Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Here is a sociology fieldwork test I did for Guy a couple
of weeks ago. Apparently I stuffed up his expected results because
I was "too self-aware", so he fabricated my answers,
no doubt having me declare my indecent obsession with Christina
Aguilera and my overwhelming grief over Princess Diana's death.
So, for the sake of my ego:

Sociology Fieldwork

Celebrity and Self-Identity

Do you find yourself regularly following
"celebrity culture" (through reading magazines, wacthing
entertainment news programs)?

On and off. I'll be totally clueless about some major piece
of celeb-news, and then I'll surprise people with my knowledge
of minute details in regards to something else.

If so, through what form of media?

Sort of take it in unconsciously: tv, newspapers,
magazines (of the "Who" variety), conversations with

Do you find yourself generally aware
of the movements of famous celebrities, for example, what pictures
they are making, the state of marriages etc.?

Only really the celebrities that interest me, or when the news
is absolutely everywhere. If so, why do you find yourself interested
in such things? I think its just human nature. We generally don't
like opening up to people, so celebrities are sort of the perfect
subsitute, sort of the "I have a friend, who..." trick.
You can basically work out where you stand in relation to anything
by using celebrities as a measuring yard, because if you name
even the weirdest thing, chances are a celebrity has done it.
Like, people don't just strike up conversations about the pros
and cons of breast implants, or say the moral ambiguities surrounding
it, but you can mention Dannii or Britney Spears and suddenly
the way is open.

If something negative happens to a celebrity
you admire, do you feel emotionally moved, saddened perhaps?

Not really, unless I feel a connection with that celebrity
for some reason - say if they make movies, films or books that
have really affected me. But I frequently feel disgusted with
people who get emotional about celebrities for no reason other
than the fact that they are celebrities.

What was your reaction to the death of
Diana, Princess of Wales?

This is a good example: I just didn't understand why everyone
was so overwhelmed. I mean, her death was "sad" for
people who actually knew her, but what had Diana quantatively
added to the lives of people in Australia apart from her ongoing
appearances in tabloids? I'm not trying to discredit her - the
point is that humans, no matter how good they are, aren't meant
to be universally mourned. It becomes meaningless. So I was basically
very polite about her death, but I was very confused by the seemingly
sincere nature of people's grief. Although a lot of people were
just being melodramatic, I think. It was an excuse for a media
frenzy, so why not?

If you were moved by the death, can you
pin point why?

Wasn't moved, so...

Now, a few years after the death, can
you relate to the emotions you felt at the time of the death?
Do you think your reaction was in proportion to the role Diana
actually played in your life?

My emotions - a completely unemotional sense that it was a
shame that Diana had died - were *exactly* in proportion to her
role in my life, because she didn't play a role. I'd extend that
courtesy to any nice-enough-seeming public figure.

With celebrities that you admire, how
do you feel about the fact that in reality, you have never had
contact with the? This being the case, what do you think about
the fact that you know about their lives so intimately?

I think it's an incredibly good thing not to have contact with
celebrities. The whole point is that we objectify them, and make
them into what we want them to be in our minds. Meeting them would
invariably be disappointing, confusing or both. Of course, when
I do meet someone I admire, it's almost exciting because of the
conflict between the image and reality. I start obsessively asking
myself "which part do I like more?" As for the details,
well, I feel sorry for the celebrities, but as I think I said
before, its incredibly helpful in relating to people.

What about forming emotional bonds with
people you don't know?

I don't tend to really. When it comes to the case of celebrities
who have affected me through their work, I definitely used to
form emotional bonds, but I can't anymore because of the deluge
of stuff I sort through, and because I've come to conclusion that
what I'm really identifying with is the work, not the artist.
That probably sounds like I think I'm a superior being, but it's
true. On the other hand, I don't think forming emotional bonds
is necessarily a bad thing. I almost have a bit of admiration
for people who do pointlessly, obsessively align themselves with
some aspect of pop culture. There's something worthy in it, maybe.

What role do you think the media plays
in this?

The media play an important role insofar as giving us what
we want. I think it's easy to demonize them, but apart from the
fact that they are often needlessly intrusive, it's wrong to blame
them for making us fascinated with celebrity culture. I mean we
have to take responsibility for it, although I don't think it
is necessarily a shameful thing. But the witch hunt following
Diana's death was appalling. And it was a witch hunt: the community
was really trying to divorce themselves from that aspect of their
personalities that they didn't like, so they were placing it all
on the media's shoulders. Not that I feel sorry for the media
- Diana's death helped them as much as it hindered them.

In addition to perhaps following or liking
certain celebrities, do you have any celebrity role models?

Pretty much only in a glib, superficial sense. You know, like
I admire Cher's agelessness. But its a meaningless admiration.
And when I say it I don't know if its a compliment or an insult
(the dreaded "irony factor" maybe). But I don't personally
identify with celebrities enough for any of them to stand as role
models for me I guess. I am definitely influenced by the product
- music, shows, books, films - but the person who made them is
meaningless to me. So, Buffy is a role model, but Sarah Michelle
Gellar is an actor.

The celebrities that you admire; do they
tend to share similarities with yourself? Dress sense, political
views, for example?

My celebrity "role models" tend to be utterly different
to me. In a way I don't know enough about myself to identify celebrities
that are similar to me...are there any? I don't know... But yeah,
I actually prefer celebrities who reveal something about life
that I don't have access to, or won't go near. It's the fantasy
element coming into play.

If so, do you think are natuarally drawn
to people who are similar to you?

God, I really don't know. I don't know what defines people
who I'm drawn to. Somehow I don't think that its similarity with

Do you find yourself occasiojnally mirroring
the actions of celebrities you admire - perhaps mirroring style
of dress, or perhaps political views?

No, I only do that with people I've actually known, met, or
seen. Trying to follow celebrity fashion is a thankless, expensive
task, and I'm not interested enough to try (whereas, if I've actually
met someone, their style would probably seem a bit more attainable).
The same sort of thing applies to political views, the difference
being that I would never trust a celebrity's political views.

Do you think you could be influenced
by celebrities you admire subconsciously?

Oh of course, but obviously I can't really work out who or
how. This would probably really work on a broader social scale
- the actions of celebrities influencing the ethics of society
rather than personal morality. So, Jennifer Lopez wearing that
won't make people who are uptight about revealing their
bodies change, but it will change the general standard of what
is "decent" clothing.

What about celebrities you dislike? Do
you avoid mirroring their actions?

It's not really an issue, because the problems and choices
I face are so different to those of most celebrities. Ultimately,
in morally ambiguous situations, I go with my instincts... which
of course is influenced by the society like we talked about with
the last question.

What are some other role models or people
you admire? People you know personally perhaps?

No general ones, just bits of different people. I admire my
friends because they're generally very strong, very sure of themselves.
I admire people I've met who are intensely creative - actors,
musicians, writers - where you can feel their energy. They can't
stop doing what they do. I admire that, and wish I had more of
it. Teachers have also influenced me a lot, I think.

Do you consider yourself religious?


What areas of your life do you find you
have the strongest connection to? Work, university or the home
for example?

I'm incomparably above and beyond them all.

Do you believe any of these areas strongly
shapes who you are?

Everything shapes me. I know that I changed significantly when
I started work, and again when I started university. Basically
I think that we become who we are through experience, so there
is no way that my environment doesn't influence who I am.

When you were younger, or now even, did
you aspire to "be" any celebrity you admired?

I honestly can't remember.

Did you aspire to "be" anyone
you knew personally, or someone you knew for work, school or the
church, for example?

When I was in year three, I remember that I really admired
the year sixes, in a general sense. I guess in a way I wanted
to "be" one of them.

What do you see as the relationship between
celebrity and self-identity?

Choosing which celebrities you like and which you dislike is
very much a code for who you are, and it says a lot more about
yourself than it does about the celebrity. For me to say "BRITNEY
RULES! RICKY SUX!" shows that I am actively aligning myself
with the aspects of culture they represent, or defining myself
against it. So definitely, we define ourselves by celebrities,
but in a way that is far less "dangerous" than might
usually be suggested. We're using them, rather than being used.


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