Celebrities, Obsession and Reality Television

Political Celebrity Martin McGuinness
23rd March 2017
Inside the Mind of Suicide Bombers
1st June 2017

Celebrities, Obsession and Reality Television

We live in a ubiquitous world of celebrity obsession and highly motivated voyeurism reality television genres is uncomplete except it provides us with our daily fix of celebrity gossip, Hollywood Wives, Geordie Shore and much more.

Obsessive & Compulsive Needs

Our need for celebrities as icons and Idols has created a nation of tele addicts where we have forged an unconscious attachment to particular celebrities. Our insatiable need for them as idols has created a celebrity obsessed society of reality television dependency. It has been argued by many critics that it is a genetic predisposition that we create these celebrities for mass scale consumption. They have become, if your honest with yourself, part of your daily or weekly visual diet. In Sunday school I was taught the Ten Commandments namely “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” God was and is seen to be Almighty, All powerful, the creator and sustainer of all things However to have a commandment not to idolize anyone else doesn’t seem quite as important as those other commandments. In today’s society biographies and autobiographies appear almost weekly on the supermarket bookshelves, with a plethora of glossy magazines evaluating the love lives of our latest celebrity icons. But why do we worship the ground that these celebrity’s walk on daily as we crave every detail of their most intimate moments and lifestyles? The answer is twofold, its either nature, meaning we are exclusively genetically programmed to become attached to them, or nurture, which means we observe parents attachment to celebrity culture so it is the common cultural norm and they legitimize our right to be attached to these A listers in some form or manner. Our millennial society has provided us with all the essential gadgetry and an obsessive digital culture that makes celebrity idolization so much more possible but at what cost? Our need to be attached and bonded in some psychological manner with a celeb is manifest in endless merchandise at Rock concerts Sporting events and social media shows. We may adorn our rooms and homes with various representations and emblems to represent the intensity of our need for and attachment to a celebrity .In purely psychological terms, we do not in fact know these celebrities we tend to worship and idolize. There is that social distance akin to an online long distance relationship, with the one we might see only in the cybercommunity and nowhere else. What we do have in reality tv is a cyberbond or a digital bond to a celebrity.It lacks any meaningful psychological attachment and we become imbued with knowledge about how they live and who their friends are , where they go on holiday and much more.. but how much is fact or truth? We want to copy their fashion and use their perfumes and virtually incorporate some of their personality traits into our own persona. This influences our self concept and self esteem.   Part of this socialization process is to preserve the “attachment” by buying the same guitar or saxophone or piano that he or she plays.

In everyday life when boy meets girl the liking becomes loving eventually or simply as is the style nowadays after the first date. They idolize each other, being consumed with each other’s personality motives and desires. The love bond affects the brains emotional centre namely the Amygdala and hypothalamus. These are responsible for the regulation of emotion body temperature thirst water intake and sexual appetite. Is it any wonder we are enthralled at the site of Madonna, Justin Beiber, Kim and Chloe Kardashian.

Psychologically, why do we need to idolize and worship others and why does owning something that another person possesses give another person such gratification? We have a tendency to put individuals on a pedestal, and this might have originated in our dependency and attachment to parents or parenting figures.As infants we are totally helpless to defend ourselves so see parents or guardians as all powerful and authority figures. They are the ones who know how to survive as humans so we in turn idolize them. When a rock star or singer dies we grieve and mourn for them. They have been cherished and adorned by social media and fan clubs for a lifetime and we are in some way bonded to them, so share our grief online with friends.We accumulate wealth money objects of desire in order to emulate them to make us feel god. Many females will buy their fashion range simply because the celebrity “Designed” it. In reality the celebs only put their name to the product which was in fact created by the scientists working in the and Curiosity laboratory.


The entertainment industry continues to thrive due in many parts to our curiosity motives and especially our voyeuristic desires to spy on our celebrities. Our human brain craves stimulation and in knowing or being simply curious as to what is happening in our digital community. It is argued by many media researchers that we are all voyeurs knowing what is going on around us has some sort of survival value. A celebrity who is involved in a road accident or suffers fatal heart attack or one whose child is unwell serves as a constant reminder that we are all human and will live and die just like celebrities do. For most of us the satisfaction the voyeurism brings can serve as a form of distraction and amusement. Take Celebrity Big Brother, what type of individuals will sit up all night after a hard day’s work to gain gratification by zooming in on bedroom scenes of wannabees  misbehaving under the duvets. We offer the excuse that this is fun amusement and pure entertainment and would readily deny that it is voyeurism . As we all have sixteen pairs of motives, for example, sex, hunger, curiosity, vengeance, aggression and many others, if any one of these motives are depleted, say the aggressive drive, then that viewer will want to view by selection, scenes of violence or aggression in the Big Brother House. More recently we have the Jeremy Kyle show, Dr Phil show, Jerry Springer show, and many others , all of which may facilitate voyeurism. In these entertainment shows, exposure to celebrities troubled lives and those who are not on television, is ethically dubious. That some people choose with presumably informed consent, to appear on these shows is another matter entirely. The point I want to make is that the fulfilment of voyeurism through such shows is a façade for entertainment. We need a life story to satisfy our prurience which has become a peculiar form of amusement. Producers of these shows understand the needs and wants of viewers so these are the types of people the show is looking for: 1.Are you ashamed of something you have done wrong and wish to tell the millions of viewers ?Are you suspicious of your partner cheating on you   online and want to confront him about it ?Are you a transsexual with a powerful story? Have you become a prostitute and your work colleagues don’t know nor your parents, perhaps tell them on the show? These and many other real life stories act like motivators for us to become more intense voyeurs.

How and why are we connected to celebrity obsession ?

Most of the human race have underlying motives for curiosity and are invariably drawn to some forms of voyeuristic activity either on smartphones, tablets, of on terrestial television.

We consume vast quantities of reality television and become attached to up and coming wannabees who define themselves as “celebrities” even though they have little or no knowledge to offer in the legitimate celebrity world. They are known for simple being known and more often for undesirable reasons. Gone are the days of quality television where everything was scripted,but this may lose out on excitement and arousability factors. In today’s world we are consumed by slim toned attractive bodies on display by all celebrities which we subconsciously become attached to in a cognitive manner. The parasocial interaction bond is well established as we learn more and more about our icons lifestyles and personalites but they know nothing about us. Celebrities are placed on prime time TV and are also used exclusively for launching a range of fashion and beauty products which they in most cases may never use or have used. In our media obsessed society simply being known creates interest in whatever is featured, even if they use very ordinary wannabees form TOWIE or The Kardashians, or lesser known American reality stars. All they have to their credit are hundreds or thousands of Instagram photos in various poses flashing range of exclusive garments dripping with phenomenal designer price tags. However, when people already are well established celebrities and possess a real charismatic presence on television, when they have committed some misdemeanour or have a mental breakdown, or break off a loving relationship, our voyeuristic interests rises to the fore .Our anxiety levels increase when we consume various media reports of a contradictory nature in the glossy magazines. What is truth one might ask? This can motivate us to form our own decisions about the whole nature of a celebrities relationships. Frequently television media report the everyday lives of celebrities and the rich and famous who are bored and unhappy in their lives. After winning the Oscar, or being on the red carpet at a film premiere, the happiness and excitement has gone, and in comes the depression. Our obsession with celebrity culture and with the persons themselves is positively reinforced by the art of speculation rumour and gossip online. If we disagree with a celebrities decisions about virtually anything at all we Tweet about it and voice our concern. This is where the power and control aspects of celebrity worship really kicks in. There is a fine balance between who controls who in the parasocial relationship between celebrities and fans. Many hire publicity agents to further augment their social status online and offline. Even if the media exposure is negative, it sells and it attracts and in some cases, the exposure of celebrities who’s lives have gone off the radar screen, creates so much more attention from television producers who may magnify their demeanours or criminal acts and further enrich their earnings by using the past criminality for documentary making and chat shows. The more we see and know about celebrities the less we are interested in them, as they have gone past their sell by date now resigned to the bargain basement only resurfacing for casting by I’m a Celebrity executives to relaunch their fading career. Voyeurism is heightened the younger and more risqué the celebrities lifestyles and especially their sexual lives. Look at how we have made sense out of our attachment to celebrity icons like Lady Ga Ga, Michael Jackson, George Clooney Madonna and more. The unpredictability of their daily activities continues to enthuse us and inspire us with outlandish fashion sense or narcotic abuse or whatever attracts media attention.

Our prurient tendencies have been illuminated and heightened by the unlimited access to all genres in terrestrial television and other channels. The ubiquitous nature of broadcasting nowadays across all channels makes the viewing of pornography so easily accessible. At the click of the mouse we have ready access to the lifestyle of any chosen celebrity devoid of any respect for their privacy. Certain personality types have a vulnerability to voyeurism and celebrity relationships to increase their ego strength and satiate their innermost motivational state. They can become captivated by pornography whereby they never did so in the past simply because it was not easily accessible and had to be paid for online. The fact that spouses may have seen their bank statements may have prevented a marital breakup. Today’s world of pornography is pretty anonymous and mostly free so psychologically attracts massive numbers. The same with gambling as an internet addiction. State sponsored gambling through the Lottery raises a plethora of social ethical and moral issues. The point is that we are all under the impact of social psychological influence by what we see on television. There is a Pandora box full of exciting celebrities ready to please the entertainment consumer.


Finally, we live now in a psychological void where in a progressively secularized society, we are spending more time away from family social interaction. No longer do we have or show good manners nor use proper grammar. No longer do we show a genuine interest in people’s lives or read the emotional signals from their body language. We are oblivious to the person next to us as we walk down the street or in a shopping centre, as we become consumed by our twitter instagram and facebook activity.   Asa result we have a massive growth in online dating trolls and cyberabuse. I have examined the relationship in today’s world of celebrity obsession and voyeurism. One thing that fuels or extreme interest in celebrities is the vicarious identification with their good fortune. When good things happen to our celebrities such as the Duke of Edinburgh giving up his consort duties, we feel empathy for him and happiness in that he can now enjoy his leisure activities. Conversely, when we hear of the negative things that impact our celebrities life, we can become depressed with low mood which may be transient but which may last longer. Everything in our lives is relative, and that extends to everyone who compares themselves to others in particular a celebrity. Social comparison is psychologically destructive and needs to be avoided. Celebrities who have high popularity with intense social media exposure do influence our social lives as hold them s idols in our mind and this in turn increases our self regard and self esteem. There is in the scientific literature, research findings which shows that creating a “bond” with any celebrity can contribute positively to overcoming depression as the viewer will begin to track the icon daily and find it entertaining to “get into their lives.” We tend to copy our celebrity’s fashion and values through the process of what psychologists call social learning theory. The main reason underlying this is that they have high status so this in turn makes us feel our self confidence. This a acts as a psychological trigger for teenagers especially to seek “fame “ in reality television such as The X Factor, The Voice, TOWIE and many more.

Arthur Cassidy Ph.D