If there’s anything we as a society love to watch, it’s the destruction of another person’s success.
That may be an innate quality that is terribly embedded in all of us humans, but our popular culture has taken it one step further: we hand over fame, fortune and power just to take it away.
On April 9, Lindsay Lohan appeared on the David Letterman show, just before she was set to begin a week-long rehab sentence. Lohan was on the show to promote her most recent movie, “Scary Movie 5.” The interview lasted an hour, but the movie wasn’t mentioned until 35 minutes in. All the time before that was used to drag Lohan through the dirt.
Right in front of her face, Letterman fired off insulting questions about Lohan’s past, continually compared her current career to her “sweet, innocent” past self, and before she stopped him, he’d planned to do an entire segment dedicated to her criminal offenses. The interview ended with Lindsay Lohan in tears.
I could say that Lohan deserves all the flack that she catches from talk show hosts, media outlets and bloggers, but I don’t have to because she already said it. Lohan is the first to admit that her own decisions have led to her personal breakdowns and mishaps, but I don’t think she had anything to do with the media “train wreck” sensation she became. That was all of us. For years now, we’ve been watching her like hawks, eager for her to misstep so we could make a witty joke about it.
In the same interview that Letterman used to disrespect her, Lohan tried to be funny, rolling with the punches and even cracking a few jokes about herself. Puns aside, she admitted to Letterman that she’d made mistakes in the past, and that that’s where she intended to keep them. She said rehab was the best thing for her, and she’s grateful for the people who have supported her through this rough patch in her life. Letterman said he and the live studio audience supported her, too — right before cracking another joke.
The truth of the matter is, at this point, there’s nothing Lohan can do. I think our desire to watch powerful people fail has created a trap system for celebrities: it doesn’t matter what you do when we like you, but we’ll never forget a mistake when we don’t. The problem with this is that it messes with these celebrities’ livelihoods. These famous people (and they are people, although some tend to forget that) have no personal life. There’s no private area for them to practice in — they have to make their mistakes in front of us. Prime example: the Biebs.
Justin Bieber grew up in fame, and for some time now we’ve been cheering for his success. Granted, it’s mainly been teen girls cheering, but don’t discount his many middle-aged and male fans. Then, suddenly, we didn’t like him any more. Bieber was stigmatized when police found marijuana on his tour bus (Bieber wasn’t there; it was just on the bus), and he was deemed irresponsible when an unsupervised party occurred in his home (again, Bieber wasn’t there).
A few months ago he was an amazingly talented rising star who was changing the face of musical style and longevity. Currently, he’s an overzealous, prideful little kid with drug issues and no respect for others. Really? Just look up Bieber’s charity donations. Just look at them.
Lohan will always have to deal with substance abuse, R&B; singer Brandy will always have to deal with hitting someone with her car, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, bless them both, were plagued by constant criticism and endless rumors, and let’s not even talk about Chris Brown. Actually, let’s.
Everybody knows that Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna in 2009. We know that a short time later, he issued a public apology that seemed a bit forced and read like an ASPCA commercial. To this day, though, he cannot escape his media image of being a violent loose cannon. From debacles with fellow (clearly inferior) rapper Drake, to completely falsified confrontations with newer artist Frank Ocean, any situation Chris Brown finds himself in, he’s the bad guy.
Of course, domestic violence against women or men isn’t acceptable in any way, but since the initial incident, Chris and Rihanna have spoken out several times about how they’ve had a dialogue about what happened and decided to preserve a relationship. I don’t think a truly violent man would be able to do that.
People can fuss and rant all they please about the lives of celebrities and how ashamed they should be of the things they did years ago, but people aren’t aware of the power they hold. Actors and musicians are personally affected by their image, positive or negative. Generating hate about a celebrity may be an easy way to get a laugh or make a buck, but it can also alter how much they can give back as a part of their craft. Many people discredit Lohan’s acting skills now, but how could she ever feel good about what she does when she’s always on the end of a cruel, tear-inducing joke?
In the end, the entertainment industry is meant to do one thing and nothing more: entertain. The more we criticize the people whom we pay to put their lives on display for us, the worse we make it for ourselves and our fellow man. The actions of celebrities can’t just be taken for granted, and of course they can offer excellent points of discussion, but we as a society have to draw a line when it comes to degradation. I don’t think it’s a force of nature that we can’t stop. Instead, it’s a classic case of treating people the way you want to be treated.
When somebody, anybody, is trying to pick their life back up, lay off the snarky comments. Simple as that.
Darrington Clark is a sophomore in journalism and digital media. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.