Saturday, May 05, 2007

Celebishness

People hate it when you defend celebrities.

I am of the very unpopular opinion that celebrities are human beings, and that those human beings should be treated with at least the same respect we'd give a bank teller or grocery check-out person or postal worker.

I've been so dismayed about the way people in the media and people "on the street" have treated Sanjaya from American Idol. Here's the thing: He's a 17-year-old kid with a nice voice. He was outclassed on American Idol, sure. But it's not his fault that he was chosen for the show, and not his fault that people voted to keep him in week after week. What blew my mind was the hatred. It's one thing to say you don't think he's as talented as the other contestants... it's another to have headline after headline when he was eliminated that say "Finally!" and "It's About Time!" and to continue rubbing salt in the wound by talking about the idiocy of those who voted for him, pointing out that his own hometown officials refused to acknowledge him the way almost all others do when they have a contestant on AI... etc.

My mom got into a conversation with a few women about this. They were talking about how they "hated" Sanjaya and how glad they were that he was finally gone, and she expressed the same kinds of thoughts that I have-- that she doesn't get the hostility. One of the women said, "Oh, you can just see that he thinks he's the greatest. And he deserves what he gets. He knew what he was getting into when he signed up!"

Ugh. I wish that "knowing what you're getting into" was something totally different. As a society, we've come to the belief that it's okay to publicly trash celebrities, to judge them harshly, to discuss their private lives, to let photographers follow their every move, and we justify it by saying that that's part of the deal of being a celebrity. That wasn't always true. Before this age of a million tabloids and Perez Hilton and Gawker and the like, there wasn't this same sort of entitlement mentality. We weren't entitled to rifle through people's trash just because they were actors or singers or athletes. I wonder when it was that people began deriving joy from this stuff. When we thought it was fun to find out that a celebrity's husband was cheating (and splash her crying face on the cover of magazines), or to snicker at their embarrassing moments, or blog about their weight gain. And can we go back again? Can we ever go back to a time when celebrities were allowed to be people, too?

When I was young, I thought I wanted to be famous. I was a stage actress with big dreams of either Broadway or film, and I was on my way to pursuing that dream when my panic disorder hit and derailed me. (That's why I became a writer instead.) Now I thank God I never achieved that goal. It's hard enough to deal with the anxiety of reviews as an author; at least people aren't debating the size of my thighs or trying to dig up dirt on my family so the world can judge my personal life a little more viciously.

If I write a book and it tanks, there are no headlines to say, "That Hack Deserved It!" I'm not sure why authors are spared the celebrity treatment. Maybe it's because we're normally not all that attractive or scandalous and a good number of us are recluses. It seems that most other creative pursuits are met with the "they asked for it" line. And what stinks about it is that people who are very talented in their fields may be scared off of pursuing a career because they don't want to subject themselves to the kind of treatment Sanjaya got. That becomes our loss.

It's hard to know if you're really talented. That's why there are so many people out there trying to become writers, singers, actors, artists, etc. who will never make it. They think they're good; the rest of us think they aren't. It's hard to be objective about your own strengths and weaknesses. We all want to be good at the things we love doing.

Normally, though, the hostility is reserved for people who've actually made it. Then we think that, because the person has made money, it's okay to rip him or her apart. It's weird to me.

The thing that makes it weirder is that these are the same people who donate billions of dollars to charity every year, who help their neighbors, who give freely of their talents and themselves when someone is in need. The American public is pretty amazing. Which is why I just don't get how they can turn around and find joy in making fun of someone for pursuing a worthy dream.