The Rise of Celebrity as Religion
Image is now at the center of consumerist life in the United States. The rise of celebrity, social media, visual media, and the focus on the individual experience exists as the basis for which much of self-judgement relies on. Fame, while a seemingly consumerist and non-enlightened aspect of American life, has then found its way into the soul of success. Celebrity, the manifestation of such fame, has become interwoven in the human experience and acquired an aura of transcendence. Arguments centered around the “collective effervescence,” described as the “state of popular excitement, frenzy, and ecstasy” that celebrities arouse—whether it be the Grateful Dead’s ability to produce an experience of “epiphany, of visionary experience of mystical unity and identity” or the way the sudden death of a young celebrity can generate “reports of frenzied fans, fainting individuals, sobbing mourned, and final gestures, such as touching the casket of kissing the various props—“ it’s evident that celebrities do not occupy the same space as someone without the same accumulation of fame. (“Celebrity and Religion” 172; Fame Attack 120; Laderman 68). The emotional arousal that celebrities are able to invoke requires the investigation of how such an attachment can be created, capitalized on, and where it exists in our current society. Discovering whether this popular sentiment around fame exists as a religion of celebrity requires the detanglement of “religion” as a construct, an understanding of religious movement in US history, the exploration of the function of celebrity and celebrity worship in society, and a nuanced exploration of “religion” and its variances in the United States.
The Controversial Definition of ‘Religion’
In evaluating the possibility of celebrity as religion, an understanding of what constitutes religion and what does not demands scrutiny. Amongst the list of world religions are Christianity, Gnosticism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Greek orthodox, Wicca, Voudou, and countless other theologies. Each of these religions contain defining features that make them different from the next—whether it be the religion’s monotheistic rather than polytheistic worship, the expectations for afterlife, or the holy book (or lack thereof) from which the values of such religion are understood. Yet, amidst this plethora of variances, there’s a severe lack in disagreement that any of these religions are not just that, a religion. Various definitions have been provided in an effort to detangle the elusive existence of religion, there (non-finitely) exists the existentialist, functionalist, and phenomenological methods of defining the concept. However, the lack of an absolute definition and criteria of religion, begins the exploration of celebrity as religion in a shroud of ambiguity. Pete Ward proposes that an “understanding of [celebrity] religion needs to be developed by drawing upon previous theoretical frameworks in an open-ended way” (Ward 57). Wards proposed integration of various defining features of established religions into the schema of this “religion of celebrity,” however, therefore invokes a distrust of the qualities unique to celebrity worship. In order, to divine the differentiating values and practices of celebrity worship, we must first discern the traces of established definitions of “religion” already evident in the religion of celebrity.
Traditional Understandings of ‘Religion’
Numerous proposed perspectives and theories on the definition of “religion” provide insight into the intangibility of the term “religion.” The essentialist perspective, as defined by anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor in the 1800s is the “belief in spiritual beings,” or “animism.” Calling upon the idea of the soul, Tylor’s parameters for religion relied on the differentiation of the soul and the body and the ideal of a higher-than-human form (Ward 58, 59). Immediately, celebrity worship would be then dismissed as possibly classifying as a “religion,” considering at the crux of celebrity worship is the reverence for the human form. Defining “religion,” takes a drastic divergence in William Robertson Smith’s explanation of religion as “a series of acts and observances…for the preservation and welfare of society” (Ward 60). By Smith’s definition, a park ranger could hypothetically be practicing some quasi-religion in his consistent upkeep of his own local forest. Emilie Durkheim proposes yet another understanding of religion with the functionalist theory in that religion is the “distinction between the sacred and the profane” in which “religious beliefs express the sacredness of things, while religious rituals constitute the ‘rules of conduct’” (62). Geertz, a fellow functionalist anthropologist, adds to the confusion with his definition that religion is a system that “shapes and affects people’s senses and action through structuring of life” (63). Geertz believes religion is the source of the ideal and the means to achieve the ideal. Pervading the history of the definition of religion is an inability to lock down what it means for a system or code of beliefs or reverences or observances or so on to be established firmly as a religion. Yet, we are capable in arguing the possibility of celebrity as religion without a firm list of criteria as to what would create a declarative answer. This fracture in logic opens the academic discussion to questions of interpretation. Thus, a modern adjustment into what constitutes religion is essential to the analysis of celebrity worship as a potential form of religion.
Modern Confusions Over the Term ‘Religion’
In theological conversations, phrases such as “the strange new world of religion in contemporary America” perpetuate the understanding that religion in the United States is slippery and rarely limited to its original defining features. Theologian Jon Butler admits to this unnavigable confusion in his statement: “[Religion in the US] is so complex and heterogeneous as to baffle observers and adherents alike.” Butler contributes more so to the inclusivity of “religion” with his expansion and adoption of magic, astrology, and occultism in his understanding of American religions (Santana 15). However, can this greater inclusion actually strengthen a definition of religion? In this expansion and increased ambiguity lent to “religion,” Butler defines religion in its inability to be defined, which creates a definition in itself: religion is felt and understood, not declared. Robert Orsi comments on this exact phenomenon in his 2015 publication Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture. Orsi argues that the existence of the word “religion” amplified by Western biases, creates a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea of religion in its entirety (18). As confusions over the definition of “religion” turn from the overly exclusive to the absolute extremes of inclusive (a complete lack of definition), the nature of the discussion mimics the arc of religion in the United States and explains Pete Ward’s remark that “religion is now found in association with nature and with culture” (Ward 19).
The Fall of Traditional Monotheistic Religion in the United States
The Fall of Traditional Religions and Its Influences
Echoes of Friedrich Nietzsche’s declaration (albeit extreme) that “God is dead” are evident in the history of traditional, organized religion in American history. While much more delicate than Nietzsche’s assertion, Gary Laderman reflects on the fruitless efforts of American Christians to centralize American life around the Bible and God in his book Sacred Matters here he concludes, “America is now more than ever a country without a sacred center” (Laderman 2). Jon Butler explains the decline of Christianity as a product of the New World, that is the United States. His argument that the deregulation and freedom of New World Christianity from “a complex infrastructure of theology, law and social process,” gave way to the birth of new “religions, belief systems, mythologies, and supernatural entities.” Butler further argues that too much attention is drawn to Puritanism in America’s religious history, and instead, it is in the religious eclecticism that the story of American religion is best told (Santana 15). While not often seen as a dismantling of the established system of religion in the United States, the Protestant movement created the concept of religious mobility and autonomy. The sense of individual empowerment that arose from such religious divergences did not, however, fully come to light until these religious tendencies spilled into the glaringly alternative.
The Rise of Non-Traditional Religious Thought and Its Pull Factors
Toward the end of World War I, sociologist Georg Simmel “identified a general condition in which cultural life was losing adherence to objective or transcendent standards” (Weinstein 295). It was after the Second World War, however, that it became clear what this cultural life was readhering itself to. Born into a world of conformity, the baby boomer generation rebelliously matured into the 1960s with an air of rejection: rejection of conformity, rejection of authority, and therefore a rejection of the traditional belief sets. Seeking personal autonomy, the baby boomer generation sought religious and moral identity, not in the Christian beliefs that their parents clung to, but instead in explorations of Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Kabbalah (Oliver 31,32). Autonomy over religion became an outlet “for emergent youth subcultures who define themselves in opposition to dominant and residual subcultures” (Fame Attack 127). The blurring boundaries of religion and the counterculture mentality produced the basis for the modern understanding of celebrity as religious existences. A time for “proliferation of forms of New Age spirituality,” and specifically Hindu explorations, the celebrities of the counterculture rose as did the alternative religions (Weinstein 296). Especially the Beat Generation, symbolized by the rebel stardom of poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, broadcasted their religious dissent and conflictions in their books, poems, songs, and film. The Beat writers turn to “otherworldliness” created an aura of celebrity around the exploration of non-traditional spirituality—which was only amplified by their growing relationship with the celebrity band the Beatles. Simultaneous to the counterculture’s expansion of religious thought, the 1960s saw an increase in academic analysis and understanding of non-traditional religion (Santana 15). Religion became an individual based entity, rather than a conforming part of personal identity. Thus, giving way to a de-institutionalized approach to religion in the United States.
The Eternal Presence of Religiosity
The Omnipresent Religious Emotion
Regardless of this deinstitutionalizing of religion in America, a heavy presence of religious emotion remained in the United States. By “religious” we must return to the defining of “religion.” The yearning for religion was not constituted by an essentialist, nor functionalist, nor phenomenological definition of “religion,” but instead Orsi’s concept of religion that is inexplicable, yet present and understood. After explicitly relating it to the fall of Christianity, Deena and Michael Weinstein propose: “Celebrity worship is a substitute for traditional faith that satisfies spiritual needs that persist after the latter has declined” (Weinstein 295). Thus, the navigation of “religion” in history, combined with the shifts in American religion norms, created this intense feeling of vacancy left by religious emotion. Pete Ward’s “vacuum” of “religious impulses and hungers” after the decline of religious institutions was a dominating sentiment. Theologian John Caputo attributes this lingering to the fact that “human experience has a fundamentally religious quality” (Ward 4, 77). So, as Americans altered their religious alliances, the “system of religious energy” remained a finite, closed system. As deinstitutionalization led to less directed religious energy, a deep-seeded sentiment of spiritual drift began to be a defining factor. Laderman summarizes this America as a “social terrain that is not spiritually desolate but instead abundantly religious and blooming with sacred icons, popular devotions deep rooted mythologies and other sure signs of spiritual vivacity. It argues that people can inhabit multiple religious cultures at one time” (Laderman xvii). Thus, arises again the concept of “definition” and the limiting nature that calling religion “religion” and therefore calling one’s personal belief system by a specific “religion” actually sacrifices a large understanding of the sentiments. Providing the most clarity over the persistence of religious emotion, is the undeniable fact that religion is our “ultimate concern,” which Chris Rojek clarifies to mean “that religion addressees the fundamental question of being in the world. Even if traditional organized religion declines, these questions do not disappear” (“Celebrity and Religion” 173).
The sheer oppressiveness of this religious emotion gave rise to the concept of “religiosity.” Explained in “Celebrity Worship as Weak Religion,” “religiosity” is “the impulse to replace the structures of faith by a religious life that is purely a functional quality of inner life: the spiritual state which gave rise, and still does give rise to such structures of faith.” Weinstein then adds, “religiosity is an all-embracing, spontaneous process of life” (Weinstein 295). Religiosity is the shift of this religious emotion to a self-centered nature. Thus, this religious energy has shifted from the streamlined nature cultivated by strict, objective, traditional religion, to the external presence during the alternative religion oriented shift, and now has turned inward as best shown by the New Age spirituality. Richard Santana and Gregory Erickson counter this confinement of religiosity to the past fifty years with the argument that religiosity has always been a “constant in American culture.” Santana and Erickson call upon the evolution from Old World Christianity to New World Christianity as evidence of the intrinsic oriented presence of religion in America’s history (Santana 15). The deinstitutionalizing of religion in the US, then, is what creates the noticeable presence of religiosity in the US. Regardless, the possibility for the creation of celebrity as religion, while fueled by religiosity, was impossible until celebrity became the commonplace feature of popular culture that is today.
The Allure and Integration of Celebrity
The Schema for Celebrity Worship
While religiosity sought conduits, the rise of celebrity in the United States created the form for which religiosity could mold to. The culture of saints, idolatry, and the human nature prompted the morphing of a religion of celebrity. Calling on the cultus divorum developed around saints of the twelfth century, Chris Rojek introduces the long-standing opening for celebrity to mimic previously established religious phenomena. This celebrity of saints “who became objects of artistic veneration and popular devotion” is a artifact of previous religious celebrity (Fame Attack 117). Combined with this “echo of idolatry,” celebrities occupied the perfect role in popular culture to adopt reverence, even if such reverence was frowned upon in traditional US religion. Within the proliferation of science and humanistic thought, the reverence of image, glamour, and elevated status became the divide between the “sacred and the profane” (120). Historian Daniel Boorstil attributes the societal basis for celebrity worship to be a “cultural shift from a society with ‘ideals’ to one consumed by ‘images’” (Laderman 73). The emphasis on image-based appraisal rather than moral (or lesser so, intellectual) appraisal of celebrity prompted by a popular culture of fame and visual attention created a sense of divinity in the physical manifestation. Weinstein argues that religiosity sought to “attach itself transiently to finite objects immanent in the world.” As lesser and lesser faith was present in the non-concrete world, worldly existences became the setting for “profane vs divine.” “Celebrity worship seems to save the new polytheism from a total absorption in things,” continues Weinstein (296, 297). By having humans that are the conduits of materialism: money, fashion, and general displays of exorbitance, celebrity gained status as demonstrations of this higher existence. Combined with the conclusion by Gary Laderman that “humans are born to mimic each other,” and the supplying of media constructed stars as models and objects of worship, a system of reverence for popular culture celebrities became, essentially a construct. Although previously established ideologies allowed for room for celebrity to gain traction as a possible belief system, certain inherent qualities of celebrity status, as well as benefits of subscribing to the worship of celebrity, are really what prompted the creation of this possible celebrity religion.
The Allure of the Celebrity
The allure of celebrity is encompassed in Nathalie Henich’s statement that celebrities are “intercesseionary figures, gods in human form whose presence spans and translates between two worlds” (Henich 72). Celebrities simultaneously occupy the space of being untouchable and divine and, at the same time, intensely, equivocally human. Rojek explains that while the public is fully aware at the pure humanity, their “locus of fame” remains “glamorous, wealthier, having more glitzy appeal, business opportunities, and being free of normal social convention.” Rojek emphasizes that this “nucleus of fame is a public image of exoticism” to perpetuate their existence as somehow elevated to the understanding of the common human. (Fame Attack 127). Combined with the celebrity retinue enhanced “aura of magic” and immortality through film, photograph, and other means of creating records. that Rojek further calls upon, stars become just that: stars (“Celebrity and Religion” 177). However, these celebrities still exist as humans on this earth, not members of some heaven, or above, or alternate existence. Celebrities are “embodiments of his or her industrial/institutional setting as well as the expression of an audience/collective that attaches meaning to the public figure.” So, as the celebrity is elevated and elevated, at its most basic, the celebrity as an individual is still the product and reflection of their environment: “The celebrity system principally addresses the organization of concepts of individuality and identity for the culture” (Marshall 185). Thus, the second allure is the opposite of the status of “icon,” “idol,” “god,” and “star” granted to the celebrity: the flawed human individual. There are no rigid criteria for celebrity. A celebrity can be a sports star (Michael Jordan, Simone Biles), music star (Beyoncé, Michael Jackson), an intellect (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg), or a member of any other category. Thus, celebrities simultaneously exist with “divergent codes of conduct, multiple ethnicities, and a dizzying array of lifestyles and taste groups [that] endow the celebrity with a mystique.” What Weinstein call “the transcendence of celebrity over social diversity” is the fact that the celebrity is, at its core, just another individual (Weinstein 298). It could be argued that they exist as media constructed personas, and we are constantly seeing layers to these personalities, yet Weinstein argues, “rather than reaching some truth, celebrity profiles and exposés just add new layers to the original image” (299). Pete Ward carries this attraction for the celebrity as the individual in his argument that celebrities “offer a myriad of different ‘takes’ on what is possible in consumer culture, representing different way to be a woman, to be black, to be old…they mediate a range of possible ways of being human” (Ward 3). Celebrities “articulate both the promise and the difficulty that the notion of individuality presents for all of us who live by it” and “reflect versions of our own selves, painted as divine” (Dyer 87; Ward 6). Instead of the untouchable divine, celebrities exist as the touchable divine. They “represent the contradiction what it means to be human…they combine the sacred and the profane” (Ward 6). Celebrities are divine and human, and constantly dealing with the human but with somewhat higher capabilities and options that only their money, fame, and status allow them to capitalize on. Thus, making them higher operators in this “lower” world.
The Allure of the Worship of Celebrity
Yet, what cements celebrities worthy of worship is actually the freedom that worshipping such intangibly “divine” existences grants the worshipers. “They were not called ‘stars’ for nothing. They showed people the way to brighter, more pure things, and, as such, they were defined as inherently privileged,” Chris Rojek writes. Celebrities became guides to a higher level of existence. They were “men and women from ordinary backgrounds, who through their exceptional achievements, became objects of fame.” They were “role models and life coaches” (Fame Attack 130, 174). The primary drive to worship celebrity is simple: they were pictures of the success that the majority of Americans subscribed to as ultimate accomplishment in the new consumerist world. Yet, the plethora of fame-achieving individuals provided different celebrity role models for the choosing of consumers. “The cult of celebrity,” characterized by its polytheistic nature, “allows us to worship the best, the worst, and the most banal of ourselves,” and better yet, at our own choosing (Weinstein 298). It’s at the worshipper’s discretion if they are to “identify or disidentify” with that particular celebrity representing a particular set of morals, values, qualities, and personality traits. The worshiper is therefore “invited into decisions about our possible selves” (Ward 3). Thus, the worshipper is always in power of the portrayal of the religious self. A worshipper may switch the celebrity to which they are comparing themselves and are unbound by a “religious affiliation” or an adherence to a specified, authoratied system of beliefs that does not allow fluctuation. “The variety and diversity of celebrity culture is a constant barrier to meaningful generalization,” adds Chris Rojek, emphasizing the low stakes identification of a worshipper based on their subscription to this higher celebrity. There is no requirement for absolute allegiance. Furthermore, celebrities are not often elusive about their political, social, and personal beliefs and thoughts. William Blake, antinomian and inspiration of much of Allen Ginsberg’s beat poetry and an early image of the celebrity religion, in his case dubbed “counterculture Blake,” declared quite plainly of his individualization of his world, “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by Another Mans/I will not Reason and Compare; my business is to Create” (Kripal 100). The active interaction of image creator and image subscriber is a fundamental quality of the religion of celebrity, as the active adherence of the follower is empowered by the lack of absolute allegiance necessary.
Near revolutionary to celebrity worship, is the concentration of power in the hands of the worshippers. Celebrity is worshipper fueled, rather than the divine power being all-powerful, celebrity is earned. Though the commandments of Christianity were “beyond ordinary human life and were not subject to human revision,” the relationship of celebrity and fan does not cross worlds—they are both existing on the same plane and therefore the worshipper still holds their religious energy in their own hands (Weinstein 296). Pete Ward makes the point that “celebrity culture thrives on the fact that we take a view and we form a judgement. It wants us to take the moral high ground” (Ward 2). In that way, celebrity worship can be seen objectively as a system of betterment. However, more importantly and more surely, is that it redefines religion by making the average more powerful than the higher being. Thus, “celebrities are disposable,” however maintain the capability of redemption (Weinstein 298). This capability for redemption is unique because it challenges the blind worship of traditional religions—prominent figures such as President Bill Clinton after the Lewinsky affair, or Elizabeth Taylor after her alcoholism “appeal for compassion from the public” and Clinton still left office with the highest presidential approval rating (“Celebrity and Religion” 179). The reorganization of power within the religious relationship is crucial to the success of celebrity as an actual religion.
Like the individuality and ability to identify with celebrities, the mistake making nature of celebrities provides a further allure for their worship. Chris Rojek points out that we actually search for imperfections within our celebrity populations, we scour for mistakes and critiques. We do this because we know that cause and effect, crime and punishment, betrayal and disgrace are no exception to celebrities when the public is behind it (Fame Attack 182). In fact, Pete Ward even asserts that we take “pleasure in seeing our gods make mistakes” because it “paradoxically…seems to confirm their ‘humanity’ (Ward 7). This incorporates both the power of identity and the power of authority in celebrity worship to create the allure. Ward goes further to draw parallels between the celebrities’ mistake making and the fall of saints: “If celebrities are saints, then they are saints who we know have fallen, or will eventually fall, from grace” (32). Thus, the allure of celebrity worship is the comforting of the self in terms of power, autonomy, and control over the perception of self.
Redefining Religion and the Understanding of Para-Religion
Natalie Heinich provides a proposal for a fundamental restructuring of religion in lifhgt of this phenomenon of celebrity worship. She argues “we should finish with “religion,” and consider that religion is not an original matrix, but a contextual configuration.” Heinich asserts that rather than performing exhaustive analysis in order to discern a just-as-problematic definition of the elusive “religion,” we understand the “religion” is subject to the community in which it exists. She succinctly remarks: religion is “an indigenous notion rather than a tool for scientific thought” (Heinich 81). So, the understanding of religion becomes the awareness that it is a phenomenon not compactible into words, but rather a pervasive, omnipresent sentiment within our lives. Still, historians and theologians have proposed multiple interpretations of celebrity worship in efforts to reconcile the confusion surrounding “religion” with the palpable reverence celebrities receive from fans. Lived religion, “popular religion,” and, and a “milieu” theory is amongst the recalibration of religious thought. Meredith McGuire present her argument for lived religion by first working, again, with the definition of “religion: “scholars should no longer view religion as some kind of trans-historical essence, existing as a timeless and unitary phenomenon.” Instead, McGuire argues an understanding of religion based on the daily manifestations through the individual, the observable and felt actions and notions of the fan (Ward 75). This lived religione is essential to lending a religious interpretation to celebrity worship. This is a problem rooted in the “already merged amalgam of culture and religion” (Santana 18). Since traditional religion’s decline separation of worship and daily activities are no longer so strictly divided, for example, now, with yoga, one person may be practicing philosophy while the other may be solely exercising. Eric Michael Mazur and Kate McCarthy present a varying way of not necessarily discerning religion, like McGuire, but instead at the legitimizing of popular religion.
Popular religion, whether it be defined by its extra institutional status, its non-elite practitioner, its immediacy and informality, or the sheer numbers of people it draws, still refers to behavior and ideas recognized by both participant and observer as religious, even if the practices are not condoned by the religious elite. (Ward 18)
So, lived religion compensates for the fact that no person has, or most likely will, ever declare the religion they fall is that of celebrity, but that their worship instead makes it a religion still. And popular religion, makes space in the exclusive theological world that a worship system of celebrity be included. Chris Rojek, however, counters celebrity worship: “Celebrity culture is not substitute for religion. Rather, it is the milieu in which religious recognition and belonging are now enacted” (“Celebrity and Religion” 179). Celebrities, then, are removed from their God-like positions and instead seen as the “most enlightened of the lay people.” Pete Ward reiterates this in his assertion “that celebrity culture does not constitute a religion, but it draws attention to the ‘trace’ of the transcendent that persist in the popular” (Ward 85). Thus, the possibility that celebrity is not a religion, but more so evidence of the attempts of Americans to reconcile their religiosity with a lack of religion.
From these assertions of nuanced “religion” and the proposed non-existence of the religion of celebrity, comes the idea of “para-religion.” Para-religion plays on the second order intimacy stemming from media and resulting in these relationships of “presumed intimacy” between fan and celebrity (Fame Attack 124). The modern mass media normalizes the phenomenon of “intimate strangers” while the current customs and home life create space for such notions. Richard Schikel attributes “the growth of flextime, working from home, Web laborer, and flexible lifestyles” to be amongst the multitude of community aspects consistently fragmenting and weakening societal bonds (123). Rojek posits that we exist in the “world of the stranger,” wherein the individual is uprooted from family and community and relocated in the anonymous city, in which social relations are often glancing, episodic and unstable” (“Celebrity and Religion” 176). It’s from this vacancy of human connection that media patches with the created individualities and personalities of star culture. Stars are created to have “illusions of face to face contact” with their fans through their talk shows, social media accounts, and the expository journalism that adds “people-ness” to celebrity (Fame Attack 124). In looking at these fans specifically, Weinstein explains that the evident introverted nature of the more revering fans is a driving push towards celebrity worship. Rojek continues this notion with the assertion that “audiences amass feeling for the [performer] as a friend, a confidante, or a trusty counsellor.” In extreme cases, what Weinstein calls “erotomania” and Rojek calls “extreme para-sociability” develops, characterized by “the belief that one is loved by the para-social object,” so the fans notion that the celebrity loves them as a specific, unique individual, even when their relationship has been limited to the fan viewing the celebrity on TV (Weinstein 301; Fame Attack 125).
In an attempt “to capture the elusive, irreducible power of celebrity in the present and recent past,” historians are left with questions primarily over both the function of religion and the function of celebrity in society. (Laderman 71). Some of the most age old questions of what it means to be human are entangled in our religious explorations. As modern life shifts with the growth of the media and the technology, so too does our shaping of religious identity. In a para-social world, then, should para-religious belief systems then be excluded from accepted religion? Does the absence of blatant and explicit adherence to the “religion of celebrity” prevent the system of worship from legitimacy? The answers to these questions will always remain subjective as our interpretations of “religion” remain subjective. However, based on nuanced understandings of religion as a contextual construction and the functions of celebrity worship to allow the current insecurities of American people to be alleviated, the conclusion that celebrity functions as a religion in current US society appears to be substantiated. The role of celebrities as extreme individuals existing within our world, yet somehow elevated above the average person creates the basis for an “enlightened” human existence. While “nothing could seem further removed from the great monotheistic religions than worship of flawed human being whose glamour and charisma have been contrived by the publicity machine,” we persistently revere these celebrities as icons, idols, gods, and stars (Weinstein 294). Celebrity worship is a response to the search for divinity and transcendence in a world with drug use, flawed personalities, eating disorders, and countless other aspects non-conducive to a higher state of being. It is in accepting that we’ve come to revere a population undeserving of this religious respect, that prevents the accepting of what is true: celebrities have taken hold of themselves in contemporary world as religious figures of transcendence. Celebrities mustn’t be the equivalences of “Gods” to still be the highest powers in a new system of religion where celebrity is the highest manifestation of the divine.
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