Celebrities possess a strong power to influence the lifestyle trends of their collective audience. They are members of the entertainment industry and are looked up to as role models by a large proximity of the general public. The word “celebrity” is derived from the word “celebrate,” in that a person is supposedly famous because the community celebrates him or her (Rockwell 2004). Their lives are well documented by the media and in turn they have a great deal of power in shaping the ideologies of their audience. It is through convergence of media tools that enable the status and reputation of each celebrity, great or small, to develop rapidly. With such high exposure due to the globalised world that we live in, celebrities essentially hold the power to positively or negatively influence their followers. From fashion trends to behavioural tendencies, the attitudes and lifestyle habits of celebrities influence cultural dispositions and the way in which many people function within society.
To some extent, heavy consumers of entertainment media parallel their lives on the very people that inundate the gossip section of newspapers. (Tunbridge, 2012). “Though we might not have their wealth or fame, we might feel that through consuming goods celebrities might favour, and living a lifestyle we see as similar to theirs, that we are achieving some degree of upward mobility by joining an elite status community” (Sternheimer, 2011). Celebrity influence of the public can be exemplified by society’s response to the globalised event that is the FIFA world cup. High profile players like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo use the world’s biggest sporting event not only to demonstrate their skills but to boast their latest haircuts. “Each World Cup presents a new set of hairstyles—some actually look good, others should never be seen again. If you go to your local field, you will probably see plenty of kids sporting hairstyles similar to those of their role models” (Struhs, 2010). Similarly, stars like Rihanna and Britney Spears do not only exploit their fashion tastes via magazines but they also share their trends via social media, allowing the broader globalised community to be influenced by a primary source. Supporting, forty-seven million Twitter followers between them, Britney and Rihanna essentially have the power decide whether teenage girls will dress conservatory or immorally.
In the recent decade, a small minority of celebrities have become increasingly involved in advocacy and activism, creating a positive image for themselves as well as setting a responsible example for their followers. Not only are celebrities development advocates but they are using their popularity to generate an increased understanding on issues such as homelessness. A number of celebrities are going beyond promoting important sociological issues but they are also creating their own organisations and charity foundations. “Fundraiser concerts and other large charity-oriented events that involve celebrities are part of a new development advocacy, uniquely combining politics and popular culture.” (Biccum, 2012) There are many examples of celebrity advocacy such as “Angelina Jolie’s role as good will ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, George Clooney’s advocacy work on behalf of Sudan, involving the use of satellite technology and Google to monitor the outbreak of civil war and Hugh Jackman’s involvement with the Global Poverty Project” (Biccum, 2012). In times when the world is most at need of charity, it is often the celebrities that come forward as leaders in raising funds. In 2009 music artists from all over the world united in Australia to perform two shows, raising money for victims of the Victorian bushfires and the Queensland floods. All of the artists, publishers and labels involved, provided a free clearance for DVD’s of the event to be sold. Similarly, Sean Penn’s organisation responded to the Haiti earthquake, whilst Bono and Bob Geldoff have been involved in numerous campaigns against poverty. However, considering the size of the entertainment industry, the number of celebrities involved charity is rather limited.
There are also many negatives associated with celebrities holding immense influence over their followers, especially when the development of teenagers is concerned. In an experimental stage when they are constantly reinventing themselves, teenagers are prone to adapting to changes in celebrity trends. With celebrity role models such as Lindsay Lohan, a repeat drink driving offender and Miley Cyrus who was filmed smoking marijuana, teen development is at risk of heading in the wrong direction. Morality is blurred as “teens do not let instances like this hinder their idols’ likeability. They have become immune to things that are wrong because they constantly see celebrities conducting themselves in this manner in the media” (Gauna, 2011, pp.1). In order to protect teens from the colossus that is celebrities, it is up to their parents and the matured society to educate teens on how they should respond to celebrity behaviour.
The media plays an important role in facilitating the amount of influence that celebrity culture has on society. To a great extent it is media outlets that sensationalise the lifestyle of those in the limelight, making them appear much more intriguing than they actually are. “Mainstream media content is most likely increasing in sensationalism due to competition with celebrity news sources, particularly those online” (Wright 2008, pp.3). The public’s interest in celebrity culture has grown so popular that there are now numerous publications exclusive to celebrity news, complete with rumours, photographs and scandalous information. “They have grown extremely popular, mainstays in salons and grocery stores alike” (Wright 2008, pp.9).
In order to put into perspective just how powerful celebrities have become, a glance at Lady Gaga’s Twitter page exemplifies the reality of the phenomenon that is cultural imperialism. Boasting over thirty million followers, it is hard to ignore the effect her obscure approach to life must have on others. “It has been suggested that the public’s interest in certain celebrity figures may be the result of a parasocial relationship with them” (Wright 2008). For instance, blogger Chris Crocker shot to fame with his Youtube video entitled ‘LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!’ The video was uploaded during a time when Britney Spears was suffering from an array of heavily publicized personal issues. An emotional Crocker stands up for Spears in an emotional rant as if he knows her personally; “She lost her aunt, she went through a divorce, she had two kids, her husband turned out to be a user, a cheater, and now she’s going through a custody battle. All you people care about is….. readers and making money off of her. Anyone that has a problem with her you deal with me, because she is not well right now.”
The effects of cultural imperialism and the influences of celebrities ultimately have positive or negative consequences. With correct education and a quality sense of morality and ethics, it would be less likely that celebrity culture would have a negative influence on one’s life. However, overconsumption of entertainment media and an inability to come to terms with the reality of cultural imperialism, the likelihood of being negatively influenced by celebrities would be increased.
Rockwell, Donna. (2004) “Celebrity and Being-in-the-world: The Experience of Being Famous. A Phenomenological Investigation.” Center for Humanistic Studies 2004: 15-80
Tunbridge, J. (2012) “The Negative Influences of Celebrity Culture”
Viewed on 12/10/2012. 2012globalmedia.wordpress.com
Sternheimer, K. 2011, ‘Celebrity culture and the American dream : stardom and social mobility.’ New York : Routledge, c2011 pp 11.
Struhs, D (Contributor at bleacher report) 27/05/2010
“2010 FIFA World Cup: Which Player has the Best Hair?,” Bleacher Report
Unknown Author, 29/10/2010, Ronaldo
Unknown Authour, 29/10/2010, Cristiano Ronaldo
Unknown Author, 29/10/2010, David Beckham
Biccum A, (Contributor at George Mason University) 12/10/2011
“Celebrity Activists and Advocates in Development” Viewed on 12/10/2012
Gauna, A, (Contributor at Divine Caroline) 03/2011
“Negative Influences of Celbrities on Teens” pp.1, Viewed on 12/10/2012
Wright, S.A, (Journalism Dept, California Polytechnic State University) 2008
“Blinding Lights: The Negative Effects of the Media on Celebrities” pp. 3-9
Viewed on 12/10/2012 http://www.calpoly.edu/~gkeyclub/SeniorProject.pdf
Leave Britney Alone. 10/09/2007, itscriscrocker, Online Video, viewed on 12/10/2012