Christina Grimmie was a 22-year-old singer-songwriter, well known for competing on the popular singing show ‘The Voice’ back in 2014. She finished 3rd place. On June 10th 2016, Grimmie was killed during a brutal attack by Kevin James Loibl, a long-term fan who was described to have been infatuated with the singer. He had been stalking Christina on social media for several years and approached her during a meet & greet after her show in Orlando at which he shot her at close range. After which he was immediately tackled to the ground by Christina’s brother Mark Grimmie. However, Loibl turned his gun towards himself, and committed suicide.
The death attracted huge reaction online, as Christina was also a popular Youtube star with 2 million subscribers. This following she had garnered since 2009 at the age of 15. Being part of the Youtubesphere, the need for increased security of people in the public eye has been raised, particularly during shows where stars are in close proximity with their fans. This concern was raised by numerous YouTubers following the incident and a growing reluctance for content creators to host meet & greets or signings from this point onwards.
There is, however, a social aspect to this tragedy in relation to how Celebrity Worship as well as the immediacy and intimacy that Youtubers provide, may factor into the likelihood of such incidents increasing. It is a complex relationship where Youtubers heavily rely on their subscribers to watch their uploaded content regularly as well their engagement on any of their social media sites. This, in turn, gives fans a certain sense of control as well as direct contact with their role models, a phenomenon that was not available a decade ago. The immediacy that vlogging provides (daily video logs) gives the illusion of personally knowing the Youtuber when this is mostly one-sided and ‘reinforcing people’s perceived emotional proximity and intimacy with the stars’.
Such misconceptions are more likely to have a greater bearing than intended, on those who suffer from severe mental disorders as the perpetrator in Christina’s case was suspected to have been suffering from schizophrenia, although never formally diagnosed. Youtubers are largely reliant on such impressions to make a living and thus encourage it to give leeway for their support system to grow. This is, of course, is also disputed by YouTubers who assure their fans regularly that there is a two-way relationship where the affection they receive is fully reciprocated. This is backed by the fact that there is a generational divide in which social media presence today dictates a large portion of someone’s social life. Therefore any sentiment presented online reflects reality. This becomes more evident as the two spheres of social media and reality per se are continuing to merge.
However, Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) finds clear divides between the normalized social media reliance and hardcore sufferers of CWS who are described to be ‘solitary, impulsive, anti-social and troublesome’ a category Loibl seems to fall into. There is ultimately a need to increase security during fan-based events, however, more research into CWS may allow greater understanding and identification of factors that contribute to unhealthy levels of celebrity worship to prevent further tragedies of this nature from happening.