Grocery stores place enough candy in your child's line of sight at the checkout line to make your dentist weep. Your previously angelic child grabs whatever sugar-infested temptation is most convenient, holds it up in your direction, and breaks into a shrill and never-ending sequence: "Please! Please! Please!"
In that same checkout aisle, another item vies for the parent's attention with its own pleas: "Jealous Angie Enraged," "Courtney's Miscarriage," "Ashton Lover Pay-for-Play Claims," and "Demi Rehab Shocker."
Though these stories lack substance, many of us find ourselves tempted to pry into the details. What hold do Angelina, Courtney, Ashton, and Demi have over us? Pete Ward, senior lecturer in youth ministry and theological education at King's College London, explains in Gods Behaving Badly: Media, Religion, and Celebrity Culture (Baylor University Press) that this temptation is the product of something masquerading as a religion.
Several social critics refer to celebrities as gods and infatuation with them as being religious. Ward, though, is careful to refer to this phenomenon as a parareligion. As he puts it, "Celebrities are meaningful not because they represent a route toward the divine. They are icons … that are more like mirrors. We simply see that we are the fairest, or at least we see the possible way that we might become the fairest in the world."
The bulk of Ward's chapters unpack this claim. But Ward first acknowledges that celebrities exploit this parareligion, undergoing uncomfortable and even dangerous forms of plastic surgery to retain the image of perfection.
Celebrities also tap into religious imagery to cultivate this parareligion. Ward contends that we need look no further than Madonna's wildly ...1