Celebritology, the Religion
In the beginning, washingtonpost.com had a great idea. It would be a blog about culture and simultaneously feed and examine the insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip, photos and general table scraps. It would be called "Celebritology."
Brian Werner, a Telluride, Colo., technical consultant also had a great idea. It involved turning a magnifying glass on our culture's burgeoning idolization of actors, musicians, models and bold names in general. He would also call it "Celebritology" and, along with a busload of friends, march in a 2005 Independence Day parade carrying signs bearing images of the new gods -- Tom, Katie, Brad, Angie, Madge, Lindsay -- and messages like "What Would J.Lo Do?," "Britney's Baby Will Be Bring Balance to the Force" and (my favorite) "Jim Caviezel Died for Our Sins."
It was inevitable that one day, courtesy of an innocent Google search, these two parallel worlds would intersect. And that, my friends, is how I ended up on the phone with Werner on Thursday, giddily discussing "Celebritology" -- the social science, the religion, the addiction, the blog and this kick-[butt] set of photos.
Werner describes Celebritology as not only a cultural phenomenon, but an already-thriving religious ideology. Most just don't yet realize our devotion to the cult of superstardom. But, watch out Scientology -- if Werner is to be believed -- the bones of a pretty sophisticated belief system are already firmly in place: a galaxy of stars (gods) to rival those populating Mt. Olympus, regular opportunities to worship (via TV, movie theaters, music), fanatical devotion (can anyone say Bruce Boxleitner fan club), sacred texts (from the books of Oprah and Rupert to People and Us Weekly) and, ahem, prophets -- ranging from the apocalyptic (Perez Hilton) to the more conservative (yours truly).
Just how entrenched is this growing cult of personalities? Full interview and more photos after the jump...
Can you start from the beginning and tell me about the Church of Celebritology? All I've found on the Web is your photo gallery. Can you explain what this is all about?
Sure, well, you know the truth is that when we -- some friends and I -- brainstormed this idea, we hadn't any frame of reference as to other sources. I'll give you the quick context and that is that I live in Telluride, Colo., and we have a 4th of July parade that every year we try to make some sort of statement during. So, brainstorming throughout the spring-- we like to do something that has mass appeal since we're on Main Street and also makes some sort of statement. "Celebritology" seemed to really make sense because there are so many who come to the parade who are already followers but don't understand what their beliefs fully entail.
We just wanted to give a voice and legitimacy to those who believe that celebrities are the way to salvation. It was nothing we claim to have started but the American people and people of the world have really fostered the movement and we wanted to try to get that message out there.
So you said that you guys do something every year in this parade? What else have you done?
Let's see, this last year (2006) we were engaged in the marketing -- aiding the government -- in the marketing and dissemination of fear. So we dressed in radiation suits and had signs; made it a corporate image kind of thing. I haven't heard back from them, but I'm sure they were appreciative.
So the Celebritology thing was 2005?
Yes. And the year before that was simian slavery -- trying to enlist monkeys to do all the nasty deeds for us. Why have Americans fight in foreign wars when we can just make monkeys do it? That one was a little hard for people to grasp -- in fact, I'm still having trouble grasping that one.
You mentioned being in touch with someone in Great Britain who is doing something different with Celebritology?
In the spring, a similar situation came up with a guy (Stephen Follows) who came across the site. He said he was a director or producer or writer or all three and mentioned one work that one of my buddies recognized -- but sounded like he'd started a similar movement in Great Britain and was hoping to combine forces. Other projects must've gotten in the way. But it is a movement that is out there and not just located here in Telluride, but worldwide.
Have you -- since your 2005 coming out party -- had any new adherents? Would you say Celebritology is a growing movement?
It's growing every day. The number of religious texts published every week is a testament to that -- People, US Weekly, even some peripheral texts like Cosmo and Vogue, all those which illuminate the celebrity culture and the glory it entails doesn't really need any stimuli from us. It's self-propagating.
Is Celebritology a multi-god kind of system?
This is polytheism, absolutely. There are different gods to provide different needs. You're encouraged to seek out your own "celebri-diety" who best speaks to you and make that person the center, but look to others in the celebrity circle for guidance on other matters.
So, for you, who is your big guy (or gal)?
That's a good question because I don't have a TV or read US Weekly. I'm not the best follower.
That must make it difficult to worship!
Please don't publish that.
Ya, you don't want to incur the wrath of the gods.
(Editor's note: Oops.)
For me, tho, it would have to be Britney Spears because she shows that you can truly make something of your life even though you have nothing otherwise and with the proper marketing and development any mere mortal can become the object of desire for millions of American men.
So, where do you see Celebritology fitting in among the great religions of the world?
Well, I think we're a long way from gaining legitimacy compared to the many sects of Christianity or Judaism. But if you were to travel back to look at those religions in their nascent state, you might find a similar situation to what I'm experiencing right now in terms of Celebritology where legitimacy hasn't been offered because it's a new text that hasn't yet been edited and made into a cohesive document. So in the future you'll see People Volume 17 being part of a greater religious text and hopefully we'll have refocused our priorities to more globally important priorities.
Well, things that actually matter to society, environmental and human health and put our energy into those things rather than celebrity worship. But for now, with Celebritology being such a focus it might be difficult for people to remove themselves from it and see it for what it really is, which is a worship that is on par with maybe paganism of the past. It was practiced around the world, something legitimate arose out of it, but it's looked back on with a bit of disrespect. I'll be interested to see how future anthropologists look back on this period of obsession and fascination with something that is completely fabricated and unreal... Unfortunately, I won't be around to see that unless Tom Cruise decides to make me immortal.
So, my column is called Celebritology and when we were naming it, it was more of a nod to a social science of how celebrities are viewed in our culture. But come to find out it's a religion and I'm interested to find out how you would describe someone like me. Am I possessed or a prophet?
A prophet, most definitely. It's implied in your writing that you can model your life after these people although there is a reporting slant. The reality is that people look to these celebrities for guidance on how to get a boyfriend, get a job, what to wear, buy, where to live -- but as soon as you confront them with that, they freak out. Either they think you're insulting their intelligence - which I'm really not. I try not to pass judgment -- or they claim it's just a pastime for them. But that's the truth -- it's more than just a hobby. People see "American Idol" as akin to a burning stake in the eye for some people.
And than name itself -- "American Idol" -- says we worship these people.
You did see our banner, I hope? ("America's Golden Idol").
I did and I loved the Jim Caviezel one as well.
I'm sure you got that. Most people didn't. My friend, who made that, is incredibly out of touch with pop culture, but made that.
It's such a scramble every year to put these things together. You plan it for months but the work doesn't really start till the day before. We had to talk our way into an architect's office so we could print out these huge celebrity faces and borrow poster board. If you're looking for a fun 4th of July, come out next year and join the parade.
Do you think you'll ever revisit the Celebritology theme?
There's been talk of a gathering here in town, kind of a -- what's the word...?
Yes, exactly. We had some hymns we sang during the parade. I think it's time for some national and international cooperation on this.
| September 26, 2006; 11:34 AM ET
Categories: Celebrities, Extreme Fans, Pop Culture
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