Photo: Chris Blanchette

Why do we care so much about famous people?

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By Nicole Schmidt

In March 2012, after falling off a podium during a rehearsal, British pop-singer Jessie J ended up with a cast and a stalker. The crazed fan, who reportedly texted Jessie saying, “I will do anything to be just like you,” broke her own leg in an attempt to more closely resemble the celebrity.

Similar tales of extreme fandom aren’t uncommon. Three years ago, a 22-year-old man was arrested for trespassing after swimming more than three kilometres to Taylor Swift’s beach-front home in Rhode Island. Another obsessive teen “penned” a letter to South-Korean K-pop singer Taecyeon using her menstrual blood. In it, she wrote, “I dedicate to Taecyeon my period blood letter … you cannot live without me.”

Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) trans-forms downtown Toronto—and the Ryerson Theatre—into a celebrity hunting ground. As actors make their way to red carpet movie premiers, hoards of screaming fans follow closely behind. Some wait outside for hours, fully equipped with food and medical supplies. Others come prepared to aggressively elbow anyone who gets in the way.

The photo editors at The Eyeopener have seen most of this shit first-hand. Last year, one of them got pushed off the ladder they were using to shoot photos by a dude who decided he needed a better view. Another editor observed a grown woman break down into tears as celebrities made their way into the theatre.

This is my fourth year observing TIFF. I’ve learned that fans are creatures of dedication, but I’ve never been able to completely understand why we care so much about famous people.

Evolutionary biologists have said that it’s normal for people to look up to individuals who receive attention for succeeding in society, in part because we all want our own success and fortune. According to John Maltby from the University of Leicester, in prehistoric times, people respected good hunters and elders. Now that these qualities are no longer prevalent, the focus has shifted to celebrities.

A more extreme explanation, deemed “celebrity worship syndrome” by experts, occurs when a person becomes obsessive and addictive towards someone in the public eye. It’s been estimated that 1 per cent of the population exhibits obsessive tendencies, while 10 per cent display “intense interest in celebrities.”

Admittedly, when I was 12 I thought I was in love with the Sprouse twins from Family Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” For the sake of preserving a bit of my dignity, let’s call it a brief phase—although, there was a point where I slept with their photo under my pillow.

There’s no denying that celebrities are often beautiful and talented. But when we get caught up in fandom, we fail to acknowledge the obvious role models in our day-to-day lives.

Ryerson is teeming with creativity. Professors and peers always seem to be working on projects—things that are important, and things that matter more than chart-topping hits or a perfectly toned body.

Sheila Kohler, lecturer at Princeton University, wrote it best: We copy the famous in an attempt to capture the glamour we admire. But we can read the great writers or study the great painters and musicians to learn their tricks of the trade, in an effort to emulate, and in some rare cases to surpass what came before us.

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