According to Julia Mitchel Corbett religion is an “integrated system on belief, lifestyle, ritual activities, and institutions by which individuals give meaning to (or finding meaning in) their lives by orienting themselves to what they take to be holy, sacred or of highest value” (Hemeyer 16). So where does celebrity culture fit into this definition? Celebrities have become the modern day king’s and queen’s, the God’s of the new age; people look at celebrities as being beyond human. The problem is, they are human and are indeed not perfect role models for people to be looking up to in this way. What happens when society looks at celebrities as Gods when they are really just imperfect humans like the rest of us?
Celebrities should not be looked up to so intensely as they are not always the best of role models, as well as the fact that most celebrities we see are just brands. Most celebrities do not put their real lives or personality into their public persona; they have a whole team behind them working on an image for them that will sell better. If you look at celebrities like Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Jennifer Lawrence they are constantly in the news for their positive influence on fans, however most of what they do has to be approved for publicity to maintain their ‘good-girl’ images that their fans know and love them for. The outcome is people looking up to these celebrities and getting a false idea of who they are, putting them on a pedestal because the perfect image has been constructed for them and not because they are actually perfect.
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It is a very dangerous line to cross when people start looking at celebrities as sacred and of higher value over their actual religious beliefs, “Celebrity culture or celebrity worship is a veiled glorification of the self insofar as we project our dreams, insecurities and aspirations onto celebrities…Celebrities are sacred because they represent the sum of the possibilities for the self” (Ward 132). This celebrity worship Stoddard talks about is reminiscent of Parker’s theory of popular culture in which he believes mass culture is simply created and transmitted to the masses in such a way that people can negotiate their involvement. People want to be like these celebrities because they appear to be perfect and that is what everyone aspires to be. Furthermore, a lot of money goes into making celebrities seem perfect which a lot of people do not realize; society constructs meaning out of celebrity culture in a religious way that resembles worship of a higher being.
Religious worship in terms of celebrity culture promotes the selling of spirituality as the celebrities use their high social following as a monetary value. They not only make products directly (movies, albums, etc.) for their fans to buy, but they also get paid to endorse certain brands (like Katy Perry with Covergirl or Taylor Swift with Diet Coke). They can act as a “privatized religion” in which corporate forces “strip it (religion) of it’s communal, traditional and ethical content” (Carette and king 21–22). These endorsements not only alienate their fans as it creates a bias toward whichever product is being advertised, but it also promotes a worship-like place for their fans. The one exception of celebrities within the religious sphere is the lack of a place of worship, however these endorsements and product pushing is a way for their fans to find that space — fans are judged on how true of a fan they are in relation to how many products they own instead of how many times they pray or go to church.
The last point I would like to make regarding celebrities and religion is the overall lack of good role models there are in the celebrity world. What a lot of people do not seem to realize is that just because they are put into the spotlight does not mean that person is a good person, or a moral person. If you look at celebrities like Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus, they not only fell from grace at one point in their careers but the media attacked them when they appeared to be anything but perfect, making it impossible to come back from their error no matter how big or small it was. For example, Justin Bieber began his career as s small town boy from Canada who became one of the biggest celebrities right off the bat. Naturally society put him on a pedestal and he was not able to maintain it; he was arrested after driving under the influence and street racing. After that his image seemed to go downhill as he belittled his fans who felt betrayed by someone they once held up as their God.
Celebrities often do not and cannot live up to the expectations and standards we set upon them and Ward discusses how we are projecting our own insecurities and expectations of ourselves onto these celebrities, “we worship ourselves not simply as we wish ourselves to be but also as we see ourselves failing, being imperfect and unworthy of worship” (Ward 112–113). Society looks up to celebrities as the ideal for lifestyle and traditions in order to seem relevant within the popular culture society. It has become normal for people to idolize celebrities as Gods and push expectations on them that only the truly holy and sacred religious beings could live up to, as they are other worldly beings and not mere mortals.
In similar ways that people use religion, people use celebrities as a way to create an identity, which becomes easier as often celebrities will take their fans opinions into account when making certain career decisions (choice of single, negative or positive impact of twitter and social media) that allows people to feel more included in this cultural shaping of who they are, as opposed to a religion where they follow specific practices and stories. The celebrity culture of worship is an interesting one to follow in regards to it’s similarities to a religious following but also creates many problems for society.
Carrette, Jeremy R., and Richard King. Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion. London: Routledge, 2005.
Hemeyer, Julia Corbett. Religion in America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.
Ward, Pete. Gods Behaving Badly: Media, Religion, and Celebrity Culture. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011.