In this article we will examine why celebrities are so important to normal people from a scientific perspective – we will assume the role of analytical anthropologists and use basic sociobiology/evolutionary psychology to help us draw the map that leads to an explanation of the phenomenon.
First we will define the term celebrity as referring to a person with great popularity, one who by dint of their great talent and success becomes not only famous but the object of mass adoration or hero worship. Many different talents can lead one to fame and fortune but without doubt in our society success in the entertainment field broadly construed (including music, acting, sport, writing, etc., basically all those fields in which people derive pleasure from consuming the product of the talent) has got to be the surest way to attain celebrity status.
Now that we have defined the term “celebrity” we can directly move to the observable fact that celebrities are popular – that is, people love to be around them, to know them well, to count them amongst their friends. If you doubt this simple fact then ask yourself who you would rather have as a friend, the guy down the street who goes bowling and watches football when he is not working or Richard Gere? How about this one – would you rather hang out with your cousin Ernie the plumber or with Jennifer Lopez, hmmm, I thought so. This study on Chimpanzees might interest you – when chimps are tested they prefer looking at pictures of the most popular members in their troop to getting a tasty snack – these animals who share over 99% of our genetic material will give up a tasty snack to look at a picture of a celebrity chimp!
So what is it about us that makes us love celebrities and want to know more about them and be nearer to them? It is status, plain and simple. Status is a critically important survival property in social animals like humans. Status assures us our place in the ‘pecking order’ which determines when we eat, with whom we sleep and mate, as well as who we can relay upon for protection and friendship. In fact there is no complex feature amongst social animals more important then status. That is why people will fight and even kill almost without hesitation to retain and preserve their status.
Humans will work long and hard in order to raise their perceived status by purchasing, for example, a showy car or expensive clothing. Similarly, they will workout in a gym for hours each week even taking poisonous anabolic steroids just to raise their status by having a more muscular physique. We will also resort to deception by wearing fake or costume jewelery to elevate our status. Another great example is name-dropping – what is that if not a desperate cry for status. We will also do almost everything we can to gain the positive attention and affection of high-status members of the tribe. Being associated with celebrity raises our status and that is why we love celebrities.
Article first published as The Sociobiology of Hero Worship or Why We Love Celebrities on Technorati.