What's Up With Celebrity?

Will the virtual community save us from celebrity culture?
Heather Green

I always associated the rise of celebrity culture with the rise of mass media. So, I was kind of hoping that as mass media became less powerful because of the Internet and digital technologies, the power of celebrity would wane. That's not looking like a good bet.

According to the latest magazine circulation numbers, US Weekly, Star, and InTouch, are gaining the most ground. These, of course, are the ones that do their darndest to make sure we don't miss out on the hottest craze in celebrity hair coloring (brown is apparently the new blond) or latest partner swapping news among the Hollywood set.

So what's going on? Do we connect with celebrities because our virtual relationships are replacing our mass media ones, which of course, replaced our local community ones?

I remember reading a few years ago that we care about celebrities because we feel we know them. (Actually, the Economist also wrote about this in December). This is a vestige, apparently, of community ties we developed early, tens of thousands of years ago, when we lived in small clans. We learned to read behavior and facial expressions to develop trust and our brains catalog people whose faces we see often as part of our clan.

So, after seeing Jennifer Aniston 14,000 times on magazine covers, news Web sites, gossip blogs, and TV last year, is it any wonder that I think she's part of my clan and I feel bad for her? Honestly, I would be unsocial if I didn't.

But will my virtual community free me from seeing Jennifer everwhere? I am not sure.

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