July 1, 2013

Why are liberals obsessed with celebrities?

Liberal media mecca The Huffington Post has a regular section devoted to celebrity. Most of the inane chatter about celebs that fills up your Facebook feed comes from those with liberal leanings as well.

Conservative outlets discuss celebrities as well, but the balance of lurid, not-so-newsworthy stories about folks you don't know is shifted more toward unknowns. Somebody who might be a part of your own local community -- the town drunk, the village idiot, the school slut, etc. If they're a celebrity, they're less likely to be one of long-lasting fame (or infamy), and more likely to be a one-hit wonder. COMA BABY LIVES!

Liberals also focus on the unknowns, but rather than read the occasional blurb about them in the NY Post, they require 24-hour connectivity. For example, today's schedule for the Bravo channel is all lurid reality TV programming, from 8am to 1am. And all those hours only cover four series, so that your familiarity with the characters of each one is done to death.

Whether liberal or conservative, certainly people who read news sites and tune in to character-based TV shows have an interest in people rather than things. Yet why are liberal people-people so obsessed with remote celebrities, while conservative people-people are curious about closer unknowns?

I think it gets down to liberals being more cerebral and oriented toward the abstract, and conservatives more corporeal and oriented toward experience. See some old posts here and here for evidence that this seems to be rooted in brain differences between the two groups.

If you're interested in what's going on in people's lives and relationships, but bristle with OCD fussiness when connecting (even indirectly) with real-life individuals, where can you turn to? Novels are one option. But they don't really update those things very often. Celebrity "news" to the rescue! The individuals are more distant, hypothetical, and intangible -- not rooted in your own community.

On the other hand, if you prefer to stay grounded in the real world and keep tabs on your broader community (even the more freakish ones), then you'll be drawn to one-off blurbs about the village idiot, town slut, etc.

I think this is also why the more advanced countries seem to be obsessing more and more over time with celebrities -- our brains are being selected for greater abstraction. And it also accounts for cycles within that long-term trend -- when people were more corporeal and rooted in experience and in their communities, oh I don't know, like back in the '80s, celebrity obsession was pretty minimal. In the more abstract and cerebral Millennial era, it's back to the mid-century obsession with Hollywood celebrities.

It's important to emphasize that liberals or cerebral people in general don't seem to have a particular craving for celeb gossip. They feel ashamed of themselves, like it's a guilty pleasure, and they wish there were a better alternative. But given their abstract / remote / hypothetical biases, it ends up latching onto celebrities. Who else would better fit their goals here?


  1. I haven't noticed much of a political axis to it (other than that people in the media themselves are liberal). It definitely seems to appeal more to women. Reality tv reportedly has a more conservative viewing demographic, possibly due to a tendency to be more family friendly or something (Sailer has written about this before). My preference for shows like "Breaking Bad" apparently indicates I'm a post-Christian liberal moral relativist.

  2. Yeah but specifically liberal women. The minority of men who are all up-to-date on celeb goings-on are also way liberal. I'd bet big money that a hipster doofus has greater awareness of the names Kim Kardashian and K-Stew than a conservative church-goer who likes to watch the human interest stories on the nightly news.

    "Reality TV" is too broad to talk about in this case, covering dull / wholesome contests like American Idol to lurid voyeurism like The Real Housewives.

    Anyway, reality TV isn't celebrity TV. Liberals aren't just obsessed with knowing the details of strangers' lives, but particularly celebs over one-hit wonder types.

  3. For instance, compare the focus on celebs vs. more anonymous human interest stories on the nightly news (mainstream to slightly conservative) vs. The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (strongly liberal).

    It doesn't matter if they occasionally cut down celebs -- that's all part of the obsession with them. Rewarding the good and punishing the bad, vs. not knowing enough about who they are to either reward or punish them and hence not caring about them.

    And look at how much Jon Stewart (or whoever) becomes a giggling schoolgirl / fanboy / lapdog when there's a major celeb on the show. Vs. a nightly news anchor interviewing the same celeb, or the unknowns on the human interest stories.

  4. Aren't some liberals more adapted to adopt a submissive role in a hiearchichal farming society? Celebrity obsession would make sense, sort of like peasants following the lives of kings and queens.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, often resent celebrities. "I don't need such-and-such to tell me what to think".

    Then again its hard to say.


  5. Of course, the celebrities themselves tend to be liberal. So maybe something more complicated is going on.


  6. "Why are liberals obsessed with celebrities?"

    If this is true, it is probably an US eccentricity. At least a Portuguese left-winger will prefer to die to be catch talking/reading/watching about a celebrity ("burgeois futility/alienation!"). Today I think that no Portuguese newspaper have a "celebrity" section, but in the 1980/90s, there are the assumed right-wing newspapers who had that kind of sections.

    How where your impression from Spain? Dou you also noticed that pattern ("liberals" obsessed with celebrities) there, or it is more an US thing?

    Or perhaps European left-wingers are not an interchagable category with US "liberals"...

  7. 1. feminity/fagoots/eunuchs -- i would not have sex wih a man who even knew who kim kardashian was. my husband is culturally illiterate and watches shows about space, how its made and survival

    2. liberals are the court eunuch caste and celebrities are the nobility--to know their ins and outs in a monarchy would have allowed for advancement via leverage and gossip a la dangerous liaisons, its a natural impulse

    3. childishness/neoteny liberals are developmentally disabled and have the interests of children, much as you say homosexuals are stuck in immediate preadolescence

  8. Liberals tend to be younger and live in urban areas.

    That seems like a good line to follow through for correlation.

    Mass culture is also pretty liberal, so you would expect conservatoids would disengage.

    I don't really think the Mid-century really had much in the way of celeb obsession. What's the evidence for that?

    For instance, terms like celebrity, famous, fame, superstar, movie star, film star and starlet aren't reliably trending up during falling crime periods on google ngrams. There doesn't seem to be any pattern there. Even hollywood shows an uneven pattern. Likewise actor and actress. I think these terms largely seem more prominent in the rising crime periods.

    Celebrity gossip, as a term, begins trending up in the 1970, then shows increasing rate of increase in the 1980s, then another, but less shard rate of increase in the 90s (becoming much more prevalent in absolute terms).

    (Gossip, as a term, rises to a peak during the 1920s period of the early twentieth century crimewave and begins dropping when the crimewave ends in the early 1930s.)

  9. The Google gives 58 results for "Kim Kardashian" in nytimes.com in the last month, versus 124 in nypost.com.

    I recognize that it is a metric with some problems - some sites could have globally more articles (then, automatically more articles about Kardashian); some sites are more google-friendly; I only looking for raw quantitity and not to things like the prominence of the articles, etc

  10. The NYT is one of the world's leading newspapers, while the NY Post is a local/regional one. More respectable ones tend not to focus on celebrities so much. You'd need to look at the liberal equivalent of the NY Post.

    "I don't really think the Mid-century really had much in the way of celeb obsession. What's the evidence for that?"

    There were lots of popular magazines devoted to Hollywood celebrities, both their roles on screen / working life, as well as their family lives. I don't recall the titles off the top of my head, but there were quite a few.

  11. "Or perhaps European left-wingers are not an interchagable category with US "liberals"..."

    Right, when I say "liberal" it's closer to the median in Europe. The leftist / far left people here don't read celebrity news, but the mainstream liberals do.

    "Aren't some liberals more adapted to adopt a submissive role in a hiearchichal farming society?"

    They seem to be less authority-minded.

    "to know their ins and outs in a monarchy would have allowed for advancement via leverage and gossip a la dangerous liaisons"

    I doubt that. Most liberals are not anywhere near the centers of power, whether political, economic, or cultural. They work normal jobs. The ones reading HuffPo, probably middle to upper-middle class. But not courtly.

    If they had an impulse to gossip about their immediate superiors, in order to social-climb, they can already do that in their own workplace. That's what's so baffling -- that they fixate on such remote characters rather than local, in-the-flesh ones.

  12. "What's the evidence for that?"

    Another thing is that the cover girls for Vogue were more Hollywood star types in the mid-century, and in the past 20 years. Whereas during the '60s through the '80s, they went out of favor, and women readers wanted to see models -- someone not already famous, known-about, dissected, etc.

  13. Do you remember "Singing in the Rain"? It's a movie about the 1920s made in the 1950s.

    The tone is really odd. I don't know how to describe it, sarcastic? Snarky?

    I would just watch and rewatch the dance numbers.

  14. Singing in the Rain was made right at the beginning of the New Wave(1960-1990) crime wave. It seems like an "outgoing" movie(that is, a good movie), but I'm not sure. What is your take on it, Agnostic?


  15. Most people who are liberal aren't liberal because they've sat down and given thought to liberal policies.

    The person who winds up liberal is usually one who wants to be perceived as hip and hip almost always means throwing out the old and adopting something new and different, even if it actually sucks. Since entertainers are always looking for a way to distinguish themselves from others in a highly competitive field, they try to be hip, which means they bash the old.

    Thus, in an effort to appear hip, the average lib identifies with celebs as they believe them to represent the new and hip.

  16. Curtis, Singing in the Rain was made in 1952.

  17. Liberals show more of the trait "Openness to Experience" in Big 5 personality studies.

    It might be interesting to see if that mapped to global rather than local interests (e.g. celebrity culture, not local people).

  18. "Curtis, Singing in the Rain was made in 1952."

    I guess I stand corrected, I sort of liked it though. That's probably put it in the "rising-crime" category.


  19. I mentioned "Singing in the Rain" in an earlier comment.

    The audience is shown as celebrity crazy. People read celebrity magazines. Flappers want to be some silent movie star.


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