A researcher at the University of Waterloo, Ont., is suggesting that dead celebrities have, in some ways, become the “saints” of today’s consumer culture.
PhD candidate Kathleen Riddell says that just as people in the Middle Ages identified with the saints of the Catholic Church, many people today identify with dead celebrities, whose images and ideals are frequently mass-marketed.
Riddell is presenting a paper on dead celebrity fandom at the 2014 Congress of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
Her thesis focuses on the impact of three late great musicians: John Lennon, Johnny Cash, and Jimi Hendrix.
Riddell says that much like saints, dead celebs can create communities around the ideals they were associated with while they were alive — Lennon’s peace activism being a notable example.
She says that of the three celebrities she’s studying, Lennon and Cash seem to have the most devout followers.
It’s not a replacement for traditional religion. It’s more about ideals. We wrap our values into them, our ideals and our struggles. Researcher Kathleen Riddell
Riddell quotes one fan as saying that “Everyone has their own personal Johnny, like everyone has their own personal Jesus.”
She is also quick to point out, however, that she isn’t suggesting the cult of dead celebrities will replace traditional religion, as fans are often members of traditional religious communities.
“It’s not a replacement for traditional religion. It’s more about ideals. We wrap our values into them, our ideals and our struggles,” she said.
“They are presentable because they are in a neat, attractive package, a cultural product.”