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Who's in the Video
Tom Freston was one of MTV's founding executives and until recently served as CEO of Viacom. Freston is responsible for the generation-defining ad campaign "I Want My MTV." In 1987[…]

Why are we so obsessed with it?

Question: Why are we so obsessed with celebrity?

Tom Freston: Well since really the advent of . . . People have always been interested in stars. I mean you go back even into the 19th century, people who were theater stars or, you know, great Vaudevillians, or actors in silent movies. People have always been drawn out of their normal lives and been taken up by a star, which is, in many ways, sort of an intangible aura around somebody that exists for a variety of reasons. And you know the popularization of music, and television, and films that we’ve seen in the last 30, 40 years have created this certain celebrityhood that then began to be . . . At first we were fascinated by the stars and the artworks that they performed . . . and the popular artworks they performed. We liked . . . We liked Elvis Presley when we liked his music. Or we loved the Beatles and we loved their music. But there really wasn’t an awful lot about their lives . . . their normal lives. And you know with magazines like, I think, initially People and others, I mean there were . . . there was sort of celebrity magazine sheets in the ‘50s and ‘60s too. But I think the media began to get onto something that was pretty cheap and certainly resonated with the viewers or the readers, which was their fascination with every aspect of these people’s lives. Now it seems _________ pretty ludicrous if you were to ever go around in Hollywood and sit outside a nightclub and see hundreds of paparazzi wondering, “Who’s in there having a drink?” It’s pretty ludicrous. But the money is flowing. People are paying for these pictures. People are . . . People have whole magazines and TV shows based on exactly this. And I don’t know what it is that, you know . . . it’s hard to define. But the people are just fascinated with larger than life things outside of their own lives. People living some kind of fantasy life that maybe they’d like to lead. Or they’re just fascinated with the lurid details of these basically larger than life figures – people who are . . . have more . . . who stand head and shoulders above their family or friends just in terms of their notoriety, and they’re just interested. And it’s sort of irresistible for certain people to feel that way about certain celebrities, hence the business.

Recorded On: 7/6/07