American culture tends to perceive celebrities not only a being “famous”, but also as some sort of “role model”. Role Models are mostly depicted as positive influences, but often our role models have less positive and often quite sinister traits. After all, “copycat” crimes are crimes that mirror someone else’s well reported and sensational crime or criminal.
Criminals have also achieved “celebrity” status as well. Al Capone was as famous gangster who achieved the same sort of media attention and fame as Clark Gable did at the same time; and the list of “famous gangsters” like Al Capone who achieved legendary status is far longer that the list of humatarians in the same era. Even today, for every movie about a saint, there are three movies about sinners.
Of course, the term “celebrity” encompasses a rather broad category. Anyone can become a “celebrity” if they get enough media attention; and the media thrives on “celebrity”, either invented or real, or positive or negative. Both Mother Teresa and Charles Manson, in their own way, were “celebrities”; they both “did things” that brought attention to themselves.
If it seems that there are more Charles Manson’s than Mother Teresa’s depicted in our media, it’s because people are basically attracted to people who do things we can’t and /or wouldn’t do. We feel validated when the “bad guy” gets his punishment; but inspired as we are by the saint’s inspirational and healing powers or the heroes courage and cunning, we also feel guilty and inadequate that we cannot do the same.
Our fascination with the “the Bad Guys” is essentially the same feeling we get when we visit Lion Cage at the zoo. We’re fascinated seeing them at close range, but we don’t want to be in the cage with them.