The Politics of Celebrity: It’s time to reconsider celebrity culture.

Why have we normalized birdwatching and worshiping ordinary people and the lives that they live?
Original Art by Eli Gologanova
Original Art by Eli Gologanova

Ask yourself this: have you ever encountered a video, article, or comment section filled with commentary about a celebrity, commentary that we could all honestly live without? A hashtag on Twitter trending about leaked paparazzi photos of a newly spotted celebrity couple? A TikTok analyzing a celebrity’s choice of dress for a red-carpet event? Nobody can escape celebrities – they’re everywhere. Go outside and you’re likely to see a celebrity’s face plastered onto a couple of advertisements. And you most definitely can’t escape them on the internet – they’re scattered across every FYP and timeline. Each step they take is a political act; a catalyst for discourse. Is this necessary, healthy, or sustainable?

So where did all this celebrity stuff start? It’s debatable, but many say that Sarah Bernhardt is considered “the first celebrity.” Bernhardt was an acclaimed (and very famous) French actress who lived from 1844 to 1923. She was known for her captivating stage presence and her unique acting style. Bernhardt performed in both classical and contemporary plays, and was particularly renowned for her performances in tragic roles. She was one of the first actresses to achieve worldwide fame and recognition, creating a blueprint for the stars we know today. But it wasn’t until the rise of 20th century mass media technology that celebrity culture really emerged in full force. The creation of radio and television allowed for an exponential rise in the dissemination of content about celebrities and the popularity of celebrity talk shows (such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show). This created a new kind of intimacy between celebrities and their fans.
In modern times, the internet has made it significantly easier for people to achieve fame through content creation on social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok. And they don’t need to be sensational or ground-breaking anymore either. They can be thrust into fame by doing fast-food reviews or creating day-to-day vlogs of their mundane life. These platforms allow people to showcase themselves to a global audience. Those who acquire a significant following can quickly become celebrities. Take Charli D’Amelio: a TikToker who became a child star overnight after her account went viral on the platform. But is this selective, randomized, and overnight fame really a good thing? D’Amelio never asked for the spotlight. She even opened up about the toll that increased public perception and “hate comments” have had on her, confessing that she has suffered panic attacks and developed an eating disorder.

Most of us subconsciously envision celebrities as untouchable figures. This stems from class differences and the separation that we experience from the internet. But most critiques applied to celebrities also apply to the everyday person. Celebrities often act as proxies for our society’s bigotry. Tabloids regularly put female celebrities’ bodies on blast, attacking every visible “imperfection” under the sun. What happens when a normal woman sees that? Teens are especially vulnerable to this toxicity, considering that we spend so much time on the internet and are particularly prone to internalizing implicit bias. The average teenager spends more than 5 hours a day on social media – just think about what we’re consuming every day without using an ounce of critical thinking.

We are able to see how our society applies unattainable standards to women, particularly women of color, through how female celebrities are treated in the public eye. Unfortunately, we too tend to pick apart, judge, and create discourse around female celebrities in a manner rooted in sexism and misogyny. Women in the public eye are often subjected to scrutiny and criticism for their appearances, behavior, and personal lives, in a way that men are not. Consider this: when Miley Cyrus chopped off her hair in 2012, the public turned on her, but if Chris Hemsworth chopped off all his hair, Fox News sure wouldn’t be running a segment about it. Celebrities of color are constantly subjected to racist and derogatory comments, both on and offline, and have been attacked in ways that white celebrities are not.

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, has been the target of deep-seated racial prejudices within Western society since she first started dating Prince Harry in 2016. When news broke of their relationship, the Daily Star published a headline asking if the Prince would “marry into gangster royalty” and added that she was “straight outta Compton”. Meghan has been subjected to years of stereotyping and pure hatred that her white counterpart, Kate Middleton, was not. When Middleton was pregnant, the Daily Mail published a story with the headline “Not long to go! Pregnant Kate tenderly cradles her baby bump while wrapping up her royal duties ahead of maternity leave – and William confirms she’s due ‘any minute now’”. However, when Markle was pregnant, Daily Mail published a story with the headline “Why can’t Meghan Markle keep her hands off her bump? Experts talk about the question that has got the nation talking: Is it pride, vanity, acting – or a new age bonding technique?”. The double standard is obvious – Markle couldn’t even hold her baby bump without angering British tabloids jutting in to say a nasty word.

It’s evident that the culture of celebrity isn’t benefiting anyone and seeks to perpetuate implicit bias and the status quo. With the public suffering more than ever from impossible-to-reach beauty standards set by celebrities who themselves are chained to said standards by the public, it’s really just a vicious cycle of horror. So why do we keep internalizing it? Why do we let it flow through our society as a terminal undercurrent, letting fame taint our newspapers, subway ads, and style identity? The current form of “celebrity” is unsustainable. Next time you find yourself commenting something critical on a post about a celebrity, keep in mind that you’re enforcing a toxic culture. The necessary course of action is to not only abolish the harm celebrity culture provokes, but also to devalue the celebrity as we know it. When you’re consuming media, try to scroll past celebrity gossip and sensationalism. Unfollow the Kardashians, what do they bring into your life anyway? Focus on niche creators, people with talent and craft. Remember that on social media, it’s never what it seems and as consumers, we need to get better at discerning fact from fiction. Let’s start phasing out celebrity culture.

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