Why do young people idolize entertainers

Donna asks: Why do young people idolize entertainers?

Hi Donna –


That’s a great question!  We’re so used to young people, especially teenagers, idolizing entertainers that we usually don’t ever think to ask Why!  Of course, in order to give a decent answer, we should also point out that there are young people who don’t idolize entertainers per se, but most will idolize someone – athletes, teachers, or of course religious figures.


I believe it comes from a simple developmental need.  When humans are children, they naturally idolize their parents or caregivers.  They spend most of their waking hours trying to be like them – that’s how people learn to walk, to speak, even how to think the way they do.  But then there has to come a time when they start looking outward for role models (this usually starts around age 7 or 8), and eventually they become teenagers, who care about what their peers think of them, at least as much as about what their parents do.


But that doesn’t mean that they went from needing to idolize their parents, one day, to being fully developed individuals the next!  The change has to be gradual.  And that change usually involves some sort of idolizing.


I should point out that the word “idolize” can have very negative implications.  And Donna, I don’t know if you mean the term with the negative context or not.  For example, there’s a hugely popular television show around the world with the word “Idol” in the title (along with the country it’s in – “American Idol,” “Australian Idol,” etc.).  Now no one sees that show as creating “Idolatry,” in the sense that religions forbid it.  They just mean “Idol” as a star entertainer, someone everybody is fascinated by and enjoys the work of.  But of course, this Idolizing can reach heights of blasphemy (depending on one’s religion) or even insanity.  We hear of “Stalkers,” people so obsessed with their favorite entertainers that they break into their homes or follow them around.  And sometimes it can even be worse – the world is still mourning the death of John Lennon, who was so idolized that a young man shot him out of a desire for closeness to him.


But I don’t think you’re talking about stalkers and killers, Donna.  I think you’re wondering what it is that makes teenage girls just go wacky about Justin Bieber, the way they once did for Rudy Vallee and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and Herman’s Hermits and Donny Osmond and New Kids on the Block and Justin TImberlake and…  And what makes teens hang onto every word of their idols, whether empowering like Madonna, or wittily angry like Bob Dylan or Eminem, or doomed like James Dean or Kurt Cobain, or or just fashionable like a Paris Hilton or a Kim Kardashian.


I would argue, again, that it’s partly about needing to find someone outside one’s family to look up to.  But of course there’s also the burgeoning sexuality and romanticism that comes with adolescence, and the natural draw to charismatic, beautiful, intelligent people.  Then when you mix those with a teenager’s proclivity for emotionality and extremes (An adult today might say “Oh I like that Katy Perry “Firecracker” song,” while a teenager will listen to “Firework” endlessly, as “that’s the greatest recording, and greatest statement, in music history!”)… and you’ll get some pretty hard-core idolizing going on!


Now don’t get me wrong.  We dogs idolize too.  It’s just that we’re not so drawn in by silly things like talent, creativity, and beauty.  We tend to idolize the people who feed us!  Which makes immensely more sense to me.


But I guess that’s what separates dogs from humans.


I hope that helps, Donna!





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