Celebrity worshippers open their wallets for a little piece of faux fame

Singer Michael Jackson, performs during “Victory Tour”  in this July 1984 file photo taken in the USA. Bidders from around the world bought up Michael Jackson memorabilia worth nearly $1 million at an auction on the anniversary of his death including $190,000 for the Swarovski-crystal-studded glove he wore on his 1984 Victory Tour.

Marilyn Monroe’s chest x-rays? $45,000.

Prince’s handwritten lyrics for “Purple Rain?” $67,650.

Michael Jackson’s white glove from his 1983 Motown 25 performance? More money than you’ll probably make in a lifetime.

There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s ...

Actually, you can buy just about anything for the right price. Just use your MasterCard (or your kid’s college fund).

Lately it seems like some people will fork over any amount of money in order to possess obscure and not-so-obscure artifacts from his or her favorite performer.

For example, a TV station in Nebraska recently bought Roy Rogers’ stuffed horse Trigger for the smashing price of $266,000.

Another bidder paid $8,960 for one of Elvis Presley’s prescription pill bottles.

Some $60,800 wasn’t an unreasonable expense for the bidder who walked away with Bill Clinton’s saxophone.

All of this begs the question: Why?

The biggest human motivator is to feel good about ourselves, and people want to enhance their self-esteem, explained Brian Parry, assistant professor of psychology at Mesa State College.

“Celebrity figures achieve a lot. By obtaining keepsakes from the past or present, (someone) can live vicariously through them,” he said. “It’s an escape from self-awareness.”

So, does the need to be connected to celebrities by owning their personal items highlight a deeper issue? Maybe.

Have relationships with family and friends taken a backseat to pop culture? According to psychiatrist Dr. Bob Sammons, yes.

In the past, people had nothing competing with family time. Televisions and radios either didn’t exist or were a rare commodity. People divide their time among the reinforcers they have, Sammons said. When a family lacks access to radio programs or television shows, free time is filled with board games, family dinners, fishing trips and other family-oriented activities.

Nowadays, families are bombarded with a multitude of choices for how to spend their downtime.

“We live in an MTV world,” Sammons said. “The time for recreation has not increased. The choices for recreation have.”

Compound more choices for entertainment with the fact that some people look for short-term reinforcement, and the results can be a major preoccupation with pop culture as a whole.

According to abcnews.go.com, James Houran, a psychologist at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and a team of researchers in the United States and Britain identified a psychiatric condition known as “Celebrity Worship Syndrome,” or CWS. The research team surveyed more than 600 people about their views of celebrities, and developed a scale of severity for CWS, ranging from harmless interest to psychotic enthusiasm. According to Houran’s study, one in three people is afflicted with CWS.

The first degree of fascination, known as “entertainment social,” is mild. A fan may talk about a favorite star in a social setting, such as “Oh, Lindsay Lohan is in jail again. Orange is not her color, and that jumpsuit is hideous!” The fascination ends there.

People with the level of CWS known as “intense personal” express an individual connection to the celebrity, and may live vicariously through the star. The celeb’s triumphs and tribulations become the admirer’s triumphs and tribulations. At this point, a fan may feel like the judge’s decision to put Lohan in jail affects them personally, such as “Now that Lindsay’s in jail, I feel guilty because I’m free to do as I please and she’s not.”

The final and most dangerous level of CWS is “borderline pathological.” It’s at this stage that behavior teeters on creepy and stalker-esque, and a fan believes the celebrity is communicating with him or her personally via talk show appearances, magazine articles, etc. Someone at this level of CWS may exhibit delusions, such as “I’ve been telepathically receiving SOS signals from Lindsay, so I’m going to drive to California to bust her out of jail, and then we’ll be best friends forever!”

About a year ago, police in Savannah, Ga., arrested Mark McLeod on suspicion of misdemeanor criminal attempted stalking after they spotted him knocking on trailer doors around a movie set where Miley Cyrus was filming “The Last Song.” McLeod told police he and Cyrus were secretly engaged to be married, and that the teen actress had been communicating with McLeod through secret messages on her television show.

Although borderline pathological CWS is a rare side effect of pop culture, other negative consequences are more prevalent.

The motivation to feel good about ourselves and enhance our self-image drives materialism. This thought process can then manifest itself through a “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude, Parry said.

This “superficial way of compensating” can damage social skills, he continued.

“A lot of it has to do with technology,” Parry said. “Social interaction has been reduced to a text message.”

Because younger generations are continuously connected to the world around them through ever-improving technology, they will be the ones most likely to suffer long-term effects of media bombardment, especially as they get older, he said.

And the tendency to focus on the materialistic isn’t likely to slow down either.

“This trend will likely increase because of the media blitz,” Parry said.

So how does a family go about battling the negative effects of pop culture on family relationships? According to Sammons, the answer lies in making family activities more appealing than anything the entertainment world can provide.

“Make (family members) an offer that’s hard to refuse,” he said. “(The activity) has got to be more reinforcing than going out with friends.”

Even with all of the obstacles the entertainment world brings to relationships, popular culture can’t be condemned for being so, well, popular.

“You can’t blame society for giving us more (choices),” Sammons said. “It defines our times.”


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