Modern obsessions in a celebrity idol culture

It seems to be completely normal that someone like Justin Bieber can become hugely successful in our contemporary civilisation.

It seems to be completely normal that someone like Justin Bieber can become hugely successful in our contemporary civilisation. Fame seems to be bigger than ever before, yet it seems to have lost all correlation with the amount of talent a person has. Now it may be just me, but this perverted phenomena makes me question whether our Western society is really that advanced as we think it is.

I wonder for instance what it actually says about ourselves, that we allow people like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians to be that highly regarded and famous? For after all, we are the audience that maintains the fame of these people by worshipping them like idols.

It almost seems that some kind of social development has occurred that resulted in the fact that today we are no longer able to recognize quality.

I realise that I’m on dangerous grounds here and by now a lot of readers might disapprove of my firm belief that the previously mentioned artists are intrinsically bad or talentless. For as it happens quality these days is considered to be quite a sensitive subject. Who am I to say that Justin Bieber’s songs are bad? But perhaps this ambiguous attitude towards the definition of quality may itself be one of the reasons we have come to such talentless celebrities.

With the rise of enlightenment and the concurring ideal of individualism we seem to have slightly tilted towards a severe form of subjectivism. Since we no longer acknowledge the power of an almighty God that imposes irrefutable truths and a clear line between what’s good and bad, we consider ourselves to be the final judge of everything and with that everything has become subjective questionable. In the end, everything is ‘just a matter of taste’ and consequently, people nowadays can’t be proven wrong anymore when they say that Britney Spears is better than Beethoven.

There are no objective grounds left for us on which the prevailing trends or ideas can be evaluated. In fact, when you criticise someone like Justin Bieber, die-hard fans will often come up with the ‘but he still managed to become way more successful than you at such a young age!’ argument. But this kind of reversed reasoning really doesn’t prove that his talents or achievements have been so impressive that he managed to gain so much success with it, actually, it rather shows the mere inability of these fans to actually give a reasonable explanation for his fame, besides his being famous itself.

In his book The Ethics of Authenticity, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor points out another aspect of individualism. He detects that expressiveness is now valued higher than ever before, as this gives us the exclusive ability to articulate ourselves as unique individuals. The idolization of artists and creative occupations seems a logical consequence hereof. We highly regard those of us who express themselves in an original manner, but we have taken this one step too far as the focus appears to have shifted from ‘the things you do’ to ‘who you are.’ The artist himself has become more important than the art he or she produces. Special talents or achievements have lost a huge amount of their importance; it’s all about the personality.

This would explain how people like Justin Bieber or Paris Hilton could have reached the amount of fame they now have. Still, it doesn’t really make me less sad about it. What’s even worse is that it seems impossible to do something about this modern phenomenon of empty celebrity. And the scariest thing is, despite my critical stance towards this celebrity phenomenon, I must admit I too can’t help but devour every bit of news about the Kardashians or Jessica Simpson’s pregnancies.

What do you think? Are we in an obsessive age with celebrities? What do you think of the celebrity culture today? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.