Social Psych

Location: Santa Ana, California, United States

Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics and an admitted diet fanatic. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of two interactive workbooks, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual and Diet With An Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook, she also publishes a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge and various weight loss mini-courses. She can be reached at,, or

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Cult of Celebrity

Every day, we are privy to new and ever more lurid details of Michael Jackson's strange lifestyle. We always knew he lived in a fairy tale world where he honestly believed that he was white and mainstream and emotionally healthy. Whether his peccadillos were as innocent as he maintains is for the jury to decide but regardless of whether he is guilty as accused, his behavior certainly never even remotely exhibited any level of maturity or the ability to make rational decisions beyond the "I want it now" level of a young child. And yet, daily, his "fans" turn out to support him, even fainting in the courtroom, overwhelmed by the stress of their idol under siege.

What is it about fame and celebrity that so grips us? Do we have no real life of our own? We live vicariously through our heroes' existence and eradicate our own individuality to become simply a follower.

Would the trial of a no-name alleged child molester pack a courtroom? Of course not. The Jackson trial is important, and constantly reported, because of a famous name. Too many of us confuse the fame that outwardly attaches to rock stars, movie stars, royalty stars, sport stars, and political stars, with the inner character of the individual who bears the name. We see the fa├žade painstakingly erected by legions of public relations specialists and image consultants and think that we are seeing something real. We cannot believe that the dark underside really exists because we "know Michael" (or Kobe, or O.J.) and "he wouldn't do anything like that."

Scott Peterson was recently convicted of double murder. Whether he really committed the crimes is beside the point -- in his trial he was indisputably revealed as a self-centered, immature philanderer with the morals of a sewer rat. Yet his first week on death row generated 85 letters per day, mainly from women, several offering proposals of marriage!

Because he's "cute"? The prisoner who received even more such mail was Charles Manson and even his mother couldn't call Charlie "cute."

We respond to celebrities, and try to somehow enter their lives, because there is an inner vacuum we desperately need to fill. Imagine if all that core emptiness was to focus on concerns other than the famous: on volunteering to help the homeless and the poor, on reaching out towards world peace and human dignity, on adopting lost children and giving them a future, or on visiting the sick and the dying.

The problem is that there is no glitter in rubbing elbows with needy no-names. It takes too much time and energy to get involved in charity works when we can simply show up at a celebrity circus and make believe that we are actually part of the scene.

The tabloids are not interested in publicizing programs and people out of the spotlight because they know it won't sell. So we continue to devour every rumor, every snippet of gossip, every carefully placed picture and article about our stars, and assiduously avoid the self-examination that would reveal the hollow values and personal desperation that lurks inside.