Nancy Mramor, Ph.D. Author of Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life
For MTV News
In the media, there is a need for material on celebrities all of the time, both good and bad. It’s all news to those who read the publications, listen to the news broadcasts and get the Google alerts with updates on their favorite celebs. We want more and more and so we are driving the publications to give us what we tell them we want. So why would we idolize celebrities and then enjoy watching them fail, as if they aren’t real people with feelings? Lindsay Lohan is moving to London where she can grow up and mature in private, and is even seeking citizenship. The handwriting is on the wall. She may be tired of the ways that we create heroes and then enjoy watching them fall.
Whenever there’s a major life change, it creates enormous stress in a person’s life and you either manage the stress or it takes you down. Whenever there’s a stressor, whenever there’s a major life change, a person is at a Y in the road. You can either use healthy stress management techniques or you can use unhealthy ones.
Becoming famous is not on the Top 10 list of major life changes because it’s so rare. There’s very little research about how to deal with it. If somebody gets fired or somebody loses a loved one, we have all kinds of research on how to deal with that. When somebody becomes famous, all we have are the stories that have come before. There’s little research or history, and the cases that have come up have been so sensationalized that we’re more interested in what happened than why it happened. The rules of human behavior around failure apply to celebrities, too, and may explain their extreme responses, but their mistakes are far more public.
One of the biggest issues is the availability of drugs and alcohol to celebrity. It’s a common thing, right in front of you and so for a quick fix, it’s something that is offered. It’s like here, here’s a coping mechanism. This goes all the way back to the era of black and white movies. Hollywood actresses were given uppers and diet pills to keep their energy levels up. Producers wanted stars to be fresh and on all the time. A lot of celebrities do want to be fresh and on all the time, and poor coping options are there. If you’re not mature and you don’t have really strong parents and a good manager and you’re a young star, you’re unlikely to resist temptation.
The purpose of creating heroes is to have someone to look up to as a role model, someone you can emulate. But when you fail to notice that celebrities and famous people only show their best side, you begin to think of them as perfect. You forget the edits of the scenes that didn’t work out, the airbrushed photos and the body doubles. You begin to think that you can’t possible reach the same level because you have them on a pedestal. You are happy to see them fall, because then you feel better about yourself. Mostly it is because the media presents such a high standard of beauty and success that it is hard for people to feel good about themselves. So there’s this constant push and pull — I really like this person, I like their music, but wow, I could never be that great, so I have to bring them down to feel better.
Watching the Housewives of various cities shows allows you to have a peek at the affluence and opulence of their homes, so that you can window shop, but see how dysfunctional they are at the same time. When you insult or criticize these public figures from behind the safety of social media, you may be displacing anger or bullying from a distance, because you would be unlikely to criticize the person directly.
Recently the movie about the life of tragic singer Amy Winehouse was released and triggered these issues. Crystal Bell, author at MTV news reminded you, “While Winehouse had a legendary voice — one that made her a hero to millions, she also had flaws that opened her up to the criticism. She suffered from addiction, an illness we, as a society, consider a lifestyle choice — one that sells paparazzi photos and feeds celebrity gossip.”
The only cure for this type of attack on celebrities is just for people to realistically accept themselves, which is not something that we’re encouraged to do.
We idealize people after their death, and part of that is sort of a false idealization, but part of it is a really healthy thing. We remember the good and the bad slips away. The pain that somebody may have caused you becomes less important over time when you miss him or her and what you really take away is what you loved about someone, and in the case of Amy Winehouse, you remember her incredible talent.