Why Do We Deify Celebrities?

Each of us likely has at least one celebrity whom we hold in high regard, whether they are an artist, politician, or another kind of public figure. My friends and I often joke that Hozier is “like a god,” this idea stemming from his powerful, storytelling songs, soft-spoken but wise interviews, and cult following that is evident on social media. Of course, this is somewhat facetious––we know that Hozier is a regular person just like the rest of us, with flaws and missteps, but there is always something about him that leads us to believe that he represents what is morally best in us.

The same goes for several other brand-name celebrities that have been the subject of intense adulation for years, with a recent upsurge on the social media platform TikTok: Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the list goes on. We adore people for their art because we feel deeply connected to it, or for their tenacity in fighting for causes we believe in, or oftentimes both. It can be incredibly inspiring to have somebody that you can relate to encouraging or showing you that they understand the way you think, albeit indirectly. 

person holding iphone outside Photo by Paul Hanaoka from Unsplash But why do we go so far as to deify celebrities? One explanation is the halo effect, which is when someone who is talented or exceptional in one sphere of life may be perceived as superior in other spheres of life as well. Another reason is confirmation bias, or the fact that we choose to believe information that confirms our existing beliefs. If we think a certain celebrity is the greatest person on earth, we’ll actively seek out information to confirm that belief.

NYC therapist and author Sheri Heller describes how “our psychological need for safety and predictability” is part of what leads us to view celebrities in this way. When real life may be tumultuous and unpredictable, it is comforting to consume media that makes us believe in the consistency of people.

woman eating popcorn Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels The “halo effect” idea can also explain the outrage that often occurs when we discover that musicians or actors do not share our stances on social or political issues. While outrage in these situations may be very much valid, it’s interesting to think about why we might have assumed those celebrities had our same views in the first place if they gave us no evidence of it. 

Celebrity deification has been around for as long as celebrities have been around. In one sense, it’s exactly what keeps their careers and the entertainment industry alive. Politicians have capitalized on this fact since as far back as the 1920s, using celebrity endorsements and appearances to bolster their presidential campaigns. It’s always been highly accepted that people will view the celebrities they know and love as one notch above the average person, especially with regard to qualities like intelligence and trustworthiness.

I think at the end of the day, this doesn’t mean we should become entirely cynical and believe that celebrities are two-faced liars. I think the truth lies in much more of a gray area. While they may prepare for interviews with a team of public relations professionals, I do think that there are some very candid interviews out there that are evidence of the thoughtfulness and humility of many famous people.

But it’s always important to keep in the back of our minds that we’ll never really know the full extent of another person’s thoughts and feelings, celebrity or not.

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