The Illusion of Celebrity


LexieBy Lexie Tankersley – In one form or another, humans have always involved themselves in idolatry. From the Egyptian deities to the Biblical Golden Calf, we have used man-made items to represent the values that our society reveres. While civilization has seemingly progressed past these early pagan idols, the idea of “idolatry” has not disappeared entirely, but rather transformed from worshiping objects to worshiping people. 

Sure, the idea of “celebrity” is nothing new. From kings and queens to Shakespeare and Thomas Becket, humans have always worshipped those who are placed on a pedestal. However, the invention of live broadcasting and the internet allowed for the amplification of “celebrity’s status” to a worldwide, unprecedented proportion. Suddenly, the Beatles, Britneys and Biebers of the world could influence entire generations from around the globe without ever leaving their living room. Everyone tuned in to see what these celebrities were wearing, who they were dating, and what they wore to get a coffee or go to the gym. We became invested in their world, because it was a distraction from our own. 

My Own LA Story

I moved to Los Angeles about six years ago with rose-colored glasses so thick you couldn’t shatter them with a hammer. I was that kid who practiced their Oscars acceptance speech in the bathroom with a dirty hairbrush. I dreamed of what it would be like to walk down Hollywood Boulevard and casually bump into Guillermo Del Toro on the street corner, who after taking one look at me would instantly offer me a starring role in his next film. I imagined what it would be like to take a look outside of my bedroom window and see the Hollywood sign in the distance. Los Angeles was where my dreams would come true. 

Roughly three weeks later I realized I had sadly been mistaken. Firstly, due to the crowds and the sheer level of insanitation, I—nor any celebrity—would ever willingly walk down Hollywood Boulevard, yet alone offer a stranger a starring role in anything other than a local STD commercial. Secondly, homes with the Hollywood sign vantage point are about $5.5MM over my price range, so I won’t be peering through my bedroom window to see historical landmarks any time soon. 

Nevertheless, I persisted, and about six months into college, I began working events across Los Angeles alongside some pretty well-known talent. As my Hollywood Boulevard bubble burst so did my childhood definition of “celebrity”. Much to my dismay, the people I grew up idolizing were—deep down—exhaustingly and regrettably normal

We Are All Just People

Dick Van Dyke just wants his morning Starbucks like everyone else. Tim Allen shops for laundry detergent at the local Gelson’s. Like me, Lizzo knows what it’s like to sit on the 405 for two hours only to go eight miles. As heartbreaking as it might be, these people we have grown to idolize are just like us, but without the relief of anonymity.  

Celebrities who I work with have to think about every move they make. They are in a public prison—constantly needing to calculate what they wear, what they say, and what they do because it could easily be the next headline on The Hollywood Reporter or TMZ. Every time they go to the gym, the gas station, the airport, the hospital, work, daycare, or dropping their kids off at school, they are constantly observed and judged like microbes under a microscope.

So, for me, the bubble burst.

The weight our society places on “celebrities” became incredibly sad to think about. And, when these people became “normal” to me, they simply stopped being celebrities. You can’t worship something that you no longer idolize. 

What Our Worship of the Celebrity Says About Us. 

My intention is to not make you feel judged for clicking on a Yahoo News story, but instead to make you stop and think about what in yourself attracts you to celebrity, to think about why do we do this?

Perhaps the modern idolization of celebrities simply provides us with a distraction, either from ourselves or what is irritating us about our culture and society. Maybe we just want a momentary relief from our everyday struggles, and one moment of thinking about who Jonathan Van Ness kissed in an elevator is one less moment you’re thinking about when rent is due. 

But I think also, everyone wants something in THEM to be celebrated or celebratized, whether that is locally, nationally, or globally. Everyone idolizes something or someone to some degree. And, maybe it all boils down to the fact that we all want recognition for what we do? We all want to be liked. We all want to be accepted.

Celebrities allow us to experiment with a “human testing ground”. Like lab rats, we can test a celebrity’s behavior and opinions and stack them against how the public reacts in order to confirm or deny our own beliefs. We crave validation, but we fear commitment. If celebrities feel how we do, and those celebrities are generally supported by society, perhaps we are able to settle and feel comfortable in our own beliefs.

The idea of the modern celebrity is an illusion that we, as a society, have created. It is perpetuated by our own insecurities. Why do we really care what a celebrity wore to a grocery store? Or who got into a Twitter fight? What celebrities got a divorce? Perhaps the articles that we click on say less about their subject and more about the person who is clicking them. 

Compliment this essay with Creativity and Self Doubt in a World of Infinite Content

Lexie Tankersley graduated from Pepperdine University with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts. Upon graduation, she worked at Nickelodeon in the Talent & Events Department, overseeing the yearly Kids’ Choice and Kids’ Choice Sports Award Shows. Lexie left Nickelodeon to work for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s company HITRECORD- where she currently serves as a Producer / Production Coordinator. Lexie has produced the SXSW premiere of HITRECORD’s BAND TOGETHER WITH LOGIC, which aired as a YouTube Original in early 2019. She is now producing Joseph’s original podcast CREATIVE PROCESSING and produced/edited a book with HarperCollins due to be released in February 2020 titled THE ART OF BREAKING UP.

Other Essays on Being Human: 

Mental Toughness and Running: A Metaphor for Living

Dying Daily: How to Handle Life’s Challenges

Sunsets, New Beginnings, and Uncertainty

One thought on “The Illusion of Celebrity”

  1. I really enjoyed this. I think it’s spot on. “Maybe we just want a momentary relief from our everyday struggles, and one moment of thinking about who Jonathan Van Ness kissed in an elevator is one less moment you’re thinking about when rent is due.” BOOM.

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