When it comes to celebrities, people often wonder why it is they are famous or even interesting. Why are they on the front cover of magazines and what possesses people to chase them around simply because they are, well, famous?
Turns out some clever so-and-so has decided to look further into the matter and found out that our obsession has a lot to do with our evolutionary past. And no, the research was not done by a celebrity journalist, but a social anthropologist named Jamie Tehrani who was probably not paid by the National Enquirer.
Tehrani’s thesis is interesting because he believes that our obsession with celebrities may be the result of our brains not being able to catch up with modern times. Just like our predilection for fast food is apparently connected to our caveman days when we would eat high calorie food because we needed to survive, our celebrity interest is apparently caused by our ancient brains thinking we needed to respect the leader of the pack or those seen as being creative innovators. Says Tehrani:
“The most convincing theory suggests that prestige evolved as part of a package of psychological adaptations for cultural learning. It allowed our ancestors to recognize and reward individuals with superior skills and knowledge, and learn from them.
This allowed new discoveries and techniques – for instance, how to exploit the medicinal properties of plants or optimize the design of hunting weapons – to spread across the whole population, and enabled each successive generation to build on and improve the knowledge of their predecessors.
Although the bias for preferentially imitating prestigious individuals has generally helped promote the spread of adaptive behaviors, anthropologists have suggested that it can make us susceptible to copying traits that are of no use in themselves, or which may even be harmful.
The reason for this is that prestige-biased learning is a very general strategy that is targeted at successful role models, rather than specific traits. This is precisely what makes it such a powerful and flexible tool – because the traits that make someone successful will vary significantly in different environments, so it makes sense to copy whoever happens to be doing best at a particular time and place.”
We can now all breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing that it is wired into our brains to be interested in whether Heidi Klum has decided to have her Seal tattoo removed, and why Kim Kardashian has decided to call her young daughter ‘North West’.
Or does it?
I can understand ticker-tape parades when astronauts returned home from daring space missions in the 1960s where thousands turned out to celebrate their achievement, but does that explain why actors, actresses and models in 2013 are to be worshipped in a similar manner? Does Paris Hilton’s bit part in a film about her house being broken into by sociopathic teenagers warrant the same amount of attention as Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon?
And why are modern celebrities so ridiculous? Most people couldn’t get away with taking a monkey on a plane (Justin Bieber), getting paid a million dollars for filming themselves having sex (the list is too long to mention) or having a doctor give them general anesthetic to get to sleep (do I even need to give a name?).
This alone should be a sign that celebrities don’t seem to be the most evolved in the human race. After all, preparing yourself to go into outer space and conduct complex experiments in a highly dangerous environment is a little harder than POV sex scenes on an iPhone.
Maybe it’s time we found new role models.