On my last day of vacation in Italy, a chatty café owner in Rome introduced me to a tall, charming Italian man. He was a local artist, I learned; his name was Marco. Just a day earlier, my friend Lynn and I had sat in a piazza in Florence talking about how hard it is to meet nice guys. It had been two years since my last relationship, and, admittedly, I'd grown a little standoffish with the opposite sex. Lynn and I agreed that I could open up a little more. So when I met Marco, I figured...
"You have a confluence of forces coming together in technology and the media to make it happen and it's worldwide and it's multiplying like lice," says Stuart Fischoff, PhD, spokesman for the American Psychological Association and professor emeritus of media psychology at the California State University at Los Angeles.
Indeed, from the international mania of the New York Post's Page Six, to increasing circulation of celebrity-driven publications like People, US, OK, and In Style, to the cult star status of gossip reporters like Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart and the New York Daily News' Rush & Malloy, there is no question that all-things-celebrity have captured -- and are keeping -- our attention like never before.
But what drives our endless fascination with celebrity worship? And more importantly, can its enticing seduction ever be harmful to our health?
The answer, it seems, depends a lot on who is doing the worshipping -- and the reasons why.
"Like most things there's a dimensional approach here; there are some people who are fascinated by celebrities lives, but also involved in meaningful activities and relationships in their own lives, and for these people star watching is usually a harmless diversion," says Eric Hollander, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Anxiety Disorders program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
For others, however, things don't go quite that way.
Hollander says there are an increasing number of us for whom the fascination with celebrities is a substitution for real life -- with the focus on a celebrity replacing the focus that should be on our own lives. And that, he says, is the point at which some folks begin to get into trouble.
Depression, anxiety, and a decrease in self-esteem are just some of the documented problems that can result when we take the focus off our own lives and instead focus all our energy on the life of a celebrity.