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Does 'Celebrity Worship Syndrome' Really Exist?


This month sees the DVD release of the film Kill The King (also known by the title Shangri La Suite) which tells the story of two 20-year old damaged lovers - Jack and Karen (played by Luke Grimes and Emily Browning) - who head to Los Angeles to kill rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley in the summer of 1974. Without giving away any of the plot, the two of them meet in a rehab centre and one of Jack's reasons for being sent there - in addition to a drug addiction problem - is because of his "increasingly abnormal obsession" with Elvis Presley ("One day the King and I are going to be together" says his younger self). And why does Jack want to kill Elvis? Because his mother's ghost appeared in a vision during a mescaline trip, and ordered him to kill the King of rock 'n' roll. While Jack's obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme, over the last two decades there has been an increasing amount of research into 'Celebrity Worship Syndrome' (CWS).

CWS has been described as an obsessive-addictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested (in short, completely obsessed) with the details of the personal life of a celebrity. Any person who is 'in the public eye' can be the object of a person's obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music.

Research suggests that CWS exists and that according to Dr. John Maltby and his colleagues there are three independent dimensions of celebrity worship. These are on a continuum and named (i) entertainment-social, (ii) intense-personal, and (iii) borderline pathological.

• The entertainment-social dimension relates to attitudes where individuals are attracted to a celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a social focus of conversation with likeminded others.

• The intense-personal dimension relates to individuals that have intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.

• The borderline-pathological dimension relates to individuals who display uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies relating to a celebrity.

Among adults, their research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of CWS and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness. Maltby's research suggests about 1% of his participants have obsessional tendencies towards celebrities.

Research has also shown that worshipping celebrities can have both positive and negative consequences. People who worship celebrities for entertainment and social reasons have been found to be more optimistic, outgoing, and happy. Those who worship celebrities for personal reasons have been found to be more obsessive, more depressed, more anxious, more solitary, more impulsive, more anti-social and more troublesome. So where do you fit into this in terms of celebrity worship? I'll leave you with some statements so you can assess your own level of celerity worship

Say yes to the following and you may have low-level CWS:

• My friends and I like to discuss what my favourite celebrity has done.

• I enjoy watching my favourite celebrity.

• Learning the life story of my favourite celebrity is a lot of fun.

Agree with these more intense feelings and you may have a moderate case of CWS:

• I consider my favourite celebrity to be my soul mate.

• I have a special bond with my celebrity.

• I have frequent thoughts about my celebrity, even when I don't want to.

Agree with these and you may be obsessed, borderline pathological and suffering seriously from CWS:

• If someone gave me several thousand pounds to do with as I please, I would consider spending it on a personal possession, like a napkin or paper plate, once used by my favourite celebrity.

• If I were lucky enough to meet my favourite celebrity, and they asked me to do something illegal as a favour I would probably do it.

• I would be very upset if my favourite celebrity got married.

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