If you are living, reading this on some lit screen somewhere away from me, I suspect we were both born into the same sort of world. Forever people have been born into a material world. We lived with objects and objects with us, and together we made each other. Now as much as a material world I feel born into a celebrity world, still making each other. There is no opting out of the celebrity machine, no erasing fame whether or not you have it. What is the opposite of celebrity? Normalcy? Fandom? Obscurity? Anonymity? The divide might not be clear, but what side you're on probably is. (I don’t know about you, but my face isn’t on any merchandise and my name has never trended online.) The modern-day celebrity seems at once entirely new as they function as a person/product/social media presence/franchise/image/etc. On the other hand, celebrity commands worship in a way that feels ancient, deep down, almost noncognitive.
It is not clear what we want from celebrities or what they want from us. Some people are devoted to celebrities, but devotion is not required by the celebrity apparatus. At most, awareness is. The mega-celebrities we have today are not just “people too” as we are often told. It seems counterintuitive to try to normalize celebrities as celebrity is contingent on the extraordinary. If celebrities really wanted to be normal (whatever that means) and us “normals” wanted the same for them, then what’s the problem? But celebrity is not just a matter of individuals not knowing what they want– although I am sympathetic to the indie movie staring out the window sad song brand of malaise– because celebrity is not about individuals. Celebrity is a systemic issue, and though it may be propagated via Instagram feeds and slick-covered magazines, those are only superficial manifestations of celebrity. Celebrity is a type of privilege that exists in the periphery of and is contingent on more prominent systems of power like race, class, gender, etc. Nobody goes to jail for not being famous, but fame has certainly helped a lot of people avoid it. Like it or not, celebrities have real power. Their relationship with audiences is exploitative, and you are probably on the side of being exploited. Influencers are influencing me and you, us. This influence is not just one product in a sponsored post, not a simple referral code, but in the creation of a physical world decreasingly untouched by celebrity.
To be a fan is similarly unavoidable and yet that does not rid the term of its tragedy. To be a fan is to give into some dark wanting, to see yourself on the edge of obsession without realizing you are and always have been inside its inescapable depths. To convince yourself that you are not one of the crazy fans is in this way always right– there are no crazy fans, just fans operating on a celebrity defined logic. Being a fan is a bad thing but also unavoidable, like eating sugar or hurting someone you love. Nobody makes it out unscathed because nobody makes it out. Celebrity worship cannot escape its violent roots, from Madame Tussaud’s wax casts of decapitated heads to Eminem’s Stan whose celebrity obsession lead first to music video death, and now to rebirth as the signature cry of e-boys and e-girls. So here we are living under celebrity and it seems there is nothing else to do but just that. The question of our times might not be what do you stand for, but rather: who do you stan for?