Why Do Celebrities Play Such A Big Part In Our Imagination?

By Dave Singleton

Author of CRUSH: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing and the Lasting Power of Their First Celebrity Crush, now available in bookstores and online.

I have a theory that celebrities are just characters in my head. At any moment driving to work or walking down the street, I think about the people in my life. The ones I know glide alongside the celebrities in a constant, mental kaleidoscope. In my mind, my mother, Princess Diana, Hillary and Bill, my brother Bruce, my book editor, George Clooney and the entire casts of Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13, Tom Cruise, close friends like Bobbi and Gail, and Channing Tatum are all characters chaotically intersecting in the running drama I call my life.

Celebrities are both our intimate daily companions and as distant as the heavens above. It’s hard to know just how to think of them.

Based on how much time I spend immersed in media, can my mind always distinguish who’s real from unreal? I wonder.

Of course, the mind distinguishes between whom we know and whom we merely know of. Otherwise, we’d technically qualify as schizophrenics. But can emotions always make a distinction if, over time, you spend as much time on the unreal as the real?

Maybe things have changed somewhat since life in the Pleistocene era, but our neural hardwiring hasn’t. On some deeper level, we may think NBC’s “Friends” really are our friends. I’m not above admitting I’ve pictured myself as a seventh wheel sitting next to Rachel and Monica on the tattered sofa at Central Perk. More than once.

A few years ago, when I ran into Courtney Cox at Marix Tex Mex restaurant in West Hollywood, I waved instinctively. Who hasn’t had a celebrity sighting, mistaking a local newscaster, say, for a compadre?

If, like me, you spent time pouring over teen and celebrity magazines when you were a preteen, and arguably at your most impressionable, you know what I am talking about. You were alone. You felt vulnerable. No one understood you. Except for David Cassidy. Or Sandra Bullock. Or Jared Leto.

In one episode of the cartoon show “King of the Hill,” a character meets the late former Texas Governor Ann Richards. “You probably know me,” he says. “I’ve seen you on TV.”

He’s right.


Thoughts? Talk about your first celebrity crush on Jyst.

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Read more of Dave’s work at his website.

Follow him on Twitter @DCDaveSingleton





Ciao, Crush

I called him The Italian Boy. He was an exchange student, truly Italian, at the college where I went. It was sophomore year and I smitten. Too-long bangs, Mediterranean blue eyes, always accessorized with a soccer ball. Of course I had never tossed a single Buon giorno his way or screwed up the courage to push my tray along next to his in the dining hall. But I knew his class schedule by heart and would often race to stand outside of his building and then follow behind at a good 30 paces as he made his way to his next class.

“Did you see Italian Boy today?” was my roommate’s usual greeting.

I grew up in a Waspy suburb of Connecticut and anyone who spoke with an accent—Italian or otherwise—was beyond exotic to me. I once dated a guy who took me to dinner at an old-school Neapolitan joint in Hartford and asked the waitress what Mary-nary was. It took her a while to figure out he was confused about the marinara sauce topping his spaghetti.

Italian Boy wouldn’t have those troubles. He was perfect.

Until I met him. It turns out Paolo was eyeing me as well. He asked me on a date to see The Graduate, playing on campus, and had the nerve not to like it (did it get lost in translation?) Then invited me back to his room where I sat at his desk and he played every single song with “Cathy” in the lyrics on his guitar. I had never realized how many songs contained my name. The night was endless.

I avoided him the rest of the year and he ended up scrawling a totally bonkers note on my door that ended with, “You, you, never again.” I have a photo of it somewhere. It’s a reminder that a crush is always better from a distance. Because meeting them in person sometimes can be crushing.

– Cathy Alter