In defence of celebrities: the dangers of hero worship

Just because they have the 'blue tick' on Twitter does not make them any less human than we are. In an attempt to defend celebrities, Neve Watson analyses the dangers of idolising celebrities

Neve Watson
3rd August 2021
Pixabay: @trinhkien91
It follows any traditional tragedy: the greater the hero becomes, the more devastating their fall will be.

For me, I think the joy of being invested in celebrities’ lives is that it’s just so easy to be swept up in the gossip. Tabloids and social media are no help either: we’ve all succumbed to click-bait, because surely Lizzo didn’t actually drunk DM Chris Evans, and surely, he didn’t actually reply? (she did, and he really did). Often, the drama of them doing something so mundane acts as a reminder that ultimately, they are just human beings (because we’ve all drunk messaged someone and read it the next day and gone, maybe that wasn’t the best idea), so why do we think they’re above it? Here, the danger is that their new hero-like status only heightens the anticipation for their inevitable fall.

Before social media, there lacked the instant gratification that we have today. Of course, fans have always felt a strange intimacy and sense of ownership with celebrities (Dolly Parton’s 2011 interview with Windy City Times revealed at the height of ‘Jolene,’ a fan had left a baby on her doorstep, sharing her name with the song), and social media is amazing in an abundance of ways, but the sheer immediacy of it does nothing but amplify our need for instant gratification. Consequently, both scandals and acts of altruism are instantly available, and therefore, instantly able to be pulled apart by both press and the public.

Most of them faced the same restrictions as us, and were constrained to their houses

Take 2020, for example. The pandemic hit. I’m certain we all remember the video that circulated of a group of celebs covering John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ from the comfort of their homes, proving that really, they’re not so different from the rest of us… right? With regards to the pandemic, this is basically true: most of them faced the same restrictions as us, and were constrained to their houses (although, I’m not sure Kim Kardashian’s $60 million house is comparable to the average person’s home).

The video was a token marmite situation – you either loved it, for their bold display or proving that we’re all in this together, or you hated it, for the patronising tones that it gave off. Personally, I thought it was rather tone-deaf. Whilst it was entertaining to see their shockingly out of tune rendition (not that I could do any better, my grade 6 in GCSE Music was definitely not for singing), I found it hard to completely empathise. Will Ferrell, who had a short segment in the video, has a net worth of over $120 million. Is it really a surprise then, that the video wasn’t received so well?

I, for one, couldn’t imagine having every aspect of my life scrutinised and pulled apart

I do sympathise with certain elements of their lives; this isn’t a celebrity witch hunt – I, for one, couldn’t imagine having every aspect of my life scrutinised and pulled apart. I also don’t think it’s fair that people say celebrities should accept the inevitability of these situations. Sure, you must realise that most of your life becomes public, but I don’t think any individual should ever face the lack of privacy that they do. Again, the danger here is that by publicising the most trivial aspects of their lives, the public think they have a right to them, and so, take it personally when a celebrity either does something that they like or dislike.

For me, to see one of my idols calling out sexism, and using her public platform to do it, I thought was amazing

A case that’s recently been in the media: Taylor Swift and her tweet regarding Netflix’s ‘Ginny & Georgia.’ The quote from the show that she took issue with was that a female character went ‘through men faster than Taylor Swift.’ Swift’s tweet deemed the joke as ‘lazy’ and ‘deeply sexist,’ with 2010 wanting this ‘joke back.’ I agree with Swift entirely; the joke is horribly sexist and reduces her achievements both as a musician and a person down to the men she’s dated, and coming off the back of her Miss Americana documentary, this was a terrible joke to include. I immediately hit the re-tweet button (although, I do that with all her tweets anyway). For me, to see one of my idols calling out sexism, and using her public platform to do it, I thought was amazing.

But, as a fan, it was also important for me to recognise the issue with this. Swift has been criticised, both by fans and the opposite, for her white feminism, and specifically speaking up only when the situation benefits her. Whilst I’m an avid fan, I have to agree – would she have spoken up against this line in the show if it was about another female artist? My inclination to listen to other people’s voices and agreeing with this saved her from the hero’s fall in my eyes: because I don’t worship her and think she’s flawless, and I accept that she makes mistakes. I think this is where most people struggle with celebrities: if they’re massive fans, sometimes they fail to see that they can actually be at fault, only disillusioning their interpretation of them.

The debate surrounding celebrities using their platforms for informative purposes opens a whole other discussion: but I agree that they should use their platforms to spread awareness. Surely, if they have this power and influence, they’re obligated to?

By projecting onto celebrities the version you want to see, you’re at the risk of excusing some of their behaviour that you usually wouldn’t

Another example is the passing of Chadwick Boseman in August 2020, and how many actors who worked with him were commended for publicly posting tributes on their social media accounts. Elizabeth Olsen received heavy backlash for not posting, and she left social media. A recent Glamour interview reveals that Olsen wasn’t ‘bullied’ off the social media platform, but she found it hard to deal with the ongoing pressure that social media brings. I agree with her entirely here; whilst I’m not famous, I understand the struggles of posting on social media, and the obsession with looking a certain way and creating a ‘character version’ of yourself, as Olsen described. I can only imagine the pressure for public figures and the expectations that come with social media. This is another danger, I think: by projecting onto celebrities the version you want to see, you’re at the risk of excusing some of their behaviour that you usually wouldn’t.

Whilst showing a little interest in celebrities is often harmless, it’s important to distinguish them from the interpretation of them through the media that we’ve consumed, and then who they actually are in their personal life. We don’t own any parts of them: just because their lives are made public, doesn’t mean we have the right to any of it. By taking a step back and remembering that they actually are real people, we’ll reduce the risk of a hero’s downfall, or at least, not take it so personally when it happens.

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