The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.
I have no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous.
Not all celebrities are dunces.
I hate celebrities. I really hate them.
Billie Joe Armstrong
I can’t stand the gossip of celebrities’ lives, all the time! Every minute!
I don’t like celebrities; I don’t hang out with them; I don’t relate to that life.
Look at the way celebrities and politicians are using Facebook already. When Ashton Kutcher posts a video, he gets hundreds of pieces of feedback. Maybe he doesn’t have time to read them all or respond to them all, but he’s getting good feedback and getting a good sense of how people are thinking about that and maybe can respond to some of it.
Gossip About Vips and Celebrities. The psychological aspect.
By nature, humans are chatterers, says psychologist Robin Dunbar. He suggests that gossip is the human version of social grooming-a behavior common among other social primates in which one ape or monkey strokes the fur and picks fleas and ticks from the coat of another ape or monkey to strengthen group ties. Like social grooming, which helps other primates form alliances based on codependence, gossip helps humans develop trusting relationships and foster social bonds.
Without that instinct to share the latest on a friend, peer or family member, there would be no sophisticated society, Dunbar claims, suggesting that societies depend on the individual’s ability to rely on others and understand something of the workings of another’s mind.
About 65 percent of people’s discussions involve gossip—often to entertain or help strengthen group ties. One might think celebrity worship is a modern phenomenon, but from the gods on Olympus in ancient Greece to the bobby-soxers swooning over Frank Sinatra in the late 1930s and ’40s to Brad and Angelina today, adulation of the stars is an age-old pursuit, psychologists say.
The public’s fascination with celebrities “may seem new because we are such a media-immersed society, but it’s really not,” said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor at the Journal of Media Psychology and emeritus professor of media psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. When the composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt performed in the 19th century, women threw their underwear at them. And 80 years after the death of silent-film star Rudolph Valentino, fans continue to visit his grave, Fischoff noted.
Celebrities tap into the public’s primal fantasies and basic emotions, lifting people from their everyday lives and making them believe anything is possible, said Dr. John Lucas, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College and an assistant attending psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
Humans at the core are social beings, and research has shown that the less connected people feel, the more they turn to celebrities, said Adam Galinsky, an expert in ethics and social psychology and a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “It’s a very adaptive and functional behavior.” Lucas added, however, that while worshipping the rich and famous is harmless in itself, it could be perceived as symptomatic of a rootless culture in which many people feel a sense of isolation.
“What we know of celebrities through People magazine and other media sources fills a gaping and painful void in our lives,” Lucas said. The dwindling influence of religion adds to that sense of yearning in people, he added, making the stars’ exploits and eccentricities, their loves and losses, more than a form of entertainment.
“Religion is faltering, and in the process people are grappling with infantile wishes, with magical thinking,” he said.
Social instinct, suggests research by Frank McAndrew, PhD, an applied social psychology professor at Knox College. Our interest in celebrity gossip-as well as dirt on our family, friends and acquaintances-may be a byproduct of our evolutionary past, McAndrew says. Natural selection, he theorizes, pressured people to learn as much as possible about the people in their social network-be they an authority figure, potential romantic partner, teacher, political ally or enemy. Knowing about other group members helped people eschew risky alliances, by informing them, for instance, which group member might double-cross them.
“If you weren’t curious about others, you’d pay the consequences,” McAndrew says. In the process, gossiping also helped facilitate bonds by showing others we trust them enough to share information. Throughout most of human history, McAndrew explains, humans not only had to cooperate with a social network of about 200 people for food and protection, they also had to compete with those same in-group members for the most desirable mates.
His research about the appeal of gossip is part of a growing body of literature indicating that we’re drawn to gossip because it keeps us informed about the lives of the people in our social circle. That social circle is now much bigger, and so less tied to our survival, but the instinct to gossip is just as strong.
Because we see and hear celebrities’ images and voices on television, radio and magazines, we gossip about them as if they are members of our social network, McAndrew says.
“Gossip is like chocolate,” says psychologist Charlotte DeBacker, PhD, a University of Santa Barbara postdoctoral fellow and author of the forthcoming Dutch-language book, “Gossip: Why Gossip Can Be Healthy” (MOM/Unieboek, 2006).
Humans are drawn to fatty, sweet foods like chocolate because such high-calorie foods were once our lifeblood in lean times. As a result, people crave those foods-even when they are not in dire need of calories. Likewise, the pleasure that people derive from gossip can create a tendency to “dish dirt” even when the subject matter doesn’t affect our lives, such as with celebrity gossip, or when divulging information could be more risky, such as at work, says DeBacker.
In a follow-up study published in the same article, Dunbar and his colleagues examined the topics within that social banter by grouping the discussions into four categories: whether people were keeping track of other individuals in their social network; bragging about themselves as a romantic partner, friend or ally; seeking advice; or condemning slackers or free loaders. He found that the first two topics dominated conversations, suggesting that the exchange of social information may be one of the primary functions of language.
As such, Dunbar agrees with McAndrew and DeBacker’s suggestions that the pleasure we derive from gossip is a side effect of an evolutionary pull to gain knowledge about one’s group.
“Language evolved for social purposes, not spreading technical information like whether it will rain or how to get from New York City to Washington, D.C.,” he says. “Knowledge of the social world has a much deeper purpose.…It’s not just the fact that I saw Jimmy kiss Penelope, but how that incident relates to me and the group.”
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