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Celebrity Culture and the American Dream

by Karen Sternheimer

Ever since I started doing research on celebrity culture, reporters have been asking me a variation of this question: why are we so obsessed with [insert any celebrity who is all over the news at the time]?

Most of the time I politely suggest that is not us who are obsessed, but celebrities provide the news media with an endless amount of cheap content requiring little investigative research on their behalf.

Rarely do I have any data to back this up—it’s just a hunch. Yes, we might linger before changing the channel, or click through on a news website because it might be entertaining, but this isn’t necessarily what the public demands.

With the British royal wedding just days away, breathless reporters live from London tell us about proper attire for the affair and the required etiquette should we happen upon the queen. We can’t get enough—or so they tell us.

That’s what makes the recent New York Times/CBS News Poll so interesting. Finally, data to support my hypothesis.

According to the poll, conducted April 15-20, 68% of Americans said that they have not been following the coverage of the wedding very closely or at all. Just 28% said they were following the coverage somewhat or very closely.

Of the 58% of Americans who reported following the wedding coverage, two-thirds said they would likely watch the wedding, while 37% did not plan on watching.

Of course some people might get wedding fever and decide to watch at the last minute. But it’s a reminder that sometimes our “obsessions” are instead media creations in hopes that we will decide to tune in and increase their ratings.

To some degree, the massive coverage celebrities sometimes garner creates a self-fulfilling prophesy rather than serve as a commentary on American society.

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