I am sick and tired of the world and TMZ/Entertainment Tonight/Extra, etc and the gossip rags taking gleeful joy in a celebrity’s train-wreck of a life, only to act surprised and shattered when they die prematurely. Whitney Houston? Ryan Dunn (of “Jackass” fame)? Lindsay Lohan (ok, not dead yet, but coming?)
When Ryan Dunn died last June from a car accident caused by his driving at excessive speeds while intoxicated, his friends, family, and fans, showered the Jackass world with an outpouring of support and sadness. His co-stars and best friends were distraught, inconsolable, and desolate. It was heart wrenching watching these guys who basically pulverize their bodies for laughs break down and sob like little kids.
But while it is never funny for someone to die, let alone at a young age, his death was virtually foretold. In fact, his friends had frequently commented that since he loved driving so fast he was one day going to kill himself. But did his friends and family do anything about it? Did they try to warn him off, express to him how devastated they would be if he died, perhaps suggest that he drive maybe a little slower? And wasn’t it a few years earlier, in the exact same spot, that Ryan Dunn had had a similar type accident?
Twenty years ago, if you have told me that Whitney Houston was going to die at age 48 of causes likely associated with alcohol and drug abuse, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. If it was obvious to me, then it had to be obvious to everyone else, right? Yet over the past 20 years, instead of her fans and the media appealing to her to get help, to right her life and get back on track, we watched with amusement as her life spiraled out of control, just another celebrity who partied too hard, lived the life of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and went by the way of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
Seriously, don’t we all take a little bit of joy in the trials and travails of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears? We see them as privileged starlets, trying to live the Hollywood lifestyle only to come crashing down in flames in front of our eyes, and we flock to it. TMZ and other websites and “news outlets” of that ilk have created a society in which the self-destruction of celebrities is must watch TV. Because they are celebrities, with their lives always on stage, it is ok for us to revel in their hardships. Because they have money. Because they have fame. Because we put them on a pedestal and think that they are better than we are.
You know the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity? That’s what this is! Our thirst for gossip about celebrities has created an environment in which they don’t need to remedy their ills, they don’t need to change or get better. Without their bad publicity, some of them would have none and then where would they be? Celebrities are a different breed from other people. By the time they become rich and famous they have been told so many times how great they are, how special they are, how exceptional they are, that many of them need that constant reaffirmation of how special they are. So the idea of not being in the public eye, of not being followed by cameras, is tantamount to being anonymous.
We as a society, by gawking at their ordeals, reinforce the negative behavior. If they are on the cover of all of the magazines and are the lead stories on the talk shows because of their run ins with the law, or trips back to rehab, or embarrassing behavior due to substance abuse, and the alternative is a straight life with no publicity, the choice is an easy one.
I don’t mean to be cynical and I know that substance abuse is a disease that many find incredibly difficult to overcome, but wouldn’t their efforts be more likely to succeed if we support them in that, instead of glamorizing their problems?
Here is a perfect example: anyone know what’s going on with Paris Hilton? She seems to be flying under the paparazzi radar, what with her not getting arrested for driving under the influence, not having publicly embarrassing episodes, and not going to jail. Thus, no publicity.
We have created the beast and then we act shocked and saddened when our idols succumb to the very disease we have glamorized. We call their falls from grace tragedies. We also have responsibility.
So I am sorry. I feel no sadness for Whitney Houston or Ryan Dunn or Michael Jackson or Lindsay Lohan. I feel only outrage for the rest of the world that holds vigils and gives tributes. Don’t wait until they are dead to espouse the ills of their abuses. Don’t reinforce the bad behavior by gawking about it and making it front page news. How do you stop a bully? Ignore it and act like it doesn’t bother you. How do you stop outrageous behavior? Stop glamorizing it. Take a stance that this type of behavior will land the celebrity in the worst place imaginable. No, not a coffin… worse. Obscurity.