Hurting from low self-esteem? Here is the latest fix: “celebrity worship.” As curious as this recommendation may sound, it comes from this week’s TIME magazine article analyzing our annual feast of celebrities on Oscar night.
How does it work? The articles quotes an University of Buffalo study to claim that “celebrity worship can improve self-esteem by allowing people — especially those who have self-esteem issues or fears of rejection that may keep them from developing close relationships in the real world — to enjoy a one-sided bond with a beloved star.” Or, to put it bluntly: can’t the gal next door to fall in love with you? No worries, ask Jennifer Lopez out. Got no prom date? Just picture yourself entering the ballroom with Zach Efron, and feel great about it. He’s not as real as your unrequited beloved, but hey, you’re still got a date!
The mechanics of this form of transference is spelled out in the article according to evolutionary theory. By gazing at celebrities, explains evolutionary psychologist Daniel Kruger, we are looking for cues to help us navigate the social world better, and, maybe, to one day become celebrities ourselves. “There [are] a few different reasons for that. One is just learning what high-status individuals do so you might more effectively become one, and two, it’s basically political. Knowing what is going on with high-status individuals, you’d be better able to navigate the social scene,” Kruger affirms.
I, for one, am trying give this recipe a try. Hopefully I can smile as charmingly as George Clooney does; my next challenge will be to climb a few steps as excitingly as Barack Obama before taking the speaking podium. My wife can already wave like a Disney princess (she’s really good at it, including the glassy smile) but I still got some improving to do if I am to ever accompany her at the parade. I can still hide behind the Donald Duck costume, though.
Yet, interestingly, as unconvincing as this strategy for self-improvement may sound, one can find a similar concept of worship transference in quite a different source: the Bible. In a book called We Become What We Worship, Gregory Beale points out that, according to biblical writers, we take on the characteristics of what we worship. The author of Psalm 115, for instance, describes the deafening effect of trying to hear idols who don’t’ speak:
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.
If this observation is true, I wonder whether our culture is getting increasingly numbed – seeing, hearing and smelling less and less. We see lot’s of gossip magazines at the supermarket’s checkout counter, but fail to look into the eyes of the person taking our money. We follow celebrities’ Twitter accounts, but know less of how our friends are doing. We see beautiful bodies and faces on TV, but can’t seem to appreciate people for more than that.
“There are more idols in the world than there are realities,” discerned Friedrich Nietzsche, and he may be right. Our worship of celebrities distorts our vision, and while we may learn a few make-up tricks observing them, the danger is that we may not learn much more than that. We may grow prettier and more confident, but also blinder and deafer too, too high in our self-esteem to understand the debasement we subjected ourselves to.
 Alexandra Sifferlin, Oscar Fixation: Why Are We Obsessed With Celebrities? http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/27/oscar-fixation-why-are-we-obsessed-with-celebrities/
 Gregory Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008).
 Psalm 115:4-8 NIV
 Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols”, quoted at Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Riverhead, 2009), xi.