Celebrity Sport

Posted on January 9, 2011 by


Move over, Adrian PetersonT.Swift and LiLo are my top draft picks in the realm of Celebrity Fantasy Leagues.

By Melea Dau

Tay-Tay and Jake call it quits - bad for them, fabulous for celebrity fantasy league players. Image thanks to Bimbolic.com.

Taylor Swift’s and Jake Gyllenhaal’s recent breakup is the best thing that’s happened to me all week.

Allow me to clarify. I’m not terrifically invested in the well-being of either celeb. I don’t spend much time thinking about the undeserved awards Swift’s shallow voice has garnered – and I’ve given up trying to convince others that the only improvement to be made to Brokeback Mountain is if I had been cast as Jack Twist’s soul mate instead of Heath Ledger.

The real reason I’m excited about the pair’s disintegration is that it plays a key role in my Fafarazzi team strategy, and the longer the breakup is making headlines, the more likely I am to emerge the victor in my celebrity fantasy league.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Fafarazzi phenomenon, allow me to give you a quick and dirty history of the recent Internet fad.

A celebrity fantasy league is exactly what it sounds like – fantasy football’s (or baseball’s or basketball’s) bubble-gum smacking, Valley Girl intoning, dumb blonde sister. Like its sport siblings, the celebrity fantasy league is a game in which players draft their ten favorite stars and pit these teams against each other to see which roster can rack up the most points in a designated timeframe. The only difference is that in celebrity leagues, Hollywood’s finest battle it out over Tabloid covers and gossip blog headlines rather than on the playing field.

Katie + Suri + Shopping = The greatest Fafarazzi triple-threat ever. Image courtesy of Now Magazine.

I started playing Fafarazzi (the most popular online celebrity fantasy league gaming site) during last year’s fantasy football season when ArtSTALK’s Managing Editor Meryn Fluker introduced it to me as an alternative to sports fever. I quickly found myself addicted to carefully selecting and following the publicized exploits of my celebrity players – Lady Gaga, Kate Gosselin, Miley Cyrus, Robert Pattinson and wild card Hugh Hefner (hey, you never know when all that Viagra is gonna cause health complications). If a particular celebrity hadn’t made it onto Perez Hilton’s or Us Weekly’s radar for a few days, I had to weigh whether I should initiate a trade with another league member (“I’ll give you Audrina Patridge for your Heidi Montag”), or drop them completely for whatever hot-this-moment celeb had been seen wearing Prada while shopping at Saks (probably Katie Holmes, bonus points if Suri is an additional accessory).

In the realm of celebrity fantasy leagues, all publicity really is good publicity – both for the celebrities and for the fantasy sites themselves. Since Fafarazzi creators Todd and Megan Galloway launched the site in 2006, they’ve accumulated a few hundred thousand registered celebrity-obsessed users.  Similar sites like Celebrifantasy and Us Magazine’s online Celebrity Fantasy League have also cultivated quite a following (as well as the more morbid celebrity death pool sites like DeathList and Stiffs.com, in which players bet on which celebrities will be the next to pass on).

According to Alexa.com’s demographic analysis, celebrity fantasy players skew heavily as college-educated females age 18-34 without children, who are more likely to play at work than at home or school. (Yes, I happen to meet all these criteria.)

Thanks to Technorati.com for this poster that I'm totally hanging on my bedroom ceiling.

Compare this to the fantasy sports league demographic. Founded in the late 1990s, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that approximately 27 million adult Americans participate in fantasy sports leagues. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of players are male (although female participation has risen slightly in the past few years and now accounts for approximately an eighth of the consumer base), and a study by University of Mississippi associate professor Kim Beason reports that fantasy sports gaming has a $3 to $4 billion dollar impact across the entire sports industry.

Whereas celebrity fantasy leagues are a relatively new phenomenon, fantasy sports leagues enjoy a seasoned history dating back to the post-World War II era, the earliest accounts of which involve local groups of baseball fans compiling statistics by hand and trading scores via snail mail. This unstructured play method spread to other sports, gaining popularity and formalized organization.

Although former Time editor/New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent is often credited with sparking interest in fantasy sports with his invention of Rotisserie League Baseball in 1980 (which has become the best known version of the game), it was actually the so-called Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League, created by a group affiliated with the Raiders, that organized as the first official fantasy football league in 1962. Since its establishment, fantasy sports continue to evolve over generations, introducing new methods of play, scoring and formatting.

In contrast to their athletic predecessors, what’s arguably most fascinating about celebrity fantasy leagues is the motivation behind player selection. The fantasy sports gamer will attempt to draft the players he thinks will perform the best on the field and produce top statistics, but celebrity fantasy participants aim for the actors, musicians and newsmakers who are known to misbehave – more scandal means more headlines, which ultimately means more points. Sure, fantasy sports players may wish injury or suspension on a rival team’s star athlete, but the initial selections aren’t inherently based on the type of schadenfreude surrounding celebrity leagues.

I could make a joke about Charlie Sheen's drug/spousal abuse/prostitution problems, but that'd just be too easy.

This fundamental difference is worth pondering, especially when considering the player demographic disparities. Marc Andrejevic, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, argues the importance of popular culture – including celebrities themselves and the ways in which their audience interacts with them – as a social artifact.

“I see much of popular culture as a symptom,” he wrote in an e-mail to ArtSTALK. “It provides insights into the condition of contemporary society in the same way that pustules or a fever tells us about the functioning of the body. I think it reflects our society back to us in highly selective and constructed ways.”

With this in mind, what does Fafarazzi say about its female players, particularly young adult women, in that we are so drawn to a contest that encourages disdain from a distance? If sports and celebrity leagues are a sort of “separate but equal” version of each other for men and women respectively, how does it reflect on women that our fantasies revolve around hoping Hollywood’s brightest stars burn out just in time for us to reap our just rewards?

In 2004’s Fame Junkies, author Jake Halpern evokes evolutionary Belongingness Theory to explain the desire to emulate and aspiration to join Hollywood’s elite. The theory argues that humans are naturally inclined to form groups in order to increase survival rates, and we have consequently developed a need for social acceptance. When we don’t achieve this acceptance by those with who we wish to belong, we become emotionally stressed and feel isolated. And by turning attention that could be directed at finding food and building shelter internally, we decrease our chances of noticing external environmental hazards (like the sabre-tooth tiger den we just wandered into).

Admit it - Who doesn't want to be in with the Queen Bees?

So perhaps celebrity fantasy players ultimately deserve sympathy – all we really want is to sit with the cool kids in the cafeteria, but we’ve been banned for life as Desperate Wannabes.

But then again, maybe female celebrity fantasy players’ snarky attitudes signify something more sinister about women altogether. Susan Shapiro Barash, author of 2006’s Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry, argues that female aggression and envy are issues women are not allowed to talk about – admitting there is discord within the ranks is a blow to feminism’s message of equality and unity.

“Between traditional social pressures to be the ‘good girl,’ and feminist expectations of female solidarity, we sweep all evidence of a bleaker picture under the rug,” Shapiro Barash writes. She defines jealousy as the focusing of one’s discomfort upon her rival, “which might be expressed as ‘you’ve got something I want – and I want you dead.’”

“Dead” might be a bit harsh for most real-world jealousies, but anything goes in the realm of celebrity fantasy as there are no real-world consequences. If we are distressed by the idea of merely being outsiders to Hollywood’s elite, or if we are envious of particular celebrities’ success, money or looks, we can take it out by signing up for Fafarazzi, in which we are rewarded by anticipating the bad decisions of those to whom we admire from afar. Not only are we contented by witnessing our daily point total rise, but we also have the smug satisfaction of being able to say “see, I told you he/she was an asshole/whore.”

In the Swift/Gyllenhaal case, I won’t personally assign expletive-laced labels. In fact, if the duo was once truly committed to each other, I’ll go as far as to admit genuine sympathy that their pain has become public knowledge.

However, if Swift goes on to write another album full of tracks about her ex-lovers, all I’m saying is Gyllenhaal will be my top draft recruit.

Melea Dau