"When we take a look at celebrities and when monkeys take a look at the dominant animal they see where they are in the pack. They see how to behave and they probably feel a sense of community."
And it's natural, Fisher says, to want fame, "because fame brings you money. Fame brings you reproductive opportunities. Famous men get more women. Famous women get more men."
That helps explain the surprising results of a survey Halpern conducted for "Fame Junkies." He asked the middle schoolers which careers appealed to them most: President of Harvard or Yale; the CEO of a big company like General Motors; a U.S. Senator; a Navy SEAL; and an assistant to a celebrity. Not a celebrity, but an assistant.
Celebrity assistant was picked by 43 percent of the girls, more than the other professions. Boys were a little different. More put becoming a Navy SEAL as their first choice, but overall among boys and girls, celebrity assistant was in first place.
Halpern, who also interviewed many of the students, found, "there's a belief that seems to be, 'Becoming famous will make my life better.' That makes a certain amount of sense. But also just being close, just doing menial work for a celebrity is also going to somehow transform my life."
Another survey question asked: If you could push a magic button and become smarter, stronger, beautiful, or famous, which would you pick? We parents would hope they would pick smarter but that's not how it worked out. The kids preferred fame over looks and intelligence.
Halpern said that "for boys, they picked fame almost as often as intelligence, but girls clearly picked fame more than intelligence."
The drive for fame is so strong it even drives some people to confess to crimes they did not commit. Last year John Mark Karr confessed that he killed child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. DNA evidence later proved that to be false.
Karr's false confession was not unusual. It happens all the time when the famous are involved. Hundreds of people claimed they killed O.J. Simpson's wife Nicole. And 75 years ago, when aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped, within months, 200 people had confessed to the crime.
Saul Kassin is a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Kassin explains that "some people have a pathological need for fame or attention or recognition. In some cases, the level of mental illness is such that these people might actually believe they have committed this crime."
"There are all of these facets to celebrity obsession, but I think that they're actually all connected on a single spectrum," says Halpern. "We all covet fame, and it's how close we can get. Ideally we're right in the center of the spotlight. It's us who are famous."
When that can't happen, Halpern says, the fame junkie then tries to at least get close to it by becoming an assistant to a celebrity.
"We can get on the other side of the velvet rope, backstage where all of the action is going on. And if that's not in the cards, well, at the very least we can open a copy of a Glamour magazine and feel as if we're there and we're close and we can bask in the warmth of the illusion."
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