Should we be so obsessed with chasing celebrities?


Ryan Gosling surrounded by Toronto media outside of the Ryerson Theatre during TIFF 2011. (Trung Ho)

[L]et me begin with a disclaimer: I’m not a celebrity stalker. In fact, I’ve never even met a famous person. Once at a cast party I encountered the lady from that Ikea commercial –you know, the one who yells “Start the car!” –but seriously, that’s close as I’ve come.

In recent weeks, as the city’s geared up for TIFF, just about every newspaper has run their slew of annual “How to meet the stars” stories. I’ve scarcely paid attention.

For the most part, I side with the mass of angry, bored bloggers: of course celebrity culture is frivolous. Of course “hunting” celebrities, as far as pastimes go, is ridiculous.

Celebrity hunting can be problematic. It reduces human stars to pieces of popular culture to be shared among fans, and diminishes their privacy and agency.

Undeniably, there are more constructive ways to spend time –walking your dog, cleaning the stove-top and calling your mother all come to mind –and celebrity culture can distract from deeper, more pressing and consequential issues.

And of course, if it descends into disorder-like conduct, celebrity hunting can’t be condoned (used- tissue-buying and genuine stalking are so not fair game).

Even stars themselves have spoken against it. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt sparked discussion in July, when he presented an obvious anti-celebrity culture stance in an interview with GQ.

Gordon-Levitt expressed his discomfort with the idea that Americans fawn over celebrities, saying he didn’t believe that stars should be elevated in importance over others. He referred to celebrity idolizing as “degrading” to non-famous individuals.

The actor has been known to refuse speaking with fans and signing autographs as a boycott against the celebrity-worship attitude.

For the most part, I agree with him.

Still, a part of me empathizes with the hoards that will inevitably crowd doorways and block sidewalks when TIFF rolls in this week.

Because they’ll just be doing what all of us have done in one way or another: attempting to live out a fantasy.

Celebrities have so many of the elements of perfect fantastical beings. They’re talented, seemingly financially stable and man, are some of them ever pretty. Movie stars in particular exist largely to us in the fantasy worlds of their films –spaces we use for escape and distraction. It’s not entirely shocking we obsess over them.

To find and meet a favourite celebrity is to temporarily fuse those worlds, to add a shot of fantasy into the regular reality. To me, it seems similar to playing a round of Dungeons and Dragons, or dressing up on Halloween, or doing whatever else it is you weirdos like to do. It’s a quick, temporary hit of excitement.

Oftentimes things that aren’t acceptable in the real world are okay in the fantasy one (waiting outside a restaurant to glimpse James Franco, socially acceptable. Waiting outside one to see your buddy from Soc class, not so much). And therein lies the fun. Any good fantasy or escape should blur those lines slightly.

Celebrity spotting is at best another way for to play, to step temporarily outside of the real world and experience the thrill of something fun.

Moderation and respect are obviously important. It’s unhealthy to religiously follow a celebrity, and unfair to lose sight of the fact that they merit the same space and privacy as other human beings.

Celebrity culture has little purpose. It’s shallow, sensationalized and can get a little crazy.

Still, so long as they don’t come at the expense of others, those feelings of thrill and fun are positive –and if waving to Julianne Moore is what’ll do it for you, then hey, go crazy.