Apart from the obvious intellectual and cultural damage that the 21st century mass media propagates, there are darker aspects of it as well. One shoot-off of this milieu that is a big concern is Stalking. This modern day affliction had become so pervasive that separate departments are dedicated in Psychiatric institutions to deal with its theory and practice. So much so that five distinct types of stalkers have been identified – The Rejected Stalker, The Intimacy Stalker, The Incompetent Stalker, The Resentful Stalker and The Predatory Stalker. Stalking is relevant to mass media and celebrity culture because most stalkers are from the fan-bases for these celebrities. The threat posed by the fan-base to the celebrities is aptly illustrated by the following research findings:
“The number of cases of stalking is rising rapidly, resulting in greater instability in relationships, shifts in the balance of power between the sexes and the ‘blame culture’ are all causing more people to pursue the imagined objects of their affection. All these are attributable to a pervasive culture of celebrity and other social changes. As many as one in five women and one in ten men aged 16 to 30 in the UK have been the victims of some form of stalking” (Birmingham Evening Mail; 2001 : 9).
It is an appalling reality that modern television programs have induced people into psychopathic and unethical behaviour such as stalking and paparazzi photography respectively. The power wielded by mass media goes well beyond the realm of entertainment, for the structural underpinnings of modern democratic institutions and entertainment channels are strikingly similar. To give an example, 120 million Americans turned up to vote during the 2004 presidential elections, while nearly 86 million Americans tuned into television to watch the annual sport spectacle that is the Super Bowl. The comparison between the workings of political institutions and modern entertainment culture becomes inevitable as “the discussion, participation, creativity, interventions, judgments, and votes that take place around reality television are all activities that would qualify as civic competences if they were performed in the context of the political field” (Fiske; 1996: 254). Also, fans and citizens have much else in common:
“Both fan groups and political constituencies encourage emotional investments and require active participation from their members. More important, the behaviour of committed fans mirrors what we hope to see from inspired citizens. In addition to the interpretive and informative components of entertainment politics, viewers of popular reality television programs such as the American and British versions of Big Brother and Idol even can shape the outcome of the show by voting for their favourite contestants.” (Fiske; 1996: 254)
To the question of equal and balanced representation, the shift in the type of symbol that find currency in the current media environment is quite contrary to traditional assumptions about social reality, creating a new avenue for the powers that be “to redefine public conceptions of authority and who should hold it”. The thrust behind this framework is not to blatantly discourage democratic participation that might undermine the status quo since “the way an outsider group’s experiences are (or could be) coded in tele-visual culture may both encourage and reflect a transformation in people’s assumptions about that group’s identity and roles in society” (Sullivan; 1998 : 21). A prime example of this reality is the way female politicians are perceived. The mass media and its celebration of pop-culture create unfair expectations of them and fail to highlight their professional merits. In effect, citizens schooled in mass media fed cultural sensibilities often perceive female politicians through these tinted lenses. Hence, in terms of actual representations of people and ideas, the mass media had fallen short without doubt (Cashmore; 2006: 112).