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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.




Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

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30 October, 2009

Why We Are Drawn To Celebrities

Johann Hari, writing in The Independent, weighs the different arguments for why we are so obsessed by celebrity:

The second argument is more interesting. It suggests that we are hard-wired to seek out Big Men (or Women) and copy them. Think about the hunter-gatherer tribes that we lived in a few minutes ago (in evolutionary terms). Those ancestors of ours who identified the most powerful or abundant people in their group, worked their way into their entourage, and imitated their ways were obviously more likely to survive. Seeking out celebs had an evolutionary advantage – so they passed this instinct on to us. The people who thought it was dumb to act this way dropped off the human family tree.

This is ultimate causation, of course, not proximate causation. No one actually thinks that copying Kamal R Khan or Rakhi Sawant will help them in any way. But the instinct that draws us towards such celebs was shaped, in prehistoric times, by the evolutionary advantage it bestowed. This would also explain the existence of groupies: if you’re drawn to the fittest man in the tribe, you’re likelier to end up with kids that have the same genes that took him to the top—as well as those that drew you to him in the first place.

This also explains why a show like Bigg Boss is so damn popular. Sure, as a character argued in My Friend Sancho, it lays bare the human condition and all that—but also, by showing celebrities in their unguarded moments, it takes us closer to them than we would ever get in real life.

Celebrity, thus, is a virtue by itself. And it’s self-propagating—if you get minutes of fame for something or the other, you’re quite likely to get two more minutes because of the first five, and so on. You could end up, as the saying goes, famous for being famous. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma in Miscellaneous

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