This week my Facebook page and Twitter timeline has been filled with posts of sadness, anger, disappointment and tributes to the late music star, Whitney Houston. Many spoke of her angelic voice, her tumultuous marriage to pop star Bobby Brown, and her sad struggle with addiction. For days the news cycle was all Whitney Houston all the time.
All the attention got me to thinking about the culture of celebrity. Celebrities are the most celebrated among us. We voraciously consume personal information and photos of our favorite public figures. We buy tabloid magazines filled with outrageous claims about celebrity baby-mommas and illicit behaviors. We hang on their every word. Reporters stick microphones in their faces and ask about the latest political scandal, deficit spending or green energy and stand rapt while people like Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn complain about rich white people, Republicans and oil. We elevate their responses as if these people are the most intelligent in our society.
It is a sad state of affairs when we care more about what Ashton Kutcher thinks about our tax policies than what the harried parents of four kids think about the policies that affect how they will feed and clothe family and put gas in the car on a daily basis…because here’s the thing about celebrities that I don’t think most americans understand – they are broken people. I don’t mean just a little off, or people who struggle with the ups and downs of life the way we all do. I mean these are severely broken people. I’ve been a trained actress for over 20 years. I’ve never reached the level of public success of an Angelina Jolie, but I’ve worked with a lot of different people in my life, some well-known, others not. I’ve had the opportunity to live and work around actors and entertainers on a full-time basis. The entertainment industry draws people from all walks of life and all geographical areas, but they all have one thing in common – a crippling insecurity that can only be satiated by public adoration and attention. Yes, its true. I know it to be true because I have also been a victim of this sad mentality. These are people who suffer from “holes” in their personalities, caused by tragic childhoods, loss or abuse. It’s difficult to trust people close to you, so its hard to find validation in a few healthy relationships. The love and attention of strangers meets the need for validation and intimacy (for a time, anyway) without requiring one to form a real relationship or be vulnerable. It is an addiction like any other. It feels like the only thing that can keep you from hating yourself the way you do on a regular basis.
Now, imagine being this person with crippling insecurities and self-hatred. Suddenly you are thrust into the spotlight. It seems exciting at first; something you’ve always dreamed about. People hang on your every move, your every word; they rush to fill your every need. No one ever tells you no. There is always someone there to tell you how great, how wonderful, how intelligent, how attractive you are. But you still hate yourself. You still look in the mirror and see imperfections. You know (feel) you don’t deserve anyone’s love or adoration. Slowly, all the attention becomes like sharp razor blades. Each compliment is another cut to your soul, because you know it’s all a lie. You can never live up to this image of perfection that has been created for you. In your mind you deserve to be hated for being such a fake, and yet people just keep on celebrating you. Soon it becomes impossible to handle. This is when many celebrities turn to drugs and alcohol to ease the discomfort of life under the microscope. It’s an attempt to drown out the raging contradictions in the lifestyles they live. We’ve seen time after time how quickly those chemical comforts spiral out of control.
It seems so glamorous, but it’s actually a very sad life. Once you start examining the motivations of most entertainers it becomes clear how very broken and empty many of these celebrities are, and yet we place them on a pedestal and aspire to be like them and think like them. We mourn when they leave us without recognizing just how skewed was their view of the world and themselves. These are not people we should be getting our political views from, nor our values. These are just people – lost, broken people who are looking for love and acceptance in quantities large enough to kill the voices of doubt in their heads.
I am as sad as the next person about the loss of Houston. Her music was a huge part of my childhood and her talent cannot be denied or diminished. But I hesitate to make her death somehow more important than the loss of anyone else we might care for and love. She was a broken vessel. She sought acceptance and found it among her fans, but she never learned to accept herself. Let’s not ascribe more value to the opinions of the rich and famous than they are worth. Let’s not pretend their lives are worth more than our own. We can thank them for their talent and entertainment, but we should not allow them to lead us in our thoughts and actions. It’s like driving a car with faulty transmission – the body might look good but under the hood it’s a big old mess and you are likely to break down completely before you reach your final destination.
Crossposted at kiradavis.net