lost value. In the current times, people count on top performers whom they rank as role models. Fundamentally, its performance is a major factor in evaluating the contribution of people. In conclusion, it is held that religion and celebrity culture have many similarities, although the latter seems to be on an upward trend while the former is on a decline.