Our obsession with
the culture of celebrity
By Megan O'Toole and Maggie Wrobel
North Americans have been obsessed with celebrities since the days of
silent film stars, this obsession seemed more profound than ever in 2002.
From the whirlwind relationship of J-Lo and Ben, to catching glimpses
of Avril Lavigne's "back cleavage," to kids "becoming"
their most idolized celeb for a day, the last twelve months have been
a veritable heyday for America's celebrity-obsessed youth.
Following every move of their favourite celebrity has always been a popular
hobby for Americans, but this year, television took this fascination to
new heights by providing people with a window into the day-to-day life
of a musical legend.
The Osbournes became MTV's biggest hit ever, providing the nation
with an "all-access pass" into the home of the drugged-out,
mindlessly gleeful, ever-engaging Ozzy Osbourne. Kept in line by brilliant
manager/marketer Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy along with the couple's
sullen son Jack and their punky daughter Kelly was welcomed into
the homes of millions of American.
Not content at simply allowing Americans to watch celebrities, MTV also
cooked up a scheme to allow Jon from Connecticut (or any other generic
teen like him) a chance to live his dream and actually "become"
his favorite celebrity. MTV's Becoming is a strange phenomenon,
showing kids that, if they're not happy with their own mundane lives,
there's still hope for them to become someone else if only for
a few hours.
But no TV show could compare with the success of Fox's Star Search-esque
soap opera, American Idol. Hundreds of young hopefuls poured
in to try out for the show, some with the full knowledge that this would
probably be their only chance for a Hollywood-style "big break."
Although a nation of teens was glued to their TV sets throughout the show's
run, winner and "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson is already facing
one-hit wonder status and accusations of cheating to win her shot at the
big time. Not exactly a perfect example for impressionable, starry-eyed
But, if any one artist in 2002 set the example for fame-starved teens
all over North America, it was a teenage girl from a small, northern Ontario
No one had a bigger year than Napanee's Avril Lavigne. Her instant fame
wasn't surprising, considering her calculatingly polished "punk rock"
look, catchy pop hooks and the support of record industry mogul L.A. Reid.
Rather, what was surprising was the amount of fiery backlash and the seemingly
instant army of "haters" that Lavigne inspired. Following closely
at the heels of Lavigne's fame came a trail of accusations: she used to
be a country singer! She doesn't write her own music! The punk look is
just a clever facade to help her sell records!
Of course, at the same time, the people making such accusations rarely
chose to do little more than complain. These very people are the same
ones continually buying into an industry of "cool" an
industry that makes someone who looks like Lavigne an instant superstar.
Yet for every star that rises in the media world, another one falls, and
2002 was no exception to this long-standing rule.
Former icons Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson all made
headlines with bizarre behavior and very public meltdowns including
the rather disturbing disintegration of Jackson's nose and both
the media and the public were absolutely unmerciful.
Michael Jackson is perhaps the most notable example of this phenomenon,
as he has done almost a complete 180 since his Thriller days.
Someone who was once considered the true "King of Pop" is now
mocked for his freakish plastic-surgery mishaps and bizarre behaviour.
The "King," now dubbed by the media as "Wacko Jacko,"
has fallen into the pit of public ridicule.
Is the public truly so fickle that their opinions can be fundamentally
altered by the media? Can magazines and television shows cause people
to lose all respect for a person whom they once idolized?
Unfortunately, in today's media-driven world, the answer is yes. It's
easier for the public to jump on the bandwagon of "celebrity-hating,"
rather than to stand up for the stars who may not be cranking out the
current hits, but who contributed greatly to the history of the entire
Overall, 2002 was a year that emphasized, rather than altered, the key
issues at the heart of a celebrity-obsessed nation. To borrow the lyrics
of goth rocker Marilyn Manson an artist who has faced the wrath
of the media and the public repeatedly the media of 2002 continued
a vicious cycle: "They orchestrated dramatic new scenes for celebritarian