Fame and Misfortune

A local psychologist turns the spotlight on our obsession with celebrity.

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Celebrity & Entertainment Obsession: Understanding Our Addiction by Michael S. Levy

Published by Rowman & Littlefield, 250 pages, $40

“Heroin” is just one letter away from “heroine,” and local psychologist Michael Levy, who works with drug users, sees some disturbing parallels between addiction to substances and our deep ties to the stars that sparkle in the world of entertainment. Though celebrities don’t know us, we “know” them through the media we consume. This connection, somewhat like that of an infant and a mother, brings comfort, linking us as we idolize their talents and colorful lives.

But, Levy says, there’s a problem: Loneliness glues us to these entrancing but worrisomely imaginary friends, and these relationships—he labels them “parasocial”—often keep us from our real friends and lives. Kim Kardashian, after all, is not your girlfriend.

What’s more, as our obsession with celebrity has increased, so have opportunities for becoming a star through homemade YouTube videos or reality TV, where the reckless narcissism on display is wilder than actual celebrities’ exploits. Needless to say, Levy thinks there are more meaningful paths to self-worth.

In exploring the psychology of our dependence on our idols, Levy notes that as much as we covet their money and fame, it’s celebrities’ tabloid-shouted miseries that bring them closer to us. Aging, they “die” on magazine covers. Till then, they shine, thrillingly, dangerously bright.

From page 163: Some research supports the idea that for people with low self-esteem, even writing about their favorite celebrity can actually increase their own sense of worth, at least temporarily. It is like they feel they have a close relationship with this person, and thinking about this individual augments their own pride and self-confidence.

 


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