I should preface this post by saying I took a class called “Celebrity in Hollywood” taught by Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr. Admittedly, I enrolled in this class my junior year because I thought it would be an easy A+. Much like my Astronomy mishap, I was wrong.
Professor Burr not only made the class interesting, he made it challenging. We didn’t read tabloids every week. Instead, we delved into the ever-changing public perception of celebrities. We went all the way back to the Charlie Chaplin days, when actors and actresses could get away with smile and wave to the occasional camera and go on living their private lives. The good ole days. Before the blood-hungry paparazzi popped up from hell.
It was a much more involved class than I anticipated. Burr challenged me to look past an actor’s persona. Hell, he gave me a C+ on a paper I wrote about Harrison Ford because he said it was too reverential and fanboy-ish. I admit, he was right on that one. I love my Hollywood grandpa dearly – too dearly to write an objective analysis of his career. Burr pushed me – and the rest of the class – to examine our own relationship with celebrity. Why were we fascinated with stars? What was the bait that made us bite the celebrity hook? Why do we wait with bated breath to hear a response from people like Jay-Z and Solange Knowles?
The simple answer is that gossip about famous singers, actors, and (these days) reality stars is a welcome distraction to our daily lives and a perfect way to fill up the 24-hour news cycle. It gives us something to talk about. In fact, it gives most people one of their favorite things to do: talk shit about other people.
And who better to criticize (with seemingly no consequence) than celebrities? They live extravagant lives popping bottles, flying in private planes, and regularly walk red carpets, so they deserve to be knocked down a peg, right? And we shouldn’t feel bad for doing the knocking, because the media is teeing up these famous bozos each and every morning!
I’ve got some bad news: I think we should feel bad. We should feel bad for feeling so god damned much about these people because most of them couldn’t give two fucks about us – and nor should they. I’m not going to go as far as to say “celebrities are just like us,” because their careers don’t allow that. However, they are human. But they’re humans who don’t know you, and, therefore, cannot care about you in the same way your friends and family can.
I think our obsession with celebrities and their weddings, breakups, mishaps, real estate purchases, sex lives, and babies, are all the ugliest form of escapism. It’s like we all have a tacit agreement that says, “Hey it’s okay if we forget about our own studio apartments, Hyundai Accents, average jobs, and boring lives, and criticize and scrutinize how that rich person in the limelight goes about their business.” It’s sad.
I’m as guilty as anyone. I read a few articles about the infamous “Solange Shove (of Jay-Z),” and I really wish I had not. I even spent a few minutes trying to analyze the elevator security video obtained by TMZ. What was Solange so mad about? Could Jay-Z have been rude to his sister-in-law? Is this perfect family not as perfect as I hoped?
Why the hell do I care?
It’s a tough question to answer. But it’s the question we all need to ask ourselves when we find click through E! News, HuffPost, Entertainment Weekly celebrity “news.”
Here are some questions we should ask ourselves when we waste time reading celebrity gossip. Are we:
- Just killing some time?
- Trying to stay up on gossip?
- Attracted to the lifestyle?
- Would we rather be there?
- Seriously invested in these peoples’ lives?
- Avoiding thinking about our own problems and ourselves?
I think if it’s numbers 5 and 6, we have some serious problems. It’s okay to have dreams and aspirations of being really rich and famous, but neither of those two things will happen unless we’re present in our own lives.
On that note, why not spend a little bit more time figuring out why your roommate came home looking glum rather than analyzing pictures of Lindsay Lohan at an NYC café? Why not ask your girlfriend or boyfriend what their dream apartment would look like rather than spending hours clicking through photos of Usher’s new mansion? Why not give your parents a call and shoot the shit about when you were a kid rather than check out the new celebrity baby pictures?
There is no simple answer to why we are obsessed with the idea of celebrity. But I’ve got to hope it’s beneficial to ask why and think about how we’d want to be treated if we were on the other side of the paparazzi lens.
And to Ty Burr: Thank you. I didn’t deserve an A on that Harrison Ford paper. I wasn’t answering – or asking – the right questions.