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On The Cover: Star Struck

 by Kristi Eaton
 published on Thursday, October 19, 2006

Addictions to celebrity gossip seem to be a growing phenomenon. But is there a point when these obsessions can become unhealthy?/issues/arts/698362
Katie E. Lehman / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Addictions to celebrity gossip seem to be a growing phenomenon. But is there a point when these obsessions can become unhealthy?
 

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With the increasing availability of celebrity gossip, more students seem obsessed with the latest news on Hollywood breakups, get-togethers and everything in between. But have we taken our love of the bright lights too far?


Star. People. US Weekly.

We all see them as we stand in line at the grocery store, holding our boxes of Wheat Thins and bottles of Grey Goose vodka, waiting for the old woman in front of us to count out her pennies.

Some of us will glance at the latest picture of Nicole Richie's emaciated body and turn the other way, preferring to stare at the variety of flavors of gum rather than look at the paparazzi's pictures of her running on the beach. But others will grab the magazines and pore over every detail of the celebrities splashed across each glossy page.

With the rise of the get-it-now information available 24/7 on the Internet, it's easier than ever to get the latest gossip on Hollywood. And it seems that now more than ever, people really want it. Some students seem to care more about celebrities' lives than their own. And with gossip blogs, celebrity-magazine Web sites and stories about the latest fight on the set of "Grey's Anatomy" surfacing even on hard-news sites like CNN.com, even those who don't care can't escape the coverage.

But while some people consider this a part of their everyday lives, others think the celebrity obsession can become unhealthy.



'Just to catch a glimpse'

Molly Goodson has a job some celebrity-worshipers would die for. She is the editor of the Web site mollygood.com, a celebrity gossip haven. Goodson mixes paparazzi photos with links to articles on the latest gossip on Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, adding her own brand of sarcasm to each post.

For example, a recent post titled "Nick and Jessica Sing It Out, Bitches" includes links to YouTube.com videos of Simpson's and Lachey's new singles. Goodson implores readers to watch the videos and see "the extremely lame singing fight." Then she asks readers to vote on which video is the best.

"Is it Jessica's amazing multiple hair lengths and underweared introspection?" Goodson writes on the site. "Or Nick's ever-popular and subtle alone on the beach, waves crashing, soul-shattering loneliness?"

Goodson says, somewhat jokingly, that her infatuation with celebrities began at a young age. "I guess it all started when I was 12 and fell deeply in love with Brad Pitt," she says. "At that time he was engaged to Gwyneth Paltrow, and I would have given up my whole collection of nail polish and friendship bracelet string just to catch a glimpse of their glamorous lives."

As a blogger who spends 40 or more hours each week poring over details of the rich and famous, Goodson says some people are interested in learning about the day-to-day activities of celebrities because they can relate to their exploits.

"Hell, you and your beautiful friends are doing the same thing every night - getting too drunk, making out with your friends' exes," she says. "Thankfully, the paparazzi isn't there photographing every bar-dancing moment. That's also part of why I think MollyGood(.com) is fun - being so similar in age, living in a big city and going out a bit too much, like your Mischa [Barton] or Lindsay [Lohan], makes it a lot easier to talk effective smack."



'We think we know them'

But one ASU professor thinks the idea that we are like the Mischas and the Lindsays of Hollywood is misguided.

"They're not anything like us," says Mary-Lou Galician, a journalism professor who has studied the media's portrayal of sex, love and romance.

Galician uses an example that appears in her book, "Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Analysis and Criticism of Unrealistic Portrayals and Their Influence," to show how far out of touch some people are with reality.

When Julia Roberts won the Academy Award in 2001 for her part in "Erin Brokovich," many people commented on her speech."They said, 'I loved that she was really herself,'" Galician says. "But how do they know what she's really like? We think we know them, but it's like a hologram. It's like a non-virtual reality."

Celebrity worship has been around since the early days of the fan magazines, Galician says, but with media outlets that are available every day, all day, such as blogs, it's hard to avoid it. "Our media are 24/7 in a way they've never been," she says. "It's impossible to escape. It's more pandemic now, not epidemic."

Goodson says the public thrives in the current media situation.

"The information comes in such tiny, digestible bites, that it both doesn't take much time to get a fix and leaves you wanting more almost immediately," she says.

But that "fix" is what can become unhealthy in today's society, Galician says.

"For some people it moves from a general interest to an addiction," she says. "The more you get, the more you want."



Galician says the addiction can become so extreme that without a fix of celebrity gossip, withdrawal takes place, just as it does in physical additions.

"People will do anything, literally prostitute themselves ... just because they go through withdrawal if they don't have it," she adds.

The addiction can even reach the point where gossip magazines and paparazzi pictures can no longer satisfy it. Galician says this can lead to serious psychosis and celebrity stalking, sometimes resulting in restraining orders.

"Obsession is a way for some people to not deal with their own life," she says.

Goodson agrees that admiring celebrities, like any other hobby or activity, can become all-consuming.



'It gets to be too much'

The editors of Forbes magazine think the public and media might not be the only ones at fault in the celebrity worship game. The celebrities themselves might play a role as well, the magazine says.

The magazine, which annually produces the celebrity top 100 list - ranking the highest paid celebrities in the business - came out with a new list in 2006 ranking the most overexposed celebrities.

The list, according to Forbes, came from a survey conducted by E-Poll Market Research, an Encino, Calif.-based research firm that ranks more than 2,800 celebrities on 46 different personality attributes.

Paris Hilton tops the list, followed by Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, Kevin Federline, Pamela Anderson, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Cruise and Nicole Richie. Rounding out the list are Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Michael Jackson, Donald Trump and Jessica Simpson. "It's a challenge because celebrity in many ways is defined by how much exposure you get," Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University tells Forbes magazine. "But the perfect equation is to get as much exposure as you possibly can right up to the moment when it gets to be too much, and then you want to pull back."

Business sophomore Kristin Nurrito says celebrities' lives are overexposed in the media, but that doesn't mean she's going to pay attention.

"I'll read the [celebrity] magazines, but not deliberately," she says.

Roxanne Clarke, a BIS senior, says celebrities are spotlighted because of their jobs and that it's OK.

"People don't care because of who they are, but because of what they do - their jobs," she says.

But Clarke says she doesn't understand how some people can worship celebrities to the point where they become stalkers or get plastic surgery to look like their favorite idol (like in MTV's series "I Want a Famous Face").

"I can't believe people take it to the next level," she says. "I don't know if it's ever healthy."

Nursing sophomore Erica Schweyer concurs.

"There's a fine line between being interested and being completely consumed."



Reach the reporter at kristi.eaton@asu.edu



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