Paris Hilton Sues Web Site for Exploiting Her Fame

Random items included bottles of the prescription drugs used for anxiety and sleep and a herpes medication. Also catalogued on the Web site are: a medical bill for a miscarriage in March 2003 under the billing name "Amber Taylor" -- with the same birth date as Hilton; her sister's marriage certificate; videos of visits to her sick grandmother; and bank statements -- one with a balance of $9.26.

Video footage includes a series of short tapes of a naked Hilton being filmed by Joe Francis, the "Girls Gone Wild" creator, and her former fiancé, Jason Shaw. Hilton's friends' phone numbers are scrawled on everything from envelopes to soiled napkins.

Airing the heiress's dirty linens may say more about the celebrity-crazed culture than it does about the age-old huckster business.

Hall's Reports of Stamford, Conn., which tracks magazine content, counts more pages devoted in recent years to entertainment and celebrity news, in titles as various as Us Weekly and National Geographic

In 2003, New Scientist magazine reported that one-third of all Americans were suffering from "celebrity-worship syndrome," a phenomenon that was on the rise.

In one of the largest studies of its kind in Britain at the University of Leicester in 2004, researchers claimed celebrity worshipers were harming their health by choosing their idols rather than face every day stresses. Their studies suggested that intense-personal worshippers use neurotic ways of coping, such as living in a state of denial.

Celebrity Worship Scale

"There is a stalker in all of us," warned Houran, who pioneered research at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in 1998 and was part of a national team of scholars who studied celebrities and their impact on human behavior. He uses a celebrity worship scale to evaluate potential for harm.

"The most severe forms of this behavior have strong correlations with heightened levels of anxiety, depression and poor body image in women," said Houran. "This shouldn't surprise us."

While normal fans appreciate the skills and talents of their chosen celebrities, more fanatic celebrity seekers show signs of mental deficiencies. A worst-case example is Mark David Chapman, who stalked and killed John Lennon in 1980.

"They are different from normal fans," said Houran, whose research showed that celebrity worship does not just fall into healthy and unhealthy categories, but, moves predictably along a continuum.

When ordinary interest in celebrities like Paris Hilton moves from water cooler talk to seeking out personal items on the Internet, normal boundaries are crossed.

"That kind of interest in celebrity is irrespective of age, gender, type of celebrity - be it musician, actor, sports hero or political leader," he said.

Houran's Celebrity Worship Scale takes on three stages. The first is the "entertainment or social phase," where there is a healthy, voluntary interest in celebrities as an escape from stress and to increase social bonding.

"Hey, did you see a game last night or 'Desperate Housewives?'" asked Houran. "It brings people together who voluntarily immerse in fantasy, then leave and go and lead normal lives."

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