Overwhelmed by Celebrity Culture, with Tim Caulfield

June 15, 2015

Celebrities have always played an oversized role in our culture, and there’s nothing new about them using their star power to endorse ideas or products. But we now live in a time in which mass media consumption is greater than ever before, and the celebrities we revere are now at our fingertips, often only tweet away. This constant bombardment of celebrity culture is proving to have a greater impact on how we live our lives than we may even realize. Even if you aim to ignore celebrity endorsement, the ripple effects in our hyper-connected world are often unavoidable.

This week on Point of inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein chats with Tim Caulfield, law professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, as well as the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy. Caulfield is here to discuss his newest public health book, Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash. Caulfield’s research provides new insight into just how much of our well-being is at the mercy of our favorite stars.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, June 15th, 2015. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry. A production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Tim Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything How the Famous Selous Elixirs of Health, Beauty and Happiness. He’s the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. So, Tim, you’re a law professor who specializes in public health issues. How did you come to write a book about celebrity culture? 

It’s interesting because I’ve been interested my whole career about what the evidence says in relation to health policy. So what do you talking about obesity policy, whether you’re talking about genetic policy or stem cells or you name it? That’s always been something that I’ve done as part of makes my day job. And I love it and I’m fascinated by it. And that’s where I really think my love of good science was formed. But throughout that time, I’ve noticed that the increasing relevance and the increasing power of popular culture, not just celebrities or popular culture more broadly, all on on so many, I would say all these issues going on so many. And it gets really all of these issues, whether you’re talking about stem cells or whether you’re talking about dieting, when you talk about physical activity, and certainly if you’re talking about public health in the context of vaccination. So I really thought, well, look, celebrity culture is a great way to look at all of these issues as record lens to use. Look at these issues. In addition to that, I really think it’s important. I think celebrity culture clearly has a big impact and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that it does. So this isn’t just me speculating. 

There’s lots of empirical evidence to suggest it has a tremendous impact on health decisions and health policy, etc. And you yourself have something of a history of pursuing celebrity in as well in ways other than as an author and a law professor. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

Yeah, that’s right. You know, people think, oh, he must be he must hate celebrity culture and he wants to tear it apart. And in fact, that’s not the case at all. As you know, I love celebrity culture. But also, when I was younger, I had a burning desire to be a rock star. I was in a band for many years and had moderate level of success. Certainly nothing in the realm of celebrity success. But enough that, you know, it kept that that dream alive. And so I can kind of sympathize with the idea that the draw of celebrity culture and how it can become, you know, very enticing, very seductive. So, yeah, for sure, I have that kind of personal connection. And in the book, I try to use that right as her to use that to understand the variety of perspectives that are relevant to the story. 

How do you define celebrity culture? There’s a big literature around it, but what makes the celebrity culture of today that we point to, like when we look at the card actions and that whole Cardassian industrial complex? What differentiates that from, say, the 1950s when we had a lot of celebrities, but maybe not celebrity culture in the same way? 

That’s a great question. 

And to be honest with you, I’m still thinking about it. I’m still thinking about how you know, what the difference is and how that plays out. But I will say this. Look, in the past and, you know, 1950s is a an example that you had, you know, that star that Grace Kelly, it seemed otherworldly, right? It was like a different realm there, almost like secular. You know, they were royalty and they were like secular gods or, you know, they seemed like apart from us. Right. A fantasyland. Now, celebrities of all just everywhere. Now they’re I think they’re much more present in our lives and they seem much closer. Right. And they not only do they seem closer to their world and closer, it seems more attainable. And there’s almost a reason for that. You know, one is, you know, the reality television shows that office I think social media plays a very big, very big part. And just access to media in general plays a very big part. Know when I was growing up. You had to make an effort to see an image of her here. Hey, you know, to buy a magazine or, you know, you didn’t control what was being shown to you on television. You know, now we have immediate access to all of these images and they’re around all the time. So celebrity culture for my kids is very different from celebrity culture for me. And my subculture is very different from my current celebrity culture. And it’s only intensifying in its presence in our lives. And I think it’s an influence over a lot. 

Do you think the ability to make your own media and distribute on media has also propelling the sort of dream of people becoming celebrities? Like it’s so much easier to have your own blog or your own YouTube channel or a podcast or whatever it be, creating your own culture. Do you think that helps stoke the kind of myth that anybody could be famous for? 

Sure. Yeah, you know, I hear that, you know, here is an anecdote that very scientific on me, but I hear that anecdotally from, you know, from my kids’ friends and from audience members when I’m speaking on this. 

And there’s and it really plays to the illusion, the idea mix because it touches on a little bit what I was just talking about. It feels like it’s more attainable. If I just had a YouTube hit that blew up, I’d I would also be a celebrity. And, you know, in fact, it creates this belief that becoming a celebrity is easier than it used to be, recognized as much more obtainable when in fact, that’s not the case at all. You know, really what it does is increase the denominator. And and as you probably know, there’s this interesting talking device called denominator neglect. And, you know, people often, you know, they know of the ten or eleven or fifteen. You two birds who have made it huge. Or Twitter stars. You know. Most people do. But they ignore the massive denominator, too. 

In fact, over hundreds of millions of the millions of people who are putting up the hundreds of millions of blogs and YouTube’s are the subject swelling denominator. 

It’s hundreds of hours are uploaded, you know, more in a given any given moment. He had to raise hundreds of hours of video. And there’s so much luck involved and there has to be a uniqueness to it. And people just understand the rarity of it. In addition to that, I think that they believe that the fame. And there’s, again, some evidence to support this is going to bring them something that will not bring them. And so they’re attracted to that. And, yeah, it’s it’s just phenomenally rare. And in fact, I almost believe, you know, they’ll have data to back this up as certain informed speculation. That’s probably more difficult now, not easier because the denominator has increased. So everyone now is in the game, right? Yeah, I think it’s I think you’re on to something there. 

Why don’t we look to celebrities to give us advice about anything? I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow, she’s a great actress. I first conceived and also very naturally beautiful woman. But why would people think with biases and psychological tendencies are in place to make people think that, you know, a lifestyle that Gwyneth Paltrow endorses or cleanse or anything like that would be any better than the cleanse that our bus driver might recommend? Who’s really good at her job, too? 

Probably isn’t any better than that. But the fact about serving the race might be better. But the funny thing is that, you know, I hear a lot when I’m giving talks in this reality is that really, you know, I don’t follow, you know, suddenly Kultury are exceeding comments and things like that. You know, this is only added to that. There’s two levels at play here. First of all, there are clearly many people do follow celebrities, because if you just think of the things like cleansing and detoxing and juices, right. And then gluten free, all of those things probably wouldn’t exist or wouldn’t be nearly as popular. But for celebrity culture, I really think they’re all things. You know, trends have been driven, almost created by celebrity culture. So clearly, every culture has an impact. Then you can also look at all the data on the impact of celebrities and their own illness, whether it’s cancer as Angelina Jolie’s or the best example. 

The impact, it actually has a measurable impact on human behavior, like all those people going out wanting preventive frac demis and mastectomies because of the breast cancer gene, that kind of thing. 

That’s exactly right. To call it the Jolie effect. And it’s been measured in numerous countries. And we’ve actually done our own research on this to measure how the media covered that story. And it absolutely has. It has an impact and it can go on and on and on the show. Other examples. So why do people follow them? There’s some theories. There’s even evolutionary psychology theory that that we are predisposed to follow celebrities. And this is speculation and it’s very hard to study this empirically. But the idea is that for most of human history, there is an evolutionary advantage to following people with prestige because those individuals with prestige likely had some skill that gave them an advantage, whether it was hunting, etc.. Right. And so if you could identify those individuals and learn quickly from them, that would be an advantage to you. And the theory is that remnants of that remain with us today. And that sort of compel us to at least be fascinated with celebrity and perhaps follow them. Others have traits that even to groom behavior, you know, our desire to know about other people’s lives. And, you know, gossiping is an international phenomenon and people treat that to sort of unduly evolutionary underpinnings. 

Well, I have this theory that a mass society celebrity who everybody likes to gossip, but we have such a diffused society with so many people that we don’t all know the same people. But celebrities are the people that we can gossip about as if we knew them. And everybody can be part of the discussion. 

Yeah, I think I think that’s a really good point. And I think, you know, again, I regret the research I did. And I think that conversation has changed. I think we went back in time a couple of decades. We wouldn’t. The tone of the gossip would be different. Now we talk about Gwyneth and Katy Perry as if we know them. And and there are some studies that show that social media helps to create this power, social relationships, so people feel like they’re friends with Katy Perry or Lady Gaga because they follow them and they feel like they’re tweeting them. Right. So I think I think you’re right about that. And and certainly that enhances the power that that celebrity culture has over society. 

And I think also just the way that people present themselves in social media, that they’re sharing the kinds of stuff that we all like people do share with their friends. So it’s cultivating a different pattern of relationship versus a, you know, a press release or a news conference or, you know, movie poster or something like that. If you’ve got. Beyonce say Instagram ing random shots from her day. It’s more like what somebody how somebody would relate to a friend. And there wasn’t that kind of ongoing contact in a friend’s style in previous generations with celebrities. 

I think you’re absolutely right about that. The tone of the conversation for sure has changed. And some of the advice that I call it, I call it incidental advice. You know, unlike Gwyneth, who’s clearly making a point of talking about help, you have some people like Shailene Woodley as a young actress in youth. She just sort of, incidentally, talks about her habits and the things that she believes and in the context of how she does it. And just the manner you suggested. Right. She said in a chatty tone, as if she’s talking to friends on Twitter. And I think that draws closer to them and makes us feel closer to them. And it makes her life seem more real. And it makes it seem like their lives are perhaps more obtainable. 

Do you think that there’s a meaningful difference between the way that Angelina Jolie started talking about ovarian and breast cancer versus the way that Gwyneth Paltrow went about popularizing cleanses and all the crazy stuff? I feel like, you know, they’re both celebrities. They’re both promoting a health idea. But Angelina Jolie is going at it like, well, this is what my doctors told me. I’m not saying you should do this because I’m Angelina Jolie and I have a perfect life. I just happened to be a famous person that’s getting the best medical advice that money can buy versus Gwyneth Paltrow. Seems like she’s kind of capitalizing on her own celebrity and charisma to convince people of stuff. But in some ways, it seems like they’re kind of they’re also very similar. 

You are right. I mean, we’ve as I said, we’ve done research on this. And I love the Jolie’s story because for me, it highlights how complex the relationship between society and celebrity is, because the Jolie story, you know, is often held up as well. You know, here’s a good example of somebody doing good. Right. And you were right to her op ed. Thoughtful. And she was kind of telling her own story. She wasn’t through offering explicit advice, but rather explaining the choices that she made in the information that she gathered in order to make those decisions. So, you know, much, much different than Gwyneth telling us to get, you know, telling women to get their vaginas DJ Grothe and but still but still even that thought, full disclosure, that was made with the absolute best of intentions at a very complex, in effect on society. Was it good? It did increase the uptake of prophylactic surgery. It did increase information seeking to relatively good websites. His studies have told us. But on the other hand, it does not. You know, there’s a study that was done shortly after the first disclosure did not increase knowledge. People were just aware of her story. Our own research showed that the media did not disclose the rarity of her condition and that screening and that in that context, maybe not be right for everyone. There’s also concern it may have increased anxiety around breast cancer. Studies tell us that women already clearly over estimate the risk of breast cancer. The Jolie story helped or hurt. So it really shows the impact. Another thing I think is fascinating is Jolie did a great job. Right. But when she’s done, it goes into the celebrity sphere. No longer her story. It takes on a life of its own. It’s the Chile effect. Right. And really shows the power and complexity. 

Did you follow that horrible backlash from the natural news network with Mike Adams attacking Angelina Jolie and selling his his fraudulent newsletters? Mr. Attacking Angelina Jolie for self mutilation? 

No, I didn’t see that. I didn’t see it. Take a look at that. Doesn’t surprise me. 

He’s just one of the most despicable people in Holtmann. He’s he’s like a low, low, low rent. Mercalli just the worst. But, yeah, it became a platform for a lot of really sleazy people to then, you know, cash in on celebrity culture and say how awful all these things were. You know, cancer was really caused by diet and pesticides. 

And that’s the other thing, of course, that happens with these stories. Even, you know, that can happen on both sides of the story. Right. So even if people don’t agree, let’s say Jenny McCarthy. Right. He don’t agree with Jenny McCarthy. You think she’s an idiot and ill informed you terribly all for just her talking about it. Keep keep these stories alive. Keep the myth alive. Right. You know, it’s that availability bias or we can sometimes call the availability cascade. Right. And you certainly, you know, celebrity certainly feed that in the context of Angelina Jolie. There’s a good and bad to it. Right. But it created this opportunity to talk about these issues, whether they’re soap scholars from the US who argue that celebrities should not, you know, offer advice or stay out of any kind of health issue that requires new are complex, and that they should reserve their advice to things that are straightforward, like don’t smoke, wear a seatbelt, you know, drink in moderation. No, keep keep the messaging simple. And if there’s anything complex like screening, they don’t see that there is really a role for celebrities to play. 

And certainly they would not be in favor of celebrities endorsing unproven weight loss techniques like cleanser. Or anything like that. 

Yeah, you know that. So I love the Clintons topic. I love the detox topic because it’s just so clearly bogus. So clearly bug. And it’s clearly also a phenomenon that wouldn’t exist. But for celebrity culture. I mean, I really think when it deserves a lot of credit or blame for the creation of the detox industry, which is put billions of dollars. 

I think she deserves a lot of credit for reviving the great purgative tradition in American patent medicine. I mean, that goes way back to the eighteen hundreds of people like the father of the graham cracker who were really into enemas and, you know, Daito. 

Yeah. Yeah. I think you’re right. And she uses a lot of the same language, right? Yeah. Yeah. 

That idea that dealing with detoxing, I’ll even have discussions with people in the audience. 

The average person has this intuitive appeal, right. This idea of removing toxins through our body. And then all these problems with our system is caused by by these toxins. And if we can just get them out of our system, we’re going to solve a lot of problems with weight loss or. You know, you have this general malaise. And so it does happen to feel so you can see what people like, what if and others really play to it. 

I feel like it’s also just a socially acceptable form of purging that, you know, polemic symptoms are considered rightly possible symptoms of a life threatening disease. But if you’re purging your intestines with Gwyneth Paltrow as Blessing’s, I mean, it’s considered healthy and normal. 

I think you’re right. It’s sort of the modern day version of evil spirits or have a bunch of dimensions to it. One of the people I interviewed, Walter well at the thought that perhaps did nutrition the although Patricia from Harvard thought, you know, it is kind of this way of punishing yourself for eating poorly. I’ve eaten terribly for three months. Got. I’m going to punish myself and go on this purge. So I think that element to it for sure. 

In addition to that, that I experienced this when I went on, you know, when it’s clean, clean, it’s really, really difficult. So you feel like you achieved something. 

It’s like, you know, doing it there at the end of it. You think I did it? I did it. You do get the sort of patterns from from that aspect of it, even though it actually serves no physical purpose. 

Did you do a whole 21 days? 

You better believe it. It was so hard. 

Did you strangle anybody along the way? I had to eat that little for 21 days. People would die. I would have no friends left at the end. 

It is a crash day and basically what it is. Exactly. So I come the first week just ridiculously difficult because, you know, you can drink coffee, which killed me. And, you know, the calorie restriction is tort free. And you go to sleep really hungry, which is often not fun. So for sure, I find it difficult in any kind of getting to groove for the second week. And then, you know, last week I think it was done. So it’s really, really tough and completely, you know, all this pain for no gain, really. 

But I didn’t lose weight and it came right back on, like, how was it waterway that came back up the next week or just like over the weeks that you need to come back over the weeks and follow them? 

And, you know, I like to believe already, you know, relatively true. And either despite that, I lost nine pounds, which isn’t insignificant. Right. And so it seemed to be a combination of just, you know, water weight or whatever. But it did come back relatively quickly. Then the funny thing is, I was depressed when it came back, even though I know I knew it would. And even though I knew I probably didn’t lose a real weight. And that really kind of plays to our, you know, how we think about weight in our society right now. You know, any healthy life is good no matter how you do. It is ridiculous. 

And also, there’s a lot of research is this is just dieting behavior can make people who weren’t preoccupied about their body image before to become more preoccupied about it just because of the food restriction and the behaviors around that. 

And I think celebrity culture really plays to that to that point. I love to make around. This is one of the sort of broader concerns of celebrity culture, is it really does promote and emphasize these terribly unhealthy strategies, like detoxing. You know, these extreme strategies instead of, you know, healthy, sustainable lifestyle. More worrisome, though, they also know they promote a motive. The motivation for doing those things is all based on esthetics. It’s all based on sort of external extrinsic goals. Right. When it all you know, when studies tell us that if you do these things for intrinsic reasons, you know, because you love the activity, because you love feeling healthy, that if you do it for the extrinsic reasons, you’re less likely to succeed. 

And you are less likely to be happy with the result. So that’s sort of one of the broader concerns I have with celebrity culture and its impact on health. 

It’s kind of an interesting paradox. In the book, you talk about how people systematically overrate their own attractiveness relative to the population at large. Everybody thinks they’re at least a seven. And yet people are systematically obsessed to the point of torturing themselves for weeks on these weird diets with fixing their appearance. How do those two things square with each other? 

Truthfully, I think I had a funny way. And you think I get the quote by hard hit? Yeah. It’s like we we think we’re better looking than everyone else, but it’s still not good looking enough for him. Right. So, you know, humans do that kind of thing all the time. Right? They do that kind of thing all the time. You know, we’re not we’re terribly inconsistent creatures. And so the idea is, if you’re asked to rate yourself, you rate yourself as being you. I think that guy’s average like I think the average guy puts themselves like seven out of 10. He’ll look half a guy in the world are uglier than the other half. We all think we’re better looking. Women are a little bit more. 

I mean, do they explain to people that the scale is, you know, sort of normally distributed? Because I feel like maybe they’re not committing a fallacy. Maybe they just think human beings are really good looking bunch. Like on a scale of one to 10 of absolute attractiveness. Most humans are about to. I mean, the thought is that the way the bell curve work, I mean, most macaws, you know, really beautiful animals are, but less than nine. But humans are probably about seven in terms of a change. I think that’s that’s a generous interpretation. 

I think most guys think they’re pretty hot. And I think that what happens is, you know, you sort of marathon phenomenon comes in and this is it touches the back or something. We’re talking about beginning comparing yourself to celebrities. Right. It’s the standard. You still don’t think you know that you’re good looking enough and you should be striving for that that ideal, which is an unrealistic ideal of an ideal that doesn’t even exist. Really, because these individuals are genetic freaks. They are airbrushed and they have perfect lighting and they have on the perfect makeup. So, you know, it’s a completely unrealistic standard, but that we’re bombarded with that standard through social media, through all forms of media all the time. So I think that’s how that paradox kind of plays out, why it exists. You know, we have cognitive biases on the one hand, having us overrate ourselves, our own abilities. And on the other hand, we have the social comparison phenomenon that comes in that creates this constant feeling of inadequacy. So, yeah, it’s a fascinating paradox. 

And I love talking as you’re researching the book. You spent a lot of time in the hardscrabble worlds of aspiring celebrities, actors and American Idol contestants and don’t film stars and all kinds of interesting subcultures. Can you tell us a bit about those adventures? 

So first, I love pop culture as an excuse to do all those things, but I really thought it was important to get a sense of pop culture as much as I could dove into it, particularly for the latter half of the book. Right. So I did try out for American Idol in San Francisco. And it’s fair. It’s more accurate to say the joke in the book. I try to try out because I’m too old and I had a rule I would never, you know, be deceitful. That was always the idea. But they were great. American Idol was great. They let me hang around and interview the contestants because they knew my book was going to be coming out until after the show aired. And that was fascinating because I had an opportunity to talk to these these kids. And so it’s not so young about their dreams. And I really thought that the half of them would have been there on a lark just for fun. Yeah. But I couldn’t believe the percentage that wanted to be. They thought they were going to be a celebrity. They thought that that was a way out of some kind of economic circumstance that they were in and they seemed to believe they really were going to make it. So I was shocked at the numbers. The other thing I found fascinating. I a touched just on just briefly is when people started, you know, these contestants started to realize I had a pen and paper and was taking notes. Everyone wanted to be interviewed. Right. They all wanted that moment. I said, no, I’m just writing a book. 

You don’t really want to be interviewed. They didn’t care. Right? Everyone wanted to be interviewed. 

It’s all exposure and exposure is good exposure. And this with this wonky academic I mean, you know a lot about music. 

You’re a musician yourself. I’m not quite sure how to word this question, but what percentage of those people were serious contenders in the sense that they practiced music? 

They had musical training. They were in some sense fit to be there as opposed to people who just thought they would sing a song, no matter how seriously they believed that they were contenders in the game. 

That I think almost all of the people I interviewed were in the game. Right. I really do. I you know, they were they were touring. They were. Some of them had that from the outside world, looking in a high degree of success. And they were, you know, a lot of it were at the South by southwest event, which in itself is like a mark of a degree of success, or at least the perception that these individuals have potential. So, yeah, I mean, it was fascinating. And the idea is, you know, I caught the numbers in the book, the chance of any of them making a dime more so that I wish I could renew those numbers that I was growing up. It’s also tough to make a living as a musician and to become, you know, a rock star, become a bona fide rock star is near impossible. You know, it’s like getting hit by an asteroid. Mick Jagger’s of the world, you are just so, so rare that it’s in any kind of real statistical sense. They don’t exist. I mean, could is that. 

I think my partner had the right attitude about making a career in music. He leads a jazz big band. And his attitude when he started was, I don’t even think I’m going to be employable. This is all going to explode any day. And I can’t stop because I love playing the music so much. And he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his big band yesterday. But he was like sort of an A.I. stardom for you. 

As you know, I talked about this in the book. Some my son called me the Dream Crusher. And I actually think that I hope it’s liberating. And this is particularly so maybe for musicians and then, you know, an athlete. And the idea is that, you know, you should be doing these things because you love it. Right. 

And you have a passion for it. And I heard this from actors and directors and agents and just some musicians, you know, that, you know, you should do it for that reason and not the desire to be famous. And the irony, of course, is it for doing it for the right reasons. You probably ever so slightly increase your chance of success. Vanishingly small remains because, you know, you’re more likely to make great art for the purposes of making great art. 

And at least you’re feeling successful as you go along, whenever you make something that’s good, whether other people love it or not, it’s there and it’s your vision and it’s real. 

Exactly. Exactly right. Exactly right. And another thing, of course, they talk about this in the book is that they say this show that people think celebrities have become famous because they’ve earned it. They’ve worked harder. You know, that you can somehow see a whole American dream idea. Right? If you just work hard enough and stick with it and reach for the stars and never give up, you know, you can make it. But in fact, it luck, luck, luck, luck, luck. You know, it’s so much depended on luck. And you can’t you know, you can’t make your luck as it is, you know, the the motivational speakers, I guess, to believe that luck is luck. That’s why it’s called luck. And, you know, I had everyone tell me that I even had individuals that worked with extremely famous people. Tell me that, you know, they realize it was luck that they just got the lottery ticket and they appreciate every day that they have. 

How is Server Anoush Again Ashram doing? He’s a character in the book who’s an aspiring actor in New York City who just got a part online order right when you were when you interviewed him. 

That’s right. So I just got an e-mail from Facebook, actually, and he’s still struggling. 

He loved it. He loved the section that I literally days ago got an e-mail from him. And he is loving life in New York. He loved the part of the book that he was in, but he’s still a struggling actor. He’s still plugging away at it. And it was something I did it. 

I interviewed quite a few actors, actually, and they’re all working actors who had parts in me show theme parks and big movies. And that is a tough, tough job. Holy cow. Because it really is a life of rejection and the challenge of making it, you know, celebrity big is ridiculously rare and it doesn’t last long. Right. So, yeah, it was a Saturday. That was a fascinating journey. 

And it seems like the chance of making it working. Actor Big is even in New York anyway. It seems like it’s even steeper than the chance of being, you know, working musician if you’re not expecting to make a good living at either of them. Like, you can gig around and play and tour and do all kinds of stuff, even as a dedicated quasi professional musician and get a lot of the rewards out of a musical career that you would get from being, you know, a celebrated professional musician. But it seems like being an actor, it’s trying to be a professional actor at all. 

It’s just really it is a grind for all the reasons that you just said. If you’re a musician, you know, you can really YouTube clips yourself how which way the talking will play on the street and be fantastic. Right. You feel like you’re creating the being an actor, you know, especially if you want to be a film or TV actor. It’s pretty tough. You know, people are doing YouTube clips and things like that. No, it really isn’t the same. If you’re going to make a living at it, you need someone to employ you, which makes it all the more difficult. And again, so much luck involved and have to be in the right place. Right time. Right. Look, you know, during your audition. Yeah. Many people, big actors they talked to being an actor really is hearing. No. Did you hear so often? 

In the book, you talk a lot about how truly unhealthy celebrity is for people, especially in terms of their personal relationships. What is it about celebrity? That’s like people want to be celebrities because they want to feel like they belong and they’re accepted and that sort of thing. What is it about celebrity that so actually corrosive to interpersonal intimacy and healthy relationships? 

That’s part of the book. 

You know, I have it there because I want to note that, look, the journey to become a celebrity is an illusion, so much based on luck and so much basis so, so difficult. So, so few make it. But not only that, the journey is an illusion that all is also illusion. And the way it’s sold or the way that popular culture to itself, to us is becoming a celebrity has all the components of what we should want in life. You know, it is the definition of American dream. Going to be rich. You’re going to be successful. You have fabulous homes. You’re going to look beautiful. You have these fabulous relationships when in fact, there’s no evidence to suggest the celebrities are happier. You know, to be fair. It’s either that many empirical studies, there are some you know, they refer to them in the book, but there aren’t that many. But there is certainly no evidence that they’re happier. There’s some evidence that they die sooner. There’s an interesting study that just came out that broke down early deaths by musical genre. Funny but tragic also. You know, you are more likely to get a divorce. And again, it’s hard to get good empirical data on that, but that’s the existing evidence points in that direction. So and also, you know, there’s research on professional athletes that tells you how often they end up broke. So, you know, you’re going to be the chance. You’re going to be divorced, broke and unemployed. And so this is what you’re wishing for. It’s not a great goal. So why is that the case? I think it’s just so tough. You know, you’re under the spotlight. There’s all these pressures on you all the time. All of the jobs are in general. The pension fund is great. These are not secure jobs. Right. So all of those things conspire to make it a really difficult kind of career choice if, you know, sustain. Wellness is our ultimate goal in many respects. Shouldn’t that be? What about Nicole? 

Do you think that there’s an economic reason why people are suddenly gravitating towards these pie in the sky? Celebrity dreams as good, stable, well-paying middle class jobs have evaporated, that people need somewhere else to put their aspirations? 

Yeah. So this is you’re touching on. It’s not part of my book. And I note there that I’m speculating. I’m sort of using data and doing a rough correlation. But I think you’re right. And many of the commentators I talked to, some of the experts around the world agree with this. In the countries where there’s the lowest amount of social mobility. So the United States and the U.K., for example, there seems to be the highest interest in celebrity culture. And is celebrity culture kind of serving as a wish fulfillment? This idea that this is a magical form of social mobility. And given that the inability or the lack of social ability in the real world, you know, here is this vehicle that I can turn to that that may solve the social mobility problem for myself and for my family. I heard that from the American Idol contestants I interviewed in our here, heard that from some of the the aspiring musicians and actors. They really view it as a vehicle of social mobility in this vehicle towards greater happiness and fulfillment. And so, yeah, I think you’re right about that. And that’s an area that would be interesting in a more interesting to more research on that, you know, this connection between celebrity culture and economic circumstance. 

That’s all the time we have today. Tim, thanks so much for coming on the show. 

Well, thank you for the opportunity. Really interesting. It’s a wonderful book. I really enjoyed it. Thank you. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.