The problem with celebrity worship

It is well known that most humans have a fascination with celebrities. Seeing people with larger-than-life social status unlocks something in our psyche that makes us drawn to them as objects.

The problem is that our objectification of them and raising them to a higher status makes us quicker to view and judge them like circus animals either to be looked upon with awe and wonder or even to be laughed at or mocked. Alternatively, these celebrities can use their status to promote things such as political bias, or otherwise spread harmful messages.  How we, the public, perceive celebrities is a complicated process; but, we must understand these complications in order to fully comprehend them.

Back in 2012, a news story broke that the wife of Britain’s Prince Harry, Kate Middleton, had been photographed sunbathing topless at a private villa. The photos released appeared to have been taken by paparazzi without Middleton’s permission, using a long lens camera with the desire for the “money shot”.

This incident should immediately beg the question: Should celebrity’s private lives be respected and considered off limits, despite our ongoing fascination with them?

Even the most beloved celebrities widely known for their comedic talent and character roles, may not be able to protect or redeem their reputation after one altercation that went too far when emotions ran too high. The video footage would be played over and over, and millions of judgemental people, “Monday morning quarterbacking”, which also instantly turned into many jokes and memes, and further backlash from a mistake made in the heat of the moment. 

This most recently happened in March 2022, to the charismatic and well-admired actor Will Smith, who uncharacteristically became enraged and slapped and threatened fellow actor and comedian Chris Rock on stage at the Academy Awards.  Rock made a hurtful joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, without compassion for her health battle with Alopecia.  Smith was immediately publicly blacklisted and is currently banned from attending the award show for the next ten years.  

His upcoming movies were canceled, his personal life was put under more public scrutiny and his reputation was ruined after his “good guy persona” dropped for one second and he lost his temper.

Most people can remember hearing details about the 2008 incident in which Britney Spears erratic behavior was photographed and documented in the press, including shaving her own head. It started with an inciting incident regarding custody of her sons, and the constant bombardment from the paparazzi.  Spear’s terrible mental breakdown spiraled even further into a condescending spectacle by the tabloids. This then paved the way for an abusive conservatorship whose transgressions were not made public for years, and finally ended in November of 2021.

Even if the celebrity in question is highly praised and revered, it can also lead to an unhealthy obsession from some.  One such example was the tragic passing of Princess Diana in August of 1997 at the age of 36 years old.  The intense desire to quench the public fascination, and money to be paid for the next scandalous photograph, caused her death during a high-speed car chase to escape the paparazzi. Again, even though she was loved by so many around the world, this public love led to her perishing in that car crash that many believe was the fault of the paparazzi aggressively chasing her car.

Finally, a darker and more dangerous aspect of celebrity fame and influence is those with questionable morals who use their status to further spread their views. A very recent well-known example of this came earlier this month, when rapper Kanye West, made several racist and anti-semitic remarks over both radio and Twitter. Although Twitter reacted by temporarily suspending his account, most companies who sponsored the rapper dropped him after the events transpired, and the general public disdain toward him. People from dark corners of the internet appeared, and that underground population has taken his message in stride to spread further hateful messages.  For instance, multiple destructive Neo-Nazi groups posted the message, “Kanye is right about the Jews”, in public locations, on walls, and on overpasses, while making the heil symbol, in reference to Adolf Hitler.

The most recent example of someone using their celebrity to incite hatred without regard for others was Los Angeles star player, Kyrie Irving, linking an anti-Semitic documentary on his social media, which then led to him to a five-game suspension which started on November 3rd of 2022.

Though most have denounced these actions, the Lakers have lifted the temporary suspension, and Irving will be allowed to play basketball again on November 22, 2022. It’s still too early to be sure, but there is a chance that Kanye could possibly make a comeback if he plays his cards right, as he has a history of this type of behavior, with some people still writing off as, “Kanye being Kanye”.

Ultimately, celebrities will continue to face scrutiny and morally questionable treatment since the public’s fascination with them will likely never perish. It may be best to keep in mind that celebrities are human, too. Although we may tend to put them on a pedestal or give their opinions credibility without evidence, we should be careful to only judge celebrities’ actions the way we judge ourselves: as complicated human beings whose boundaries we must respect.