Adolescents influenced by icons

As humans, it is in our nature to respect idols. Ancient Romans and Greeks created deities to explain every element of the Earth. Prompted by the recent hysteria over the deaths of several influential celebrities, I felt compelled to investigate how this mentality of near idolatry has transitioned to present day. Why is it that we can feel so personally close to an individual whom we have never met?

As far as students within the school are concerned, the appreciation for artists ranges from casual appreciation to idolatrous dedication. “I love David Bowie, I make a lot of mix CDs, and he’s the first song on approximately 80% of them,” said Ben Stump (11). David Bowie, a 70’s art rock legend, remains in a high regard among students who weren’t even alive at the height of his career. “He was just so incredibly himself,” said Maddie Lockhart (12), “Music is something that’s very personal, and it really allowed him specifically to share his thoughts through his lyrics.”. It seems plausible that humans are compelled by the art of stars. Celebrities that produce art that speaks to their audience create a bond of sorts– a bond where one feels validated about their own emotions.

Alan Rickman, best known for his role as Snape in the Harry Potter series, as well as Rick Frey, frontman for The Eagles, also recently passed away, the dates of their deaths in a very close proximity to one another. The blow of losing multiple cultural symbols in succession contributed to the recent hysteria, but should we consider this obsessive or simply a behavior spawned from modern societal standards? In an age where social media prevails as the most significant form of communication, it is easy to create an illusion of camaraderie. Rock stars and famous actors seem more accessible in a world where it takes one click to view their tweets and discover just how #relatable they are.

“I feel like with any celebrity, people can get attached, even if they don’t know them, because they see some aspect of themselves in them and think ‘Oh, wow, they’re just like me. I think that’s applicable to any celebrity,” said Lockhart. However, it would be remiss not to mention the sensation that was Elvis, The Beatles, or Mick Jagger, all of whom reached their peak before one could easily scroll through insta posts.

Psychologists have recently researched the causes behind this apparent obsession of pop culture figures among adolescents. According to the study Yeung (1995), adolescents associate themselves with cultural icons to boost their own self-esteem. Teenagers view these popular figures as admirable, widely accepted and adored; teenagers often strive to be viewed in a similar light. Especially at this stage of development, kids often search for ways to manufacture order in the face of chaos. They are searching for “an identity,” mirroring behavior they see is socially acceptable. This is why teenagers become so attached to pop stars. Everyone is looking to fit in, or at least model themselves after someone they known to be considered cool. “Music has impacted me a lot, it’s shaped a lot of my personality traits, and  it’s shaped me as a person,” states Lockhart.

Idolatry is prevalent in today’s youth, as a product of our over-saturation in the lives of others. Finding artist with which one can relate is a wonderful experience; it can help one see the world from an entirely new perspective. It requires a certain balance to maintain healthy appreciation over incessant admiration.