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Old 07-27-2005, 10:48 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Philosophy and Britney Spears...

This is an article from MSN Health and Fitness, but it centres on a philosophical issue. At least I think it does. I found it very interesting. The article is about how we idolize celebrities and gives reasons for why we do that.

Quote:
John Lennon infuriated the faithful when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, but he wasn’t the first to suggest that celebrity culture was taking the place of religion. With its myths, its rituals (the red carpet walk, the Super Bowl ring, the handprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and its ability to immortalize, it fills a similar cultural niche. In a secular society our need for ritualized idol worship can be displaced onto stars, speculates psychologist James Houran, formerly of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and now director of psychological studies for True Beginnings dating service. Nonreligious people tend to be more interested in celebrity culture, he’s found, and Houran speculates that for them, celebrity fills some of the same roles the church fills for believers, like the desire to admire the powerful and the drive to fit into a community of people with shared values. Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History, suggests that celebrities are more like Christian calendar saints than like spiritual authorities (Tiger Woods, patron saint of arriviste golfers; or Jimmy Carter, protector of down-home liberal farmers?). “Celebrities have their aura—a debased version of charisma” that stems from their all-powerful captivating presence, Braudy says.
I believe it's true too. What do you think?
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Old 07-27-2005, 11:00 AM   #2 (permalink)
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It's not either/or. I believe we all do it, believers and non-believers. The degree to which the religious idolize is tempered by messages from their faith.
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Old 07-27-2005, 12:31 PM   #3 (permalink)
 
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interesting--though i have to say that i almost did not read the opening post because of the title--i expected to read something about britney spears commenting on wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics or something and it is too hot in philadelphia for me to take any pleasure in watching a trainwreck...but no.

some of the earliest analyses of post world war 2 mass culture (transformations in printing technology that made glossy color adverts routine for example--later television supplanting radio) went in this general direction in an effort to figure out what is going on with the marketing of celebrity...stuff by edgar morin from the late 1950s for example...you see traces of it in the marxist analyses of mass culture across the 1960s, cropping up in various guises.

in england, through stuff like early pop art and the work of j.g.ballard, this general line converged with an idea that the result of fordism was the colonization of people's fantasies..which strangely helped to clarify a bit how this analogy between saint/magical image and celebrity might function--as a kind of inward performance space, in which folk can play out their desires to be someone else, somewhere else.

i think the kind of investment/performances that go on across the medium of celebrity are much more curioous and complex than the research cited in the opening post woudl have youi believe--i dont think that the analogy to the church is useful--some other kind of magic might be more interesting to think about--nor do i think that the circuit is about community in any meaningful sense--this gives far too much to the analogy of the church in shaping the outcomes of research--but it is obviously hard ot know too much from the tiny summary above.

off to see if i can find the report itself somewhere.
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Old 07-27-2005, 12:47 PM   #4 (permalink)
 
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it appears that the author of this study is something of a whackjob--do a search and you'll see. shame, really, as the idea is potentially interesting.
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Old 07-27-2005, 03:46 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Not a lot has changed since Moses came down from the mountain. We all feel we 'need' something...

It is also interesting that the author is seen as a whackjob... regardless, I too believe that there is an 'idolisation' of celebrities.
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Old 07-27-2005, 04:18 PM   #6 (permalink)
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"In a secular society, our need for ritualized idol worship can be displaced onto stars..."

The author presumes that people naturally gravitate towards idol worship, which I believe is mistaken. I would also contend that celebrity and idol worship are distinct. Celebrity "worship" has far more to do with wanting to be that person, whereas idol worship has to do with being loved and accepted by a higher power.

When I wait in line at the grocery store to ring my things up, the celebrity magazines are not saturated with adoration. They're saturated with sensational vicarity. If we worshipped them, the racks wouldn't be overflowing with exposés of infidelity. Exposés that reek of jealousy, to my eyes.

No, we're merely interested in them because their lives are more interesting, if not necessarily glamorous. We're interested in them because they're The Beautiful People, in a station the overwhelming majority of us will never reach. The only way to get close is to read about it. I find celebrity fascination to be entirely secular.
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Old 07-27-2005, 05:05 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roachboy
i almost did not read the opening post because of the title--i expected to read something about britney spears commenting on wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics or something and it is too hot in philadelphia for me to take any pleasure in watching a trainwreck...but no.
Once it cools down (the cold front came through here a couple hours ago), you might want to try Britney's Guide to Semiconductor Physics. Seriously.

I doubt it is a search for religion. I think it is more about gossip. When all the people you knew were in your town, and everyone in town knew each other, you gossiped about your neighbors. Now, we don't know our neighbors, so celebrities are the next best thing; everyone feels like they know them.
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Old 07-27-2005, 11:51 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Interesting. It might be fun to partake in a study of people's level of idol worship of celebrities compared to their individual level of participation and belief in a religion or spirituality.
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Old 07-28-2005, 06:25 AM   #9 (permalink)
 
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http://britneyspears.ac/wallpaper/bswp005_800x600.htm

thanks, redlemon:
i never would have suspected...
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Old 07-28-2005, 08:06 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Suave, I'd imagine there would be a stronger correlation between intelligence (or more specifically, the amount of time a person spends gawping at their TV) and celebrity worship than between religiosity and celebrity rubbish.
 
Old 07-28-2005, 11:23 AM   #11 (permalink)
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I don't know about that, I used to spend a pretty ungodly amount of time in front of the TV, and I've never had any sort of worship of celebrities. I am not loathe to watch Entertainment Tonight or whatever, but I don't give anymore of a crap about celebrities than any other stranger or acquaintance.
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Old 07-29-2005, 05:59 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suave
I don't give anymore of a crap about celebrities than any other stranger or acquaintance.

Perhaps you don't, but could you not agree with the author of this article that many people do?
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Old 07-29-2005, 06:02 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I can agree that celebrities fill a void in many people's lives but it is not the same void that would be filled by religion. It is a different sort of "opiate for the masses" in that it provides distractions and vicarious thrills rather than spiritual fulfilment and roadmaps on how to live life...
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Old 07-29-2005, 06:26 AM   #14 (permalink)
 
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the religion analogy--particularly the church community analogy floated in the opening quote--seems too narrow---the earlier stuff on this question of celebrity culture that talked about magic as a way to think about the types of relations folk can develop with the celebrityimages they consume works better because it is less specific about the type of community imagined.


most magical practices are about visualization/projection---one thing that becomes really clear via either doing or knowing folk who do these types of practices is the fundamental role played by syncretism (mixing types of signifiers, adapting to changing conditions etc.)--thinking through the framework of an organized bureaucratic religion tends to obscure this fact in that it relegates syncretism to a marginal phenomenon. magic as visualization and/or projection--that is as a variant of meditation that is directed outward in a kind of complicated/ambiguous manner---at least opens up ways of thinking about a whole range of usages--transcendence via direct appropriation--usage of certain celebrity images as ways of focussing other actions (on this, think about what motivates kids in particular to start forming garage bands)---devices for adding density to conversations (quotation. allusion) which are also about shifting the social position of the speaker in a given context--signifiers that structure desire, not necessarily for the celebrity him or herself, but for commodities associated with the image or with commodities associated with a mode of life that is connected at the fantasy level to the image of a particular celebrity.

you can use this metaphor of celebrity as talisman (say) to open up possibilities for thinking about masscult--but this does not mean that the patterns you can isolate using the metaphor are necessarily performed by folk with the same idea in mind (in other words, the masscult-magic connection is an analytic metaphor rather than a motivation you could impute to folk in real time)

also britney might not be the best signifier to use to think about this kind of stuff--she is also very much caught up in the tabloid press as space of compensation--i heard this argument somewhere and stole it---the idea is look at britney--she has everything, fame, cash, talent (?), cash, cash and cash--but she is really fucked up--like most stars you hear about in tabloidspace--all are really fucked up--it is hard to be really wealthy--aren't you, reader, glad that you are not plagued with excess wealth?

think more of elvis or the beatles.
for example:
when i was last in paris, three years ago, i remember wandering across the pont d'alma and passing a shrine for diana spenser that was set up above the entrance to the underground passage in which she was killed. there were lots of notes attached to the shrine asking diana to intercede for them with god--she had become a saint, and was being invoked like a saint.

there is something quite strange about this--the pattern of saints and intercession is obviously catholic, but it seems to refer to a much earlier type of relation to the symbols of catholicism within which magic and prayer intermingle without problem because the boundary is not fixed.
much of the strangeness derives, i think, from a notion of sainthood as coming from below, from communities of believers, and not from the church hierarchy.

thinking about this introduces lots of complications in how you imagine something like a saint and its history within the church--what are they about, saints? are they about the church trying to co-opt/stop/limit/supplant popular forms of spiritual engagement in the interest of its own bureaucratic power?

more generally--is there only an artificial boundary that seperates prayer from magic? how is prayer not a form of magical practice? (a serious question, actually)

this points to an entire history of popular relations to religion that we, sitting here in the 21st century, cannot know anything about because very little of/about it was written down.....

sometimes i wonder if folk really wish for magic as something they can engage in, that gives a different sense of agency in the world.
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Last edited by roachboy; 07-29-2005 at 06:34 AM..
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Old 07-29-2005, 06:45 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Maybe there is something to this - ancient polytheistic religions were chock-a-block with tabloid style stories, and monotheistic Christianity has managed to absorb a host of saints, angels and other polytheistic elements.

I think there is a difference between the philosophical kind of religious belief, and the anthropomorphic type where a host of deities plot and scheme and act out human roles up in heaven, or perhaps as the poster suggests, today in Hollywood.

But I do think there are two very different types of religious belief being talked about here. Roachboy asks about the difference between 'magic' and religion - I'd respond by saying that this magic, polytheistic and celebrity urge may have a common psychological cause - but I'd point out the difference between that, and more philosophical religious ideas.
 
Old 07-30-2005, 10:33 PM   #16 (permalink)
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At the base of most cultural phenominon is a need to share a common bond with others. In order for this to happen a shared experience has to occur. In the past, the Church was the only common medium among people. Nowdays I would say that celebrety culture is among the most commonly shared experiences in the West.
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Old 07-31-2005, 12:45 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daoust
Perhaps you don't, but could you not agree with the author of this article that many people do?
Yes, but I simply don't think it has to do with how much TV a person watches. Amount of TV watched might be a correlated dependent variable for people prone to idol worship of celebrities, but I seriously doubt that it is an independent causal factor.
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Old 07-31-2005, 06:52 AM   #18 (permalink)
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I didn't get much from the article, but then this type of psuedo-academic approach fills a void for those trying to clarify something that I don't believe needs to be done.

Idol worship? Go ahead. If that's what gets you through the day, go waste your time on someone elses life other than your own.

Does this require a psychological breakdown? No. The answer is boredom resulting in a relatively uneventful life that nurters idol worship.

And related; this is why reality tv is still so successful. People watch other peoples lives, critique them, criticize them and because of it feel better since they think they are better people or atleast similar (and not the losers on on tv)

Now people can make judgements on other people who they haven't met or ever will, but the sense of betterment wins the day. And this happens because those watching are wishing their lives could be viewed, so that meaning can be brought to there lives, however short the stint (the 15 minutes)

I think a better idea would of had this story tying in idol worshipping with personal debt rather than religion since worshipping others seemingly mimics the behaviours of those worshipped ie clothes, hairstyles etc,...but who knows
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Old 07-31-2005, 10:59 PM   #19 (permalink)
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i personally don't like how much attention celebs get. whenever i watch something on vh1 i just think "why... why are people watching this and why are their lives so interesting? mine is pretty interesting and complicated and i don't even think i'm that different than anyone else. why don't people worry about their lives" every since i was really young and watched the oj trial i couldn't understand it.
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Old 08-01-2005, 03:12 AM   #20 (permalink)
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"celebrity culture was taking the place of religion"

Not really, religion has traditionaly offered us explanations for why we exist and justifies our existence within a framework. celebrity culture does not do this, they are not dieties and we are pretty fickle in our following of them.

If celebrity culture were in any way as potent and as powerful as religion in it's ability to take a position in a persons live as a justification for who they are then we wouldn't be so quick to bring them down, as much as we like to see someone famous doing well we really prefer to watch when the shit hits the fan for them
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Old 08-01-2005, 03:15 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by legolas
i personally don't like how much attention celebs get. whenever i watch something on vh1 i just think "why... why are people watching this and why are their lives so interesting? mine is pretty interesting and complicated and i don't even think i'm that different than anyone else. why don't people worry about their lives" every since i was really young and watched the oj trial i couldn't understand it.
Youre live may seem interesting to you- but nobody knows you, OJ was famous before his trial
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Old 08-01-2005, 10:10 AM   #22 (permalink)
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I think it is different for different people. Personally, I've never in all my life felt a need to worship anything.

There could be many different reasons to be interested in celebs, sexual desire being among the top 3.
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Old 08-09-2005, 08:48 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Old 08-14-2005, 01:28 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Isn’t that how religions got started in the first place? There’s always this special individual, who gets idolized after a while. He dies, time passes, legends accumulate and, all of the sudden, you end up with multiple stories of supernatural deeds. That’s how it was up until now. The problem is there’s much more people these days and they’re slightly better educated. The principle though remains the same. Britney might not become the next messiah, but modern idols are worshipped in a way that makes me reminiscent of religion.
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Old 08-19-2005, 06:27 AM   #25 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwan
The problem is there’s much more people these days and they’re slightly better educated.
I don't see much evidence of that in celebrity culture,
Religous people beleive that their prophets are supernatural in respect to their relationships with their chosen gods. worshiping idols does not equal religion - it's just not as simple as that
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