You know you’ve seen it. Buzzfeed article celebrating Jennifer Lawrence’s latest awkward/funny/adorable interview. The Facebook link your friends are posting about which character from Friends you’re most like. And probably, like me, you’ve read these, clicked through them, and amused yourself for a few minutes more. With technology linking people, our celebrity culture has amplified. You don’t just watch your favorite actors, or even just read magazine articles about them. You get to watch every single one of their interviews on Youtube, you get to scroll through pictures of them on Pinterest or Tumblr, laugh at funny memes of them, or funny quotes from them scrawled across GIFs. You take quizzes to see which Anne Hathaway character you’re most like, or scroll through “10 of the top reasons why Tom Hiddleston would make the best boyfriend”. And you feel connected. If you can relate to any of your favorite celebrities, you can be more than just a fan. You can sorta, know them. But this is a false sense of connection. Because you don’t actually know J-law, you aren’t really like Monica from “Friends”, and you will never be Tom Hiddleston’s girlfriend. Though this may burst many fan girls’ bubbles, it may not be an indictment of our modern culture.
Taking a look back, in the U.S the mass-media-creat
ed “celebrity culture” really began in the 1920s. Movies allowed for entertainers
to be heard and seen across the nation, and radios even brought them into people’s living rooms. Eventually T.V continued that trend in the 1950s. The U.S became increasingly connected by a common interest. The same stories, news reports, and even accents, were spread across a large nation of diverse people groups.
In much the same way, it would seem that our common fascination with our current celebrities online can have the same effect. We can all be corporately amused by similar things, (albeit behind computer screens or iPhones). Feeling like you can relate to awkward celebrity moments can have the positive effect of humanizing people we may be prone to idolize. It makes us feel better about ourselves because we all have similar awkward moments, and we can recognize that falling in the office is probably not as embarrassing as falling up the stairs to accept an Academy Award.
However, the problem is that our connection to these people is still superficial. We have the false sense of a connectedness that doesn’t exist. And it can bring dissatisfaction. Your friends may not be as cool as the current cool actor/actress, and boy, don’t you wish you were friends with them? Idolizing these larger-than-life celebrities happens even when they are more humanized, much like those popular kids back in high school we wished would notice us and be our friends (even though we would never admit it to anyone, cause, you know, we were too cool for them. But if they had asked us to prom we would have totally said yes!). It doesn’t matter if the cultural norm of what “cool” is shifts from “all-together polished,” to “awkward and funny,” putting anyone on a pedestal still keeps us in the position of collective worship.
But not to be a Debbie-downer, there is a positive outcome to all this. In real life situations (you know, with actual people), we have had (and continue to have) common things to talk about, laugh about, make fun of, and overall, stimulate conversation. In my own life, I know that with friends and co-workers, we can have equal parts pop culture discussions, and also current political/social ones as well. Meaningful conversations about gender that are fueled by how Jennifer Lawrence is portrayed in the media, how Benedict Cumberbatch may be challenging the norm in the appearance of male actors, or how his recent episode of Sherlock points to our need for community and relationships.
Something about being human makes us elevate or diminish others. The Internet, with the ability to equally express opinions, and, seemingly without filter, judge and criticize others in the plethora of activities they partake in, amplifies this tendency. But, like most things, can be redeemed for good if we care to think outside of our screens for a minute.