Everybody is a fan in some way. It doesn’t matter who the person is or what they do, we all have our preferred celebrities. But what happens when it inches over the line towards a dangerous obsession?
On the 25th of February, Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco had to move out of his house.
Any average fan of the American rock band knows that Urie loves that house – he’d previously built a home studio in his garage where the entirety of most recent album Death Of A Bachelor was written (and some of it was recorded there, too), and the cover of the album was shot on the roof of the house. It’s very much a large part of Urie’s inspiration, not to mention his image.
And shortly after he moved in, his address was widely circulated around the internet. A short Google search will bring you the information, and some fans have taken that as an invitation to camp outside the Urie house.
In a statement posted to Twitter, the frontman explained that while he appreciates receiving gifts and letters, visits from fans made him feel unsafe in his own home: “Everyone has a right to feel safe […] so I’m taking my family somewhere that might make that a possibility.”
Read the full statement below:
Urie’s concerns are understandable. If you can’t be safe in your own home, when can you be? And it’s not his fault – unavoidably, one argument that has come to light is that it’s his own fault for being in a band. But what’s wrong with wanting to share your art? I’m not denying that music isn’t about the person behind it. Of course it is, when those people write the music and the lyrics from their experiences. But sometimes, appreciating a musician goes way too far and this is a prime example.
But sometimes, fans don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong. When, exactly, does a admiring a celebrity turn into something more sinister? It’s an idea that’s been tossed around for years, decades, since the very early days of Beatlemania.
Celebrity Worship Syndrome was first properly identified in 2003, with an accompanying scale to identify the severity of the issue:
These are only the first twenty questions, but they’re pretty harmless. Most people have probably felt like this about a celebrity at some point in their lives, whether it is through admiration or adoration – it’s just that Celebrity Worship Syndrome explains that feeling to the extreme.
There are three individual dimensions of Celebrity Worship Syndrome:
- The entertainment-social dimension. This describes a person who is attracted to a celebrity on the factors of their perceived entertainment skills and to become a social topic among like-minded people.
- The intense-personal dimension. This describes a person who has intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.
- The borderline-pathological dimension. This describes a person who displays uncontrollable feelings or fantasies about a celebrity.
It is believed that one in three Britons’ celebrity obsession amounts to Celebrity Worship Syndrome – with one in four’s obsession affecting their daily lives. And this figure has more than likely been on the rise. These figures were released fourteen years ago, and the invention of social media platforms has made it easier than ever to cyber stalk celebrities. The likes of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has made your average musician’s thoughts accessible to everyone.
A 19-year-old has told the Sydney Morning Herald that it’s easy to find celebrities through their social media posts. “All you have to know is the celebrity and how they use their social media,” Karla Del Rosario said. “You can find hotels and such by looking at the details in the background.”
I, personally, would call this stalking. There is a difference between being a fan of a celebrity, keeping up to date with the latest gossip, going to see their shows, loving their art. There’s a difference between that and waiting for a celebrity at an airport or their home or their hotel.
But where do you draw the line? At what point does being interested in a musician or an actor turn into a mental illness? There’s another mental illness that covers these symptoms: erotomania. And both syndromes are almost constantly prevalent in cases of stalking, but what about the blurred lines? When does keeping up with celebrity news turn into obsessively following every minute of celebrity news?
It doesn’t seem there are any specific case studies on Celebrity Worship Syndrome, but maybe there should be. It’s claimed that there are links between the syndrome and poor mental health, as well as cosmetic surgery and compulsive spending. These all point towards the most common perpetrators being teenage girls – young and impressionable – and it would be, well, not great, but better if those worshipped were role models.
As it goes, the most noticeable and recent figure is Justin Bieber. He’s hardly someone to look up to, especially in the earlier years of his career. Anyone else remember him spitting on fans, pissing in buckets and crashing cars? Just because he made one good album doesn’t immediately erase everything he did. But it’s not just his actions – it’s the actions of his fans. There was a fan-made Twitter campaign: #cut4bieber. The whole trend was based around trying to stop the Canadian singer from doing drugs and was apparently started by well-known troll website 4Chan, but it’s inevitable that some young girls genuinely believed the hashtag and actually self-harmed.
How obsessed do you have to be to hurt yourself for the sake of a celebrity? That has to be beyond the boundaries of mental illness, surely. It’s not healthy – frankly, it’s a little terrifying, considering that these fans don’t even know the person they’re obsessed with. They could be anyone. Take Ian Watkins of Lostprophets, for example.
But can you help the sufferers of Celebrity Worship Syndrome? Is there any way to stop it? There must be a rational part of them that figures it’s not right, that celebrities are human too, that they need boundaries. Individuals like this need to be stopped because not only is it dangerous for the worshipped, it’s also dangerous for the individuals themselves.
The rise of technology and social media is only going to make it easier for people to get obsessed, so is there any ways of curbing it? Or will it just keep growing until it’s too late, until someone takes it too far?
Words by Lucy Wenham