Starry eyed: Why are we so obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous?

Celeb Instagrams may be new, but celebrity-watching has been a common sport for centuries.
Starry eyed: Why are we so obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous?
Starry eyed: Why are we so obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous?
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No sooner had TMZ broken the news of Angelina Jolie filing for a divorce from Brad Pitt on Tuesday, than the internet exploded. 

Apart from the social media frenzy, the number of spill-off articles over the "shocking" news has been immense. 

You could read about who Laura Wasser (the lawyer representing Jolie) is? Or perhaps how Jennifer Aniston reacted to the news of Brangelina heading to Splitsville? What happens to the couple's $672 mn worth joint assets and the theories surrounding the disintegration of their marriage of two years and relationship of twelve years are some of the other intriguing questions cropping up. 

If nothing else, you could at least have a laugh with the hilarious Jennifer Aniston memes that have cropped up on the internet. 

The celebrity gossip industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and feeding on the audience's interest is not just the media, but very often celebrities themselves.  

So what attracts mere mortals to the lives of celebs?

Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, says it’s our desire to live through others. "The most obvious explanation is that humans enjoy living vicariously through those of our species who are richer, more famous, attractive, and sexually desirable than the rest of us. Whether couched in terms of envy, admiration, or derision, celebrity fascination begins as an exercise in imaging what it would be like to lead a more carefree and pleasurable life."

Human beings are social animals and according to psychologists it’s a natural instinct for us to look up to those on the top of the social ladder. 

 "There's a few different reasons for that. One is just learning what high-status individuals do so you might more effectively become one, and two, it's basically political. Knowing what is going on with high-status individuals, you'd be better able to navigate the social scene," Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan, told Live Science

While easy access to news or photos related to celebrities is fairly new, the concept of celebrity has existed for quite some time now, the report explains. "People have long looked to monarchs for social, and even fashion, cues: The now-ubiquitous white wedding dress caught on after Queen Victoria wore one in 1840," it states.

A still from Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Fan/Facebook

Of course, the gossip that we pine for or are more attracted to does tend towards the negative kind. As Weisberg, in his Slate piece, points out, “The flip side of the fantasy of irresponsible fabulosity is schadenfreude—the pleasure we take in the misfortune of others.”

A piece on why we yearn for celebrity news in Psychology Today explains how such schadenfreude works.

"People often act as if joy is dependent on achieving material gain. Seeing people that seem to ‘have it all’ suffer (going through divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, etc.), momentarily shatters that illusion. And then people can think, ‘Perhaps it's OK that I don't have my own television show, and own three yachts and four mansions."

Remember the Tiger Woods episode? 

One study even found that celebrity worship may be good for some people's self-esteem. 

Intrigued by Michael Jackson's fandom, Shira Gabriel, a psychologist at the University at Buffalo, conducted a series of studies on the topic. Gabriel wanted to study what pleasure people derived from following the lives of celebrities. 

"Because people form bonds in their mind with their favorite celebrities, they are able to assimilate the celebrity's characteristics in themselves and feel better about themselves when they think about that celebrity. And that is something these individuals can't do in real relationships because their fear of rejection keeps them from getting close to people," she told TIME

As James Houran, a psychologist who helped create the first questionnaire to measure celebrity worship, put it for Live Science, "Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person's life. It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of self. It feeds a psychological need."

Of course, as has become obvious from multiple cases in the last few years, celebrity worship can easily become dangerous when people go overboard and display extreme behaviours like stalking or self-harm. 

 In 2009, a minor girl ran away from her house in Lucknow to meet actor Akshay Kumar in Mumbai. She reached his home, and slit her wrist when she was unable to meet the star. 

When an obsessed fan started sending Sushmita Sen expensive gifts in 2008, she did not give it much thought. Until, the man sent her a bridal dress and accessories and threatened her to marry him or be ready to die.

A man stalking Shruti Haasan reached her apartment in 2013 and reportedly tried to strangle her as he tried barging into the house. 

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