How many celebrities do you follow on social media? Do you feel a special connection with them that leaves you reeling for days? Friederike Sandow investigates the fascinating phenomenon that are celebrity crushes.
My mum can watch Pride and Prejudice (the 4.5 hour long BBC version, mind you) endlessly without getting tired. She adores Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. When my dad sees Claudia Kleinert, a German meteorologist, announce the weather forecast for the next days right after the news, please do not stand in between him and the television or he might start waving his arms and screaming at you to move. I get it. I was binge-watching Peaky Blinders last year and, at the end of season one, I felt secretly in love with Cillian Murphy. Or with Thomas Shelby. I don’t know, I didn’t care, but it felt real. I talked to a good friend and confessed my crush and she said: “Oh I know what you‘re going through. Don’t worry, it’ll pass. Just finish the series and don’t go back for a while.” I was relieved she understood me, but at the same time hurt that she thought she experienced the same. He was MY crush. I was sure: “I will never be able to forget Thomas.” But I did! Admittedly though, I weirded myself out big time. But it wasn’t until Alexander Ebert, my all-time favourite musician, liked one of my comments on Instagram and I lost hours of sleep over this due to excitement, that I was asking myself what is happening. His simple click on the Instagram heart for my comment flustered me – for one moment, for one part of a second, I was his. That I felt such a boost of excitement, worried and amused me at the same time.
I guess all these examples are what you call a celebrity crush. We’ve had them as children and teenagers, some of them are strange, some of them we share with a whole generation and yes, some of them still happen today, to adults, even though adults are more capable of differentiating real life from Hollywood. We all, to some extent, know what it feels like to be crushing on someone we do not personally know. It’s not a surprise to anyone when Ross tells Rachel in Season 3 episode 1 that his sexual fantasy is Princess Leia from Return of the Jedi. It’s understandable. Or remember Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation getting weak knees upon meeting Joe Biden? What an adorable weirdo.
Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are tearing up the fourth wall, the wall that previously made it impossible to be in direct contact with your crush. Nowadays, anyone can follow their crush on their daily whereabouts and receive or give out a like. Mark Hamill is everybody’s darling on Twitter because he gives out personal birthday wishes and the crowd goes cray cray. Research suggests that a tiny crush is healthy and that the line between a harmless celebrity crush (admiration) and a worrying obsession (obsessive compulsion) is relatively thick. It spans from discussing your favourite celebrity with friends and watching them perform to considering them your soulmate and disrupting your daily life to an extent that is worrying. Between loving their movies and thinking of them as your soulmate is a lot of room, I feel. Maybe.
A friend says he wouldn’t describe what he feels towards celebrities as a crush nowadays (he adores Natalie Portman) but more as a fancy. He says the reality and practicality forbids a crush. My mum says her crush is only an ideal, a kind of stencil that explains who you are attracted to in real life. Both of them told me to crush on whoever I want and not to worry if it’s age appropriate, as it does no harm. But it can though.
His simple click on the Instagram heart for my comment flustered me – for one moment, for one part of a second, I was his. That I felt such a boost of excitement, worried and amused me at the same time.
Research warns that due to the feigning barrier breaking, made possible via social media, allowing glimpses into the personal lives of actors, musicians and athletes, the line gets thinner and thinner. These parasocial relationships have matured with the evolution of the internet and its possibilities. Especially for children and teenagers, who lack the experience of pre-internet times and as such cannot as easily discern attention on social media with situations in real life, it can be damaging. “While parasocial relationships still remain one-sided, they have transformed into more interactive environments, allowing individuals to communicate with their media personas, and increasing the intimacy and strength” which, of course, is not holding up in real life. Not only do celebrities seem closer than they actually are, also the danger of impossible standards and body and thus self images can be disrupting and dangerous. Adding to this, you can watch your favourite scenes with your celebrity crushes in an endless loop on Netflix. I basically lived with the Shelbys in Birmingham, it felt like a week–long fling and of course I missed Thomas afterwards. It was cold turkey.
Fret not, though. As long as you have your feelings in check, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. As with all things fun and quirky, the explanation of what really happens is almost boring, as it’s so rational and explainable: Chemistry! Crushing is a tiny bit like doing drugs, but less harmful for your body, though withdrawal is still real. (Have you ever watched a compilation of your favourite scenes after the end of a series? Yes, yes, you can crush on an entire cast of a series.) It’s withdrawal, and dopamine is responsible. Dopamine is flying loops in the limbic reward system of your brain.
I think that makes it ok again, it’s kind of out of our hands. And feeling feelings is always pretty cool. To be crushing on someone you do not really know is normal, as studies support (phew). And apparently only one in 3000 people develops his or her crush into an obsession – which does not even include people writing fan-fiction erotica: doing so still scales as normal. Most of us do. Men and women. It’s not childish, it’s normal. As we mature, our crushes also mature with us. We don’t go to bed kissing our Leonardo DiCaprio poster goodnight anymore. If you do, you might be the one out of 3000 people. I would get that checked out. To all the others: go crushin’ without shame and have sexy thoughts. According to my mum this adds a bit of flavour to our lives and bedrooms.