Television airwaves, magazines and newspapers are full of gossip about the lives of the rich and famous. According to American Journalism Review, Martha Stewart's legal troubles received five times as much coverage on network news as the genocide in Darfur. The Project for Excellence in Journalism claims that in the first few days after Anna Nicole Smith's death, her story consumed 50 percent of cable news airtime—more than the Super Bowl or the war in Iraq.
Celebrity gossip fan Rikki says she has 16 magazine subscriptions so she can keep up with her favorite stars, including Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. She even reads the same story in different publications to compare the details. "It really is a bad obsession. I can't get enough," she says. While she admits the amount of coverage might have gotten a little out of hand, Rikki says she thinks celebrities connect us all. "None of us really know any celebrities, but if I said 'Angelina Jolie,' every single person here has heard of Angelina Jolie. Everyone has an opinion about her, something to discuss," she says.
Another audience member, Raymond, says he thinks our obsession with celebrities has reached a low point. "I think the whole Anna Nicole thing is a tragedy, but I have no idea why she's famous at all."
No matter why they are famous, stars seem to have a grip on the nation—and it could all start in our brains. Journalist Carlin Flora wrote an article about celebrity obsession in Psychology Today. According to Carlin, an evolutionary psychology theory says people are so interested in celebrities because our brains trick us into thinking we know them personally.
"We're built to view anyone we recognize as an acquaintance," she says. "We think they are in our tribe, so to speak, and so we are interested in gossip about them almost to the same extent we're interested in gossip about our friends and family, because it's important to know what's going on in the tribe."
Carlin says that although it may be natural to be curious about the stars' lives, it could be potentially dangerous. "If you're always looking at rich and beautiful people on TV and in magazines, you may start to feel like you're lacking. Like your life is lacking," Carlin says. "That's a false sort of comparison because those images don't depict the celebrities' real lives."