Causes of Extreme Fanaticism
People have always been interested in telling and listening to stories. The desire of the human being to imagine something that is obviously extraordinary for his/her life has been one of the main characteristics of the human nature since the ancient times. People are happy to follow the stories of their heroes and the only thing that has changed is that the heroes change each other.
In the times of Ancient Greece people filled their desire of belonging to something that is higher than they are by retelling the myths about the gods on Olympus. In the Middle Ages the turn of Jesus Christ and the Biblical saints to become the major heroes of the epoch came. The events in the lives of the kings’ families were also of great interest to the people of their countries. The modern heroes are different from the ones of the previous centuries and the technical possibilities make it easy for everyone to follow the life of the star. Contemporary objects for creating and retelling stories are mostly always singers, actors, and people who gained publicity.
Though, the fact that people can follow the lives of their idols even in minor details in the social media in the non stop regime leads to the phenomenon of stalking the star and serious obsession. It is difficult to state what is the main cause of people becoming overly obsessed or stalky with celebrities, because the human psyche is an extremely complicated mechanism and its functioning depends upon a variety of issues. However, there is a major detail in understanding the nature of the obsession with the star, which is the assumption that only mentally ill people tend to change the real life with the imaginary affection to the star.
General Attitude to Extreme Fanaticism
The attitude of the average majority of people towards those who are overly obsessed with the the celebrities is rather negative. Such people become outcasts of the society and their acquaintances try to avoid communicating with such strange people. Though, such ostracism or jokes about the person’s obsession with the star make the situation worse and as the result the obsessed individual stops communicating with the real outer world. It is not strange that those obsessed fans alienate from everything real and lose the last connections with the other people, because they do not even try to understand them. Such situation worsens the psychological state of the obsessed person and the illness starts to progress more actively.
The attitude of an average person towards the obsessed fans who stalk their idols is vivid from the interview of the third year student who majors in computer science, Domenick Snook (2015). He says that being a moderate fan of a celebrity is not a crime, because people mostly always search for the model of their behavior. Some people find the ideal image they want to achieve which is the particular star has achieved. The others like the art those stars produce. For example, they might adore the music the celebrity performs and they might feel “in tune” with that music. It is also a way to feel the sense of community with the other people who are also fans of a sports team, and an efficient way to make more friends.
Staking is the stage that a fan with obvious mental disorders reach. It is mostly always the admiration in the empty room, when no one else can see it and laugh at it. The process of worshiping the idol becomes a sacred procedure. Snook (2015) says that there is a serious gap between respecting the well known person and making the life determined by that person. The obsessed fans lose all their friends in the majority of cases, because they do not need friendship that does not understand his/her devotion to the star. They might lose their work and get problems with finances. The real world will try to make them return to the normal life, but the problems with money, the need to work, to speak to other people, and to devote less time to the subject of the obsession might only make the person nervous and soon lead to the nervous break down. Though, it is essential to remember that being involved in the fandom does not mean that it is the fandom that causes such serious problems with the mind. Only those who already have mental problems become the part of the fandom and those people, whose illnesses progress become obsessed with the celebrity and stalk them. Snook (2015) supposes that if there were no idols to worship, such people would create their own idols.
Nature of Extreme Fanaticism
There are no objective reasons that lead to the extreme fanaticism. From one point of view, it is the social media and the Internet that make the cult out of the personal life of the celebrities and give an access to all sorts of information about them. The social media profiles of the starts with thousands of pictures from their daily life make their personalities more vivid and give their fans a sense of participating in their life.
Though, the abundance of information does not make extreme fanatics out of those people who just like to listen to the music of their favorite singer and are interested in his/her life. There is a set of risk issues that increase the chances of the person to become overly obsessed by the celebrity. First of all, it is lower emotional stability and psychological well being of the person comparing to the others. Young adults and teenagers tend to experience these feelings more than the adults. Second, the people who worship the celebrity have a good imagination in the majority of cases and little or no real events in their life. They are initially escapists, who find it easier to imagine a better world than to change the existing one. An interesting fact is that according to the research, there is no or minimal correlation between the level of intellectual abilities and the tendency to extreme fanaticism (Leets, p. 102 – 104). Good education does not necessarily mean that the person will not become slightly insane. Though, the main issue in becoming an extreme fanatic is being initially mentally ill, because a healthy person can not degrade to suicide attempts because of the marriage of his/her favorite singer.
Stages of Obsession
To start with, it is necessary to understand what is obsession with an idol. McCutcheon (p. 315) writes that the celebrity worshiping is one of the forms of parasocial interaction, which is the phenomenon of one sided communication with the consumed media. People who suffer from the celebrity worship experience the symptoms that are similar to the ones of the erotomanic type of delusional disorder. Worshiping the idols is more characteristic to the early stages of human development, when the personality is created under the influence of various role models, which are in the childhood and in the adolescence. Though, obsession with the celebrity is abnormal for the adult people. The behavior of such adults is similar to erotomania in many cases, because they have no contact with the person they have chosen as the victim, he/she is always of higher status, and he/she is secretly in love with the ill person.
Though, the nature of the celebrity worshiping can be different from the erotomanic character. McCutcheon (p. 309 – 311) describes the absorption – addiction model that is also one of the reasons of such obsessions. In simple words, it is an attempt of the person with the comparatively thin boundary structure or the compromised identity to experience the sense of fulfillment and to create his/her own identity. It is done with the help of emotional absorption with a well known person whom the mentally unstable fan likes. The effect of the psychological absorption is not negative on the early stages of its development, because it makes the emotional sphere of the fan more stable and might gives the reason to change something in his/her life.
This first stage of worshiping the celebrity is considered to have the social and entertainment value. It can be described as the first step to socializing and making friends on the basis of the similar interest. For example, the situation when a group of friends discuss the story of life of their favorite singer, because it is entertaining, the obvious positive effect of the fandom is achieved. In fact, the person who has problems with understanding him/herself becomes involved in a small community that share the same interest and help each other not to become an outcast. The main goal that is usually set when the life of the celebrity gains media publicity is to entertain people, that is why there is nothing wrong in the fact that people are interested and entertained by it.
Though, when the simple interest and involvement into the community of fans is not enough for the person, the second stage of celebrity worshiping begins. It is characterized by intensification of personal feeling to the object of desire. The fans on this stage start thinking about the celebrity as about their soul mate, they start thinking about him/her even if they do not want to. The intensification of feelings towards the well known person is the beginning of the obsession and its main characteristic is the appearance of compulsive feelings about him/her.
On the last stage of the development of the obsessive mania the person’s interests are centered only around the object of his/her desire. It is called the borderline pathological and on this stage people become extreme fans of the celebrity that are able to stalk him/her. It is important to understand that people who are on this stage of fanaticism can not be considered as totally mentally sane. Even on the early stages fanaticism development people can harm themselves or the others. McCutcheon (2003) gives an example of a teenage girl who was hospitalized after she cut her veins in the bathroom. She did this suicide attempt because her beloved singer got married and she was not able to live after such horrible “betrayal” of her only soul mate.
When the Obsession Meets the Violence
Schlesinger (p. 39) focuses more on the cases of extreme violence that the celebrities underwent because of stalkers. The reasons of killing or attempting to kill the idol are known to the criminologists and psychiatrists mostly from the personal diaries of the fans. In the majority of cases it is the dangerous obsession that is characterized by the thoughts that the star belongs to him/her, and so has to correspond to his/her expectations. When the celebrity does not meet those fantasies in reality, the extreme fans are able to kill them. In the majority of cases they commit suicide after their decision.
Though, the aggressive actions of stalkers are not usual, especially if they stalk celebrities. The majority of cases of violence refer to the category of stalking the former intimate partner. The cases of violence towards actually strangers are quite rare, but they are well known to public. Schlesinger (p. 40-43) gives an example of the murder of the actress Rebecca Schaefer, who was killed by her 19 years old fan Robert Bardo. The story of the offender is quite significant from the point of view of understanding the logic of extreme fanatics. In fact, there is little from the formal logic in such way of thinking, and it is initially based upon the perverted ideas.
Robert Bardo was a psychologically unstable teenager, who had no friends, quited school and underwent hospitalization in the psychiatric clinic for showing aggressive behavior and suicide threats. He fell in love with a young actress and described her to the psychiatrist as the ethereal being that is too pure, clean and sweet even for thinking about her in sexual fantasies. His adoration disappeared when Schaefer played a bedroom scene in her new movie and he decided to kill “another Hollywood whore”. Robert Bardo managed to learn where the actress lived, and shot her on the stairs of her home.
Bardo is quite typical for the extreme fan and stalker. He had much free time, was unemployed, left school and had no friends. The connections with the outer world were quite weak. He obviously suffered from psychological disorders and even attended the psychiatric. His emotional state was depressive and schizotypal (Spitzberg, p. 280 – 282). Robert Bardo was quite intelligent, comparing to the majority of criminals, because he managed to learn the place where his actress lived, he planned everything and even managed to have a peaceful conversation with her before shooting her. He was not in romantic relationships at the time of obsession with Schaefer and switched his obsession from one celebrity to another (Bardo was in love with Samantha Smith before switching to Schaefer). The offender had never met the victim before and was communicating with her only in his mind. The obsession lasted for quite a long period of time and the stalker’s interest in the chosen celebrity was not sexual, it was something of a higher, more pure feeling, a the stalkers thought (Wright, p. 38-43). All these characteristics of the typical extreme fan and stalker who is able to harm the victim support the idea that such person is mentally ill, because such obsession for the stranger is not normal for the healthy person.
The reasons for stalking the celebrities are various, but in my opinion it is possible to point out one major reason for doing it. An emotionally stable and psychologically healthy person is not able to become an obsessed fan that lives only because his/her favorite singer of actress live. That is why I think that the main reason for extreme fanaticism is the mental disorder. It can be of different intensity and one person can only have erotic dreams about the chosen star, while the other is able to kill the celebrity, because her/his real behavior ruined the imaginary life of the fan. There is nothing wrong in being interested in the life of the preferred singer, but when the interest transforms into the compulsive behavior, there is a vital need to consult the specialist.
Leets, Laura, Gavin de Becker, and Howard Giles. “Fans: Exploring Expressed Motivations for Contacting Celebrities.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 14.1-2 (1995): 102-23. ProQuest. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
McCutcheon, Lynn E., et al. “A Cognitive Profile of Individuals Who Tend to Worship Celebrities.” The Journal of psychology 137.4 (2003): 309-22. ProQuest. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Schlesinger, Louis B. “Celebrity Stalking, Homicide, and Suicide: A Psychological Autopsy.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 50.1 (2006): 39-46. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Snook, Domenick. Personal interview. 12 Mar. 2015.
Spitzberg, Brian H., and Alice E. Veksler. “The Personality of Pursuit: Personality Attributions of Unwanted Pursuers and Stalkers.” Violence and victims 22.3 (2007): 275-89. ProQuest. Web. 12 Mar 2015.
Wright, James A., et al. “Investigating Stalking Crimes.” Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services 33.9 (1995): 38-43. ProQuest. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.