Stalking Celebrities: A Generation Obsessed With Hollywood
Michael Ireland - Assist News

Michael Ireland - Assist News

From the Oscar’s red carpet to the tabloids lining supermarket checkout lines, celebrity obsession is everywhere.

Even the most casual moviegoer might find him or herself flipping through a slideshow of Academy Award fashion after the big event. So why do we fixate on celebrities?

That is the question posed by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor at

(We could be cynical and say that it is because “most men live lives of quiet desperation,” a quote attributed to naturalist Henry David Thoreau who, in an attempt to avoid that kind of existence, lived alone from 1845 to 1847 in the woods of Walden Pond, Massachusetts).

In her online article, Pappas says that in most cases, it’s perfectly natural.

“Humans are social creatures, psychologists say, and we evolved — and still live — in an environment where it paid to pay attention to the people at the top. Celebrity fascination may be an outgrowth of this tendency, nourished by the media and technology,” Pappas writes.

“In our society, celebrities act like a drug,” said James Houran, a psychologist at the consulting firm HVS Executive Search who helped create the first questionnaire to measure celebrity worship. “They’re around us everywhere. They’re an easy fix.”

The evolution of an Oscar viewer

Pappas says that it’s only relatively recently in human history that people have had near-constant access to celebrity news and gossip. “But celebrities themselves are nothing new. People have long looked to monarchs for social, and even fashion, cues: The now-ubiquitous white wedding dress caught on after Queen Victoria wore one in 1840.”

Even hunter-gatherer societies in which material goods are relatively scarce have status hierarchies, said Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan. Other primate species also keep a close eye on the dominant individuals in their groups.

“There’s a few different reasons for that,” Kruger told Live Science. “One is just learning what high-status individuals do so you might more effectively become one, and two, it’s basically political. Knowing what is going on with high-status individuals, you’d be better able to navigate the social scene.”

Brad Pitt and George Clooney smaller

Whether Brad Pitt is on good terms with his ex, Jennifer Aniston, isn’t likely to affect the average person’s life one way or another, of course, but the social tendency to care is deeply ingrained, Kruger said.

Twittering stars

According to Pappas, stars and the media exploit this tendency. Celebrities give interviews, share juicy information about their personal lives, and even engage directly with fans on sites such as Twitter. The result is that “parasocial” relationships — the psychological term for the kind of one-sided relationships fans have with stars — are easier than ever.

And reaching stardom seems also to be easier than ever, Pappas says. “You have so many opportunities for celebrities to develop, because there are so many platforms,” said Stuart Fischoff, an emeritus professor of media psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There’s this explosion of celebrity possibility.”

Much celebrity obsession is intentionally cultivated, Kruger said. Talk show hosts, for example, try to foster a personal connection with their audience.

“It’s savvy marketing,” Kruger said.

From fan to fanatic

Most of the time, caring about celebrities is no big deal, Pappas says. Even for some obsessed fans, celebrity worship can provide a social outlet they wouldn’t have otherwise had, Fischoff told LiveScience. For the seriously shy, celebrity fandom can act as a “psychological prosthesis,” he said.

“If they weren’t going to be interacting with people otherwise, this makes them at least have a social relationship they didn’t have before,” Fischoff said. “So it’s making the best out of a bad deal, psychologically.”

Pappas says there are lines, though. Houran and his colleagues found that it’s too simplistic to divide fans into casual, healthy types and wild-eyed stalkers. In fact, celebrity worship is a continuum, Houran told Live Science.

“The bad news is, there’s a stalker in all of us,” he said.

When celebrity worship goes overboard, it usually starts out benign, Houran said. People enjoy the escapism of celebrity gossip and bond with others over a favorite star. Next, there’s a shift. The person starts thinking of the celebrity constantly, withdrawing from family and friends. Addictive and compulsive behaviors come into play.

Finally, Pappas writes, a very few people reach what’s known as the “borderline pathological” stage, in which they believe they have a close relationship with their favorite celebrity and take that belief quite seriously. When asked if they’d do something illegal at the request of their favorite celebrity, these people say “yes.”

Personality plays a role in pushing people along the path to celebrity stalker-hood, Houran said. People who are egocentric or who have personality traits such as irritability, impulsivity and moodiness are more susceptible. The environment matters, too. People are more susceptible to over-the-top celebrity worship when they’re in a phase of identity adjustment. If a person is going through a divorce, loses a job or is having relationship problems, celebrity obsession may be a life raft they cling to.

Pappas says this identity factor may be why teenagers are so susceptible to worshipping Justin Bieber or their favorite sports star. Younger people, who are still establishing their identities, are more susceptible to celebrity obsession, Houran said.

“Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person’s life,” he said. “It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of self. It feeds a psychological need.”

Karen Covell portrait

But, as Karen Covell of the Hollywood Prayer Network ( notes, celebrity fascination can go too far.

She is asking believers to, “Please pray for a serious issue amongst celebrities in Hollywood: stalkers.”

In an email update to ministry supporters, Covell said: “HPN is currently praying for two members of our community who are struggling with the invasion of stalkers in their lives.

“Pray for those affected by the Stalker Law, which often ends up protecting the stalker more than the victim. May the Lord protect the celebrities who have to endure this struggle.”

Covell said one HPN member states: “It’s unsettling, and often life-altering. They have to get restraining orders and continue to close accounts and even move, to protect themselves from these relentless people. Some women are so gripped by fear that they can’t live a normal life.”

Karen is a producer, co-owner of Joint Effort — a film production company, and co-owner with her husband Jim, of JC Productions — a music production company.

She has had extensive experience producing TV specials, documentaries and children’s programming; such as Coordinating Producer for the PAX special “Changed Lives: Miracles of the Passion,as Associate Producer for “Headliners & Legends with Matt Lauer,as Co-Producer for the television special “America’s Throwaway Children,starring Dennis Franz and Danny Glover, and as Post-Production Producer for the animation company TMS Entertainment, Inc. She has also produced documentaries DVDs for HPN entitled “The Hollywood Crisis,“The Hollywood Tribe” and “The Hollywood Community” and directed a short documentary for “Go Public.

As Founding Director of the Hollywood Prayer Network, Karen Covell also speaks and teaches around the country to people of faith, encouraging them to not hate Hollywood or boycott its products, but instead to pray for the people in the entertainment industry.

She is also a published co-author of two books with her husband Jim and their writing partner Victorya Rogers, entitled, “How To Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out(or the young people’s version, “The J Bomb) and “The Day I Met God, all available at,, and at Karen lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jim and her two sons, Cameron and Christopher.


Image courtesy Georges Biard, Wikipedia Commons

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