NEWS

Hero worship to the point of plain gullibility

The term «celebrity worship syndrome» (CWS) is a relatively new one, though there have been dozens of publications and surveys in the 1990s on the subject. Authorship of the term belongs to a research team led by Dr James Maltby of Leicester University who polled a group of 3,000 people. The results of the poll were published last year in a scientific journal, leading to a barrage of reports in the British and American press. CWS is considered a psychological syndrome and, according to the experts, has three main groupings. The mildest form of the syndrome is expressed in everyday conversation between friends as harmless recreational gossip. The moderate form is when a person believes that he or she has an «intense personal-type relationship with their idol,» while the third category includes people who «feel they have a special bond with their celebrity and believe their celebrity knows them.» These people are capable of going to extremes, such as the man who killed John Lennon. Approximately 15 percent of the sample belong in the first category and are usually extroverted and optimistic. The second category includes people who are more stressed and depressed, while those in the third category may be extremely isolated, impulsive, anti-social and even dangerous. The last two categories of the three account for only 10 percent and 1 percent of the population respectively, so the vast majority of 74 percent might recognize famous faces but don’t give them much thought. The survey’s leader said the findings «suggest the possibility that many people do not engage in celebrity worship for mere entertainment. Rather, there appears to be a clear clinical component to attitudes and behaviors associated with celebrity worship that had to do with the prevalence of television and the breakdown in bonds within the family and community. People are replacing real people in their own environment with famous ones.» There have been cases, say the experts, when celebrity worship has a positive effect. For example, in primitive societies, the «celebrities» were the best hunters and the elders. People admired them and tried to emulate them. In Greece, thousands of children have taken up basketball and gymnastics, following role models, not just to become household names but to transcend their limits, or at least to try to. A survey by the University of Orlando has shed an interesting light on the issue. One of its goals was to relate celebrity worship to a «social justice scale.» The results confirmed the hypothesis that the perception that society is just, that we are living in the best possible world, bears a positive relationship to celebrity worship. Someone who thinks that the world is a just place tends to believe that individual components of society are also just – and the celebrity system is an important component of modern society. One of the conclusions of the same survey is that worshippers of one or more celebrities are vulnerable to market forces trying to trade on anything to do with the object worship. Experts admit that there is reason for concern, not only because some fans overstep the limits, but because most celebrities are «negative role models» (with numerous charges of carrying weapons, using drugs, sexual abuse, or parental neglect). These fans are also more vulnerable to the messages sent out by celebrities in advertising and indiscriminately accept the «advice» handed out directly and indirectly by these people on critical issues ranging from nutrition to marriage, family and social relations. Despite the extreme and even ridiculous forms celebrity worship can take, it is not limitless. According to a poll published recently in Kathimerini, 47.2 percent of respondents were not impressed by the presence of show business names on electoral lists. However, the fact that 36 percent were impressed says something. A purely celebrity list would chase away most voters, but a few celebrity names scattered among them does no harm.