“Oh my God, did you hear about Charlie Sheen? He was hospitalized; it’s awful that he is such a hot mess.”

“No, you know what’s awful? The Justin Bieber movie. Almost as bad as the wall of Biebs posters my sister has at home!”

Celebrity gossip has become unavoidable in mass media today and constantly filters into everyday conversations or Internet browsing—it is to the point that entire television stations, magazines, and websites are devoted to satisfying audiences’ sweet tooth for celebrity junk food.

In my opinion, following celebrities’ lives is not definitely good or bad; it is more of a faded spectrum between social regularity and helpless obsession. Celebrity gossip and news has been forced into everyday life through all sorts of media, so regardless of where readers turn, they will notice the latest stories. More than once have I gone to the Yahoo! homepage to see the best and worst dressed celebrities of the week front and center instead of stories covering national news.

As Fairfield University Communications Professor Michael Serazio said, “Hard news is not only often sad, but it can be hard to understand. Reading about Britney Spears doesn’t take that much effort.” Combine this easy reading with the inadvertent accessibility to ‘celeb candy,’ and a powerful need to be-in-the-know about other peoples’ lives is born and steadily growing.

Gossip websites such as Perez Hilton or Just Jared deliver information that audiences crave more than Charlie Sheen will be craving alcohol after a few more days in the hospital.

So just what is so fascinating about celebrities that we waste our money, time and attention following their Tweets, buying their posters, watching their shows, wearing their jerseys, copying their actions and attitudes, and even shoving through huge crowds of fans for them to scribble their John Hancock onto a scrap of paper? More important than asking why we do these things, is attempting to determine that line between following a celebrity in a social manner and downright stalking them.

In our society, it is practically a necessity to have a certain degree of celebrity knowledge, but it isn’t okay to vicariously live through the life of a famous person. Serazio agrees that it’s tough to draw the line.

“I think all of us probably model ourselves after some public figure,” he said. “When it becomes an obsession is when it become a problem – it winds up controlling you.”

There is the level below obsession, which provides people with conversation topics, inclusiveness with peers, or even a source for a social role model.

In the 1950s, Donald Horton and Richard Wohl brought to light the media studies term “parasocial” relationships. These relationships are the degree to which audience members feel they interact with their favorite media personalities.

Sarah Putnick ‘13, a Media Studies/Television major, suggests that having celebrities as role models or a common interest with friends is on the good end of the spectrum of pop culture obsession.

“I think it can be unhealthy too because it could lead you to be really disappointed in life. It’s not reality,” said Putnick. “I do it too in certain situations but you just have to remind yourself it’s not real.”

Creating parasocial relationships can certainly deter the mind from reality by creating surrogate relationships for fans who feel the need to live vicariously through a celebrity, or who desire more company, more relationships, or feel as though they actually know the media personnel they are obsessing over.

Twitter has also certainly opened a new realm in the already ultra-exposing Internet world of pop culture and publicity. Now we can know just where and when celebrities are doing everything from performing to buying cereal at the grocery store. Do we really need to know celebrities at this level? Do we create unhealthy parasocial relationships by exposing ourselves to unrealistic, one-sided relationships with the rich and famous?

Perhaps – this line between normal and unacceptable is blurred, smudged and smeared even more than Ke$ha’s make-up after a Saturday night gig. Given the constant accessibility and the easy reading that celebrity gossip makes, it doesn’t matter if you seek out the information on purpose or are just browsing the Internet.

Celebrities are here to stay, and the line won’t be any more visible than the line for Justin Beiber’s movie will be if you don’t count girls between the ages of 10 and 16. This familiarity versus obsession can be both good and bad, so we should at least make a semi-conscious attempt to stick to the positive side of consuming pop culture.

As Serazio said, “We have to make sure it is worth it to be paying for these celebrities, not only with our money, but with our attention. Are they really worth it?”

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