This year, Kanye West was awarded an honorary doctorate. The event was a nail being hammered into the coffin of America’s progression.
Between the Kardashians, Snooki and this year’s “Bachelor”—any media figure stalked by TMZ’s crooked paparazzi, really—Americans venerate some of the most superficial human beings on Earth.
So what’s the problem with adoring celebs?
Psychologists now recognize celebrity worship syndrome as a legitimate mental disorder, and 25 percent of the 3,000-participant population in one UK study exhibited the symptoms.
According to Psychology Today’s Mark Griffiths, psychologist John Maltby and his colleagues at the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease observed a strong correlation between the more severe cases of CWS and higher anxiety, more depression, higher levels of stress and poorer body image.
In the most pathological cases, victims believe certain celebrities to be principal figures in their lives, and some even believe that they have special connections with these media icons.
But the biological implication that Maltby and his colleagues derived shines a distressing light on how American society operates.
“Evolutionary biologists say it is natural for humans to look up to individuals who receive attention because they have succeeded in a society. In prehistoric times, this would have meant respecting good hunters and elders … Instead, we look to celebrities, whose fame and fortune we want to emulate,” Maltby and his collaborators said.
The connotation here is that success in America is achieved merely through cultivation of presence in the public eye, exploiting whatever pop-culture trends exist at the time.
In other words, Kanye West—who is nothing more than a primitive, hip-hop Doctor Seuss, rhyming slurs and colloquialisms—ranked 20th on Forbes’ list of the 100 wealthiest celebrities in 2014.
So if what Maltby and his associates propose is true, then the likes of Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are whom many young Americans are emulating in order to succeed in our present American society—this is disturbing and unacceptable.
Luckily, the last decade has seen a rising recognition of more academic popular figures.
STEM field heroes such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins—even a surprisingly political comeback by Bill Nye—are drawing attention away from the trivial issues of celebrity tabloids back to real, global issues, all while becoming pop-culture icons in their own right.
These popular figures are actually worthy of admiration.
While the Kardashians are, as Barbara Walters remarked in her notorious interview, “famous for being famous” and devoid of any talent whatsoever, Tyson, Hawking and The Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Hitchens, Daniel Dennet and Sam Harris) are dynamic champions of the hard sciences, constructing new models of our universe and our place in it through astrophysics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and philosophy.
Americans need heroes to look up to, but none of them are to be found in People, Us Weekly or Vanity Fair.
As Americans reflect on why the US is falling 14th in education worldwide, according to Pearson’s latest assessment, perhaps an important factor should be whom the masses elect to idolize.
Henry Ford may have said it best when he remarked, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” It’s the brightest minds that deserve the veneration that’s currently being given to those wearing the brightest designer jewels.