Again, what is WITH people who worship celebrities?

Yes, that headline is a blast from my past, from my earliest blogging days, when I looked at this picture of some Michael Jackson fans waiting breathlessly for news of a verdict in his 2005 trial on child molestation charges.michael_jackson_fans

I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. Yeah, I can understand someone liking the guy’s music, and being amazed by his dance moves earlier in his career.

But to care about somebody you don’t even know to that degree? How do people get to be that way? What is missing in people that they try to fill the void with celebrity worship?

Anyway, I was reminded of it after running across one item after another about an allegedly (I can’t seem to find video of it, so I can’t confirm its awesomeness) awesome performance by Beyoncé over the weekend. The web is filled with headlines such as “Beyoncé makes history at Coachella” and “What It Was Like to Be in the Audience for Beyoncé’s Historic Coachella Show.”

In my effort to understand this no doubt amazing event, I first had to look up “Coachella,” because I had never heard of it before — something that amazes my wife, by the way, but there it is. To me, it sounded like a name the Disney people would give to a wicked stepmother/sorceress sort of villainess. Like “Cruella De Vil.”

I’m hip. I’m with it. I’ve heard of Bonnaroo. But this was a new one on me. So I’ll just have to take others’ word for how “historic” — how like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and the 13th Amendment, and the Yalta Conference — this event was. I am, however, willing to learn — if someone can direct me to video of the lady’s stupendous performance.

It would have to be historic, for onlookers to wear expressions such as these (sorry about linking to it rather than showing it, but I can’t afford Getty’s prices). Those folks look like they are witnesses to the Transfiguration, and are as overwhelmed and addled by it as Simon Peter was. (I found that picture on an NYT piece headlined “Beyoncé and the End of Respectability Politics,” which I was tricked into reading by the fact that it was in the Opinion part of my NYT app.)

Someone will no doubt point to some cultural touchstone from my own youth, and say something like, “Look at how audiences reacted to the Beatles!” But that will not score many points, because — while I think the Beatles were great, unique, unprecedented, even historic (or at least historical) — I always thought the screaming-teenybopper phenomenon was ridiculous, too. It was… uncool.

But aside from having never been a teenage girl, I think maybe I just was never really young in that sense. My wife will back me up on this, since she’s known me since I was 19. (Alla you kids get offa my lawn. And get a grip on yourselves.)

But seriously: What makes people get so worked up by entertainers and other celebrities?

9 thoughts on “Again, what is WITH people who worship celebrities?

  1. Rose

    I’m with you, Brad. I’ve enjoyed concerts, but never fell into the hysterical screaming teen girl behavior. My first concert was with an older cousin at a teen idol’s show (I was in 6th grade). I just could not understand why girls were screaming and fighting over his sweaty t-shirt when he threw it into the audience. I thought it was disgusting.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Hmmm… Two of my last three post headlines have begun, “Again,…”

    Need to work on varying it up a bit.

    Or better yet, come up with something to say that I haven’t said before…

  3. Bart

    Not well publicized but Frank Sinatra had screaming females at his concerts in his early years. Seems like singers and screen stars have been “idolized” for as long as I can remember. Never understood and never felt the compulsion to engage in the hysterics (my description) of watching or meeting someone who entertains for a living. Maybe I am the “get offa my lawn” dude but I never got it and still don’t.

    I guess it hit me the hardest when I was a member of the Jaycees when I lived in Virginia. We worked as ushers for the coliseum in Salem, Va. where the acts of the day appeared. Saw many of the top shows and acts of the time but the one that simply blew me away was when Herman and the Hermits appeared. During their performance, we had to form a human barricade between them and the young people in the audience to protect the band members. Our arms were locked together and they tried to jump over, crawl under or gang up in a large group to break the chain so they could get to the stage to throw an assortment of signs and other things on stage. Trinkets, signs, underwear, or anything they thought would get the band’s attention. One guy got to the stage after the band had left, put a handmade sign on the stage, kissed the stage and all the time crying and I think screaming. The worst part for one of the guys in the human barricade about 3 down from me was when he was stuck in the butt cheek with a long hat pin by a young girl. The look on his face was terrible and he had to break the chain because of the intense pain. He had to get medical attention because at the time we didn’t know how bad his injury was. After this experience, we refused to work any concert that featured teen favorite bands. The bruises from being punched, kicked, pummeled and scratched were not worth the few dollars we earned for our work and FWIW, we didn’t get paid anything, all of the money went to our Jaycee chapter.

    The very best concert and most well behaved audience was the one we worked for the James Brown Revue. Great band, great music, and great audience. No rushing the stage, no fainting, no screaming, and no disruptions. The coliseum was packed with people of all ages and James Brown was the consummate stage performer. The audiences were polar opposites and Brown’s audience won hands down.

    I guess for me, it is not much different today than it was decades ago other than exposure to a wider audience and some celebrities who are supposed to be “singers” are absolutely terrible. Give me a Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Percy Sledge, Etta James, Jim Croce, The Platters, and other singers who actually had or have great voices and don’t need the flash, smoke, and mirrors to entertain. They didn’t need to show so much skin and engage in suggestive undulations to sell a song, they did it with talent.

      1. Bart

        One other quick note on the concert. A very attractive young girl walked up to one of my friends who was about 8 members of the human chain down from me and wrapped her arms around his neck and proceeded to give him a kiss on the lips that would smother most people. She did this to distract him long enough for her friends to sneak through the line. John said he had to hold his breath and concentrate on not letting his attention wander or let his arms interlocked with the guys on either side of him relax. The real problem was that he had to explain to his wife why he was covered with lipstick and smelled or reeked of perfume when he got home. Not sure how that turned out because he wouldn’t discuss it with me after he told Becky.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “She’s a drag, a well-known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.”

        No, I’m not talking about Catherine Templeton. I mean Susan…

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