A Cult of Personality

The admiration most people have of their favorite celebrities is generally considered harmless enough, although it sometimes borders on obsessive without being clinically so.  What should we think, then, when people collect together and turn their simple fan clubs into full fledged religions complete with doctrines based on what the celebrity means to them?  The celebrities that are chosen to have cults built around them don’t necessarily have to be real.  In fact, several religious “cults” have been built up around fictional characters as well. 

The first celebrity cult, of course probably harkens back to Rome when nobles and their family would often crown themselves gods either during or at the end of their long political careers.  Celebrity heroes and generals would likewise be added to the pantheon of not only Roman, but several religions throughout history.

So when the United States is compared to the Roman empire, here is yet another similarity that can be found.  Our heroes and celebrities are likewise ascended to a form of divinity, although it seems to be in a much stranger way.  Of course to call any religion, alternative or otherwise a cult requires some explanation.  The term is itself considered pejorative, but in this sense it is an amelioration of the word.  The word is meant with cultural connotation but without the negative connotation that would otherwise be inherent.  Should any Mulderites or Elfmanarians be reading, this article is written not to point out a dangerous threat to our society, but to rather elucidate on alternative religion which universal vocabulary has not yet caught up to.

Of course there are others, such as the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult, from which we get many of our opinions of cults.  It seems that these religious organizations such as the Mulderites are a little more self aware that their organizations are a little on the cutting edge of strangeness.  The Mulderites seem to have a sort of tongue in cheek way of looking at their organization even in the way they look at their tenets.  They do, for example, consider primarily the first few seasons of their religion’s favorite show to be canonical rather than the last few which they consider to be made mainly to make money.

And the first church of Tiger Woods, which recently dissolved, is another example of how these celebrity cults deviate in nature from the negative more dangerous type of cult.  In light of several things the Church of Tiger Woods disapproved of in their messiah, they have now dissolved saying Tiger Woods is no longer their messiah.  On the other hand, many cults bearing the name fan clubs are proving to be dangerously dedicated.  Many celebrities use their fan base, particularly those with younger fans, to do things that they specifically believe in.

Usually these are specifically altruistic in nature, but still hold a disturbing amount of control over the youths they are controlling.  In recent times, for example, there has been a major movement of celebrity targeted youths to follow specific religions.  Is there a real danger of celebrity cults?  It certainly doesn’t seem like it.  On the other hand, generalized celebrity worship seems to be symptomatic of a larger problem.  When we admire someone and wish to better ourselves to match their quality, it seems like a healthy developmental process. But why are we really wanting to match them?  Is it a like for the fictionalized lives they lead?  Or a disdain for the real world and by extension ourselves?