The Motivational Theory of Life-Span Development concerns the way values and aims of a person change as they age, depending on what motivates them at every major stage of their life. These motivations overlap in an interesting manner with the prevalent forms of social and cultural interest in celebrities that have increased over the recent years. This phenomenon is known as celebrity worship and correlates with age in a variety of forms. This paper examines the influence that motivational theory of lifespan development and aging, in general, have on celebrity worship and parasocial relationships.
The Motivational Theory of Lifespan Development
The Motivational Theory of Lifespan Development (MTD) describes how people achieve their developmental objectives in the most efficient way possible. Human development is most effective when people set suitable objectives, make goal-directed efforts to accomplish those goals, and then disengage when those goals are met or no longer attainable. MTD has long-term repercussions for goal achievement, health, and well-being. Erikson proposed a psychosocial theory in which a crisis drives each stage of life (Moran, 2013; Wheeler, Ampadu & Wangari 2002,). Healthy ego identity is established when all of the crises are addressed at the same time. According to a new addition to this idea, identity formation occurs at all phases of adulthood, and intimacy, generativity, and integrity are subcategories of identity. It would make sense, in the framework of this theory, for parasocial and social attachment to celebrities to be explained differently depending on the participant’s developmental stage. Adolescence, young adulthood, and middle adulthood were the most important periods of lifespan development in the fan groups investigated. This paper examines the relationship between MTD and the general perception of celebrities by private people.
In the middle of an identity crisis, an adolescent seeks for role models to follow. The media provides a multitude of celebrities who fit as role models for just about any identity sought, especially for teenagers who do not have models at home. Potential role models exist, whether the young person is interested in rebellion, social action, or generosity (Heckhausen, & Wrosch, 2016). Media and celebrities can play a part in the struggle of a young adult grappling with the dilemma of intimacy against solitude at this point. Isolation was the outcome if closeness was not reached. Young adults feel alone in an era of transitory family life, when individuals move frequently, parents regularly divorce, and breakdown is a way of life.
Individuals’ idol worship is a self-contained identity system that enables psychological absorption with celebrities in order to develop an identity and a sense of fulfillment. Like the actions of a fan who imitates his idol’s varied techniques or thinks himself to be similar to his hero. Furthermore, this type of psychological engrossment will inspire followers to engage in more extreme, potentially delusory conduct. However, as a fan progresses through the different stages of their lifespan development, their expectations from the celebrities they admire also undergo a transformation.
Celebrity Idolization: The Concept
The impact of celebrities on teenage people has grown in tandem with their significance in society. What effect does celebrity worship have on the generation that worships celebrities the most? One popular misconception is that celebrity worship is innocuous and has no negative consequences for the person who practices it. In reality, it is the polar opposite. Many individuals appear to be unaware that celebrity worship is now defined as a psychiatric illness with serious psychological repercussions to follow. The worship itself can be measured by a comparatively new scale that assesses the level of emotional and intellectual investment a fan dedicates to the respective celebrity. At the low worship stage, the fans are satisfied with the individualistic behaviors that focus on entertainment. Low-scale celebrity worship is a common and generally harmless cultural trend that highlights the specifics of modern popular culture but does not entail dangerous levels of fixation.
The medium-scale celebrity worship, also known as intermediate or intense-personal, a fan starts to demonstrate specific social behaviors. They no longer focus on a celebrity within the borders of their entertainment, but start to identify with other fans on the basis of the shared adoration for a person. Essentially, they begin to consider their relationship with a celebrity to be part of their identity. Studies are conflicted on the matter of whether intermediate celebrity worship has a negative effect on the psychological health of the fans involved. Within the lifetime span theory, this stage often corresponds to adolescence in the age of a person, thus becoming a part of their forming identity.
Finally, the high-scale or borderline pathological celebrity worship is characterized by obsessive and compulsive behaviors and is almost universally acknowledged as harmful. Extreme cases of such involve full personal self-identification with the celebrity in question to the point of psychosis and other mental disorders. This stage is generally separated from the stronger cases of the previous one on the basis of a fan being able to compromise their own livelihood in one way or another for the sake of the celebrity in question. The fan might go so far as to be willing to commit a crime on behalf of the celebrity or send them money and gifts beyond the measure they can reasonably afford.
Celebrity Idolization: Differs With Age
Media and celebrities can play a part in the struggle of a young adult grappling with the dilemma of intimacy against solitude at this point. Young adults feel increasingly alienated and many people prefer the sensations of closeness and intimacy they get from celebrities to the feelings of alienation they get from ordinary people. Vicarious romance, as one 28-year-old woman put it, is preferable to no romance at all. One type of proof that this is most likely true is the popularity of paperback romance books. On some levels, experiencing an illusory romance is satisfying.
A lot of unusual scenarios arise for middle-aged enthusiasts. Some fans have used fandom as a method to relive memories from their youth. A group of ladies meeting at someone’s home for a sleepover party, where the major activity is much giggling and viewing films and looking at photographs, are engaged in social behavior that many of them were accustomed to within their earlier years. Girls in high school frequently gathered together to laugh and discuss a male they all admired from school (Gayle, 2011). Reuniting years later to talk about a beloved celebrity was a way to feel young again, to unite with other women who shared similar interests, and to connect emotionally. Generally, however, as people grow older, their patterns of media consumption change and the scale of intensity of interest in celebrities involved declines.
The Trap of Parasocial Relationships and Disengagement with Age
The concept of parasocial relationships concerns almost any case of celebrity worship, and refers to an unequal dynamic, usually between a content creator and their audience. Depending on the individual circumstances, a parasite in the equation might identify with the creator excessively, perceive them as a close friend or even lover. For the context of this paper, parasocial relationships are analyzed primarily as a dynamic between two persons, one of which is a celebrity (Chung & Cho, 2017). However, for the sake of the concept, it is important to specify that parasocial attachment might also exist towards a character in fiction. In either scenario, the choice of an object for parasocial attraction tends to bear great personal significance when the sender is an adolescent. Said choice is often deeply personal and is connected to the traits an adolescent might have imagined for themselves.
Over the course of recent years, family psychologists have expressed concerns over the growing issue of popularity and intensity of modern parasocial relationships. The celebrity idealization is magnified by the exposure to social media and the concept of influencers experienced by the younger generation (Shane, 2019). Fan connections are viewed as obsessive and unhealthy, and are viewed as inadequate replacements for a real, accessible relationship. Their fundamental lack of reciprocity does not allow the fans to develop an adequate measure of emotional return or personal satisfaction. As a person becomes more and more mature with age, they are likely to become less vulnerable towards the non-gratifying stimuli and develop an internal resistance to the high or medium-level celebrity adoration. Additionally, the fully formed identity requires less outside support and is unlikely to rely on external groupings for validation, at least to the same degree. As a result, the phenomenon of disengagement with age occurs, with middle-aged and older populational demographics being significantly less likely to demonstrate intensely manifested fan behaviors.
Despite this, many individuals continue to allow themselves to “fall in love” with someone they will never meet. They maintain love relationships from afar, and some individuals find this to be fulfilling. Others get sick and mentally distressed, but this is outside the scope of this study. It is not as simple as it appears on the surface to determine if something is beneficial or unhealthy behavior. Adolescents, in particular, have been repeatedly identified as the most vulnerable group for the dangers and harms of parasocial relationships, both as perpetrators and as victims. Social psychologists are especially concerned with the uneven power dynamics that often transpire between a celebrity and their fans. Particularly when one wants to prove their devotion, a wide variety of boundary violations with the potential for serious assault might occur. Keeping in mind the Life Span Development theory, it is important to understand how the impact of said violations on the human psyche differs in intensity based on a person’s age. A dangerous situation transpires, where those who are most vulnerable to the consequences are the most likely to develop higher scales of celebrity worship.
In conclusion, the life span development theory correlates with the patterns showcased by the different age demographics of modern celebrity fans. Younger fans, particularly adolescents, are more likely to develop mid-level or high-level celebrity worship tendencies, due to the need for external validation of their forming identities. By contrast, middle-aged or older fans do not require additional group support and the ability to identify with larger social groups either at all or, at least, to the same degree of intensity. In general, it makes them less vulnerable to the dangers of developing an intense parasocial relationship with the celebrity in question.
Since modern celebrity culture is characterized by hyperbolized levels of awareness and attention on behalf of the fanbase, magnified by the use of social media, one might say that with age, fans grow distanced. This phenomenon has been recognized by social psychologists as disengagement with age. It may correlate with the general version of the same phenomenon, in which older people withdraw from social and cultural activities without repercussions, due to the perception of the aging process. Within the context of the topic, it results in them successfully distancing themselves from the celebrity worship paradigm altogether.
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