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5 - Imitations of Celebrity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2021

Steve Woolgar
Affiliation:
Linköpings universitet, Sweden
Else Vogel
Affiliation:
Linköpings universitet, Sweden
David Moats
Affiliation:
Linköpings universitet, Sweden
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Summary

There are many current debates over the influence of the famous, the agency of fans, and the consequences of the emulation of prominent people. One of the most pervasive anxieties these address is that those who admire the famous, particularly young admirers, will imitate their ‘idols’. While Western commentators investigate the connection between ‘celebrity worship’ and cosmetic surgery (Maltby and Day, 2011), their Asian counterparts explore the relation of the ‘imitation of celebrity models and materialism’ among Chinese youth (Chan and Prendergast, 2008). Psychologists have developed an entire literature on the mimetic impulse in fandom, charting the descent from admiration to empathy to over-identification to obsession (Giles, 2000; McCutcheon et al, 2002, 2003). Their pathologization of this progress is echoed by the Christian motivational writer Kimberly Davidson on what she calls the ‘Celebrity Imitation Complex’:

Young people mirror what they see through the media and the Internet. A celebrity fits with their human desire to be approved, applauded and considered special. Many teenagers truly believe emulating the lifestyle of their favorite celebrities is the only way to form an identity. … Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to the stargazer, there are far too many awful celebrity role models being emulated with disastrous consequences. (Davidson, 2011: 8–10)

But there is, Davidson goes on to claim, an alternative – not the abandonment of imitation, but its purposeful practice. Citing the 15th-century Latin devotional text Imitatio Christi, a collection of biblical and early Christian teachings by the Augustinian monk Thomas à Kempis, she maintains:

God did not create us to impersonate or obsess after other flawed human beings. The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose, which is to model to the world a truthful reflection of who Jesus Chris is and what he is like. (Davidson, 2011: 11)

Paradoxically, in order for ‘Teens to Live Authentically in a Celebrity-Obsessed World’ (the subtitle of Davidson's polemic), they must imitate a very famous figure indeed.

Despite Davidson's self-contradiction, her concerns about the imitation of prominent people reflect pervasive worries about people ‘passing’ into social spheres or occupations barred to them, or presenting themselves as materially or morally superior to their actual condition, convincing others and even themselves that they are different than they are.

Type
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The Imposter as Social Theory
Thinking with Gatecrashers, Cheats and Charlatans
, pp. 103 - 126
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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