It was 2:30 a.m. on a Thursday. I had just finished working a shift in my lab and needed to start fixing my newspaper column because it was ripped apart by the editor. As I was getting ready to write, I opened Spotify and was greeted by an advertisement of Taylor Swift’s new single. Because I hadn’t heard this song all the way through, I decided to give it a listen.

I attempted to work but couldn’t think straight while the chorus of seemingly never-ending “look what you made me do’s” reverberated through my head from Swift’s cleverly titled single “Look What You Made Me Do.” As much as I would like to say, “No one cares what you did, Taylor,” I would be wrong considering her single broke streaming and viewing records on Spotify and YouTube. People idolize Taylor Swift and often seem to be more invested in her life than their own. This is a problem.

In modern society, social media and even television have evolved in a way that favors making the famous even more famous. Celebrities thrive off publicity, and through platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, providing them with this notoriety has become a part of our everyday lives.

But what makes us interested in celebrities in the first place? Well, most of the time they have lives that are more interesting and extravagant than our own. They have lifestyles that most of us regard as fantasy, and social media has allowed us to admire these lifestyles 24/7. In the amount of time it takes to unlock a phone and open Instagram, you can see where Leonardo DiCaprio decided to go after winning his Oscar, or what color Lamborghini Justin Bieber decided to drive to the MTV Video Music Awards. By commenting on and reacting to photos and videos, we’re provided with the illusion that we’re having an impact or taking part in celebrities’ lives — but we’re not.  

The truth is that we’ve all become pawns in their personal marketing campaigns. No one seems to take a step back and ask themselves, “Why do I care about these people? Why am I one of 500,000 commenting on Kylie Jenner’s selfie? Aren’t there more important things I should be focusing on?”

The average U.S. adult spends more than six hours per week on social media, and I bet that a good chunk of this time is spent viewing celebrities. If you don’t believe me, just look at Kim Kardashian — one of the most popular individuals on Instagram with 103 million followers. That’s roughly a third of the United States’s population. Imagine what people would be able to accomplish if the total time spent on Kardashian’s Instagram page were spent on something useful.

Even television has shifted its focus to endorsing the famous and making them viral sensations. “Celebrity Family Feud,” “Hollywood Game Night” and “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” for example, are shows that never shift their spotlight from the rich and famous because featuring celebrities can boost ratings and entertain.

As a result of this trend, reality competition shows are no longer about finding a star. Unlike “American Idol,” which did an extremely good job of placing emphasis on the individuality and development of its contestants, shows like “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent” are about marketing the judges and serving as a platform to further perpetuate their celebrity status. A contestant’s performance is merely background noise while the camera forces you to examine every change in a judge’s facial expression as they ponder whether they like what they’re seeing.

Though these competitions have each produced 11 winners, none of them have had mainstream commercial success. But for celebrity judges like Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, these shows have allowed for the advertisement of comeback albums, live performances and creation of fashion lines while simultaneously establishing relationships with a large, diverse audience.

I’m not saying that the over-marketization of celebrities is always a bad thing. Some of them are great role models who are truly inspiring. But when you find yourself scrutinizing every detail of Taylor Swift’s feuds, listening to “Look What You Made Me Do” on repeat to decipher the lyrics and choosing sides in her celebrity row, it might be time for a reality check. People need to spend more time focusing on their own lives and aspirations, because they can make far more important contributions to society than a poorly written diss track or a viral selfie.

Evan Sirls can be reached at esirls@umich.edu. 

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