March 2, 2014, marked the 86th installment of the Academy Awards. But for social media expert Aidan Cassidy and literally millions of Twitter, Facebook, and InstaGram users worldwide that day featured the “Selfie That Went Round the World.”
When Ellen DeGeneres beckoned Bradley Cooper to crouch down and take a Twitpic on the floor of the Dolby Theatre, it was no wonder that celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, and Brad Pitt fell over themselves to be included.
Inclusion in that photo is the epitome of how cool is defined today. Sure, winning an Oscar that night would have been nice for Bradley Cooper, but being the photographer of the tweet that reached 37 million people is priceless. More precisely, the publicity alone was worth $1 billion, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
But why do we care what celebrities are digitally up to? If Justin Bieber eats Twinkie on Ventura Boulevard, why do we need to see it?
“It’s fascinating to see the popularity of these music stars. Katy Perry has more than 5 times the amount of followers that the Dalai Lama has. That definitely says something about our culture,” Aidan Cassidy says.
In fact, Perry is the most popular celebrity on Twitter with more than 55 million followers, according to CNN. That’s a bigger following than President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and, yes, even Biebs (barely).
Aidan Cassidy, who is also a North Carolina city council member, says the fascination with Perry and those of her ilk is one part escapism and one part inclusion.
“Notice the camaraderie between music stars and their fans on Twitter. For Lady Gaga, her fans are ‘Little Monsters’ and for Katy Perry, her fans are ‘Katy Cats.’ It makes you want to be apart of the club,” Aidan Cassidy says.
While it may seem frivolous for adults to boast membership in the Little Monster or Katy Cat identity, psychologists have devoted academic research to study this celebrity fascination.
Jamie Tehrani is a social anthropologist at Durham University, United Kingdom, focusing particularly on the areas of cultural evolution and diffusion. Although spurred on by social media, Tehrani says heightened interest in society’s prominent members is nothing new. There are roots for this near obsession in antiquity and more recently in Mark Twain and Albert Einstein.
“Fame is a powerful cultural magnet. As a hyper-social species, we acquire the bulk of our knowledge, ideas and skills by copying from others, rather than through individual trial-and-error. However, we pay far more attention to the habits and behaviours demonstrated by famous people than those demonstrated by ordinary members of our community,” he wrote in a BBC News essay.
Following Tiger Woods public marital breakdown, researchers from Psychology Today study people’s obsession with the incident. It may seem gossipy, but following celebs is part of who we are.
“In other words, we love celebrities because they are an integral part of culture. They have made it in the worldview we are so entrenched in. By worshipping them (to an extent), we feel as if we are participating in this hugely important cause/belief system. And that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, and like our life matters (and in turn, death doesn’t sting as much),” according to this article.
Aidan Cassidy concurs.
“The lives of celebrities are for some an escape. For others, they bring us together much like sports. Being able to discuss what someone wore to the Oscars or what song was performed at the Grammys is common ground for us normal folk to start conversations,” Aidan Cassidy says.
Whatever the reasoning, it’s OK to enjoy 10 celebrities posing together for a cellphone picture.