America has a serious “none of your business” problem. Whether it be legislating a woman’s body or LGBTQ+ rights, America as a country is obsessed with things that really aren’t any of their business – private life, after all, is private. There’s a great deal more to say about that, and I will in the near future, but I’d like to examine one of America’s favorite obsessions: celebrity. To a certain extent, I think we’re all enticed by celebrities, but it’s gone beyond the pale here.
For the past decade (or two) we’ve treated celebrities less as humans and more as zoo animals. We watch them eat, live, and go places. We take pictures of them when they’re out and about. Encountering a celebrity ends not with a conversation, but a picture taken as proof like at an aquarium. We discuss their marital status, relationships, mental health, their sex life, their looks, their weight – but why? Why is it any of our business? When a celebrity’s marriage is strained, it’s on the news, as though it’s anyone’s problem but the couple. It’s troublesome, celebrities cease to exist as people with private lives, instead becoming of a Vonnegut-esque exhibit in a bubble.
Humans are messy, there’s no way around it. Things go wrong. We fuck up, a lot. For the majority of us, our misadventures are confined to our own life. No one gets to comment on it publicly. And if they do, it’s not on a mass-scale. But for a celebrity, if they make a mistake, it becomes a part of the news cycle with different people weighing in as though it were any of their business to begin with – as though it was any of our business.
A few prime examples come to mind, all three of which I’m not a fan of, but empathize with on a human level. The first, Taylor Swift, I have nothing against her per se, the music just isn’t my cup of tea. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t secretly love “Blank Space” and “You Need to Calm Down.” She’s got a huge heart, and truly aims to use her fame for good. And yet, her private life has been the object of obsession since she first emerged as a star. Her relationship status became a joke, a meme, a point of comparison. Jokes about the men she’s dated made it seem as though Swift had some sort of serial-dating issue. She didn’t. She was a young, pretty woman in her 20’s – if you didn’t know, young and pretty women in their 20’s tend to date people. But Swift still deals with discussions of her dating history, insults, and jokes at her expense for something that really is none of our business. Swift doesn’t deserve this, no one does.
Next on our list is Britney Spears. Once again, I’m not a fan, but “Toxic” is a fun time. With Spears, her entire life was lived under a microscope. Everything she did was called into question. Paparazzi ruined her life, and the media’s discussion of her relationships and behavior were nothing short of cruel – analyzing her mental state as though we had the right to. There’s an excellent CNN clip where Larry King is discussing one of Spears’s public episodes, and Michael Moore, a guest on the show, says something to the effect of, “It would be less sad if we just left her alone.” Moore nailed it. Spears and stars like her live under the microscope, but we as the public don’t deserve to observe them. They’re still people, and deserve to live private lives. Spears doesn’t deserve this, no one does.
Last comes Kanye West. Now, I don’t consider myself a fan of West, but he’s a human never the less. We’ve been watching West publicly deal with mental illness his entire career. Enough is enough. We’re hurting this man. His struggles are not ours to own, to analyze. West’s marriage, his public stunts, all of it alludes to his already diagnosed mental illness. And yet we watch him, we indulge him, we feed into his madness. West is sick, please stop watching him like a science project. He needs help, and he needs to be left alone by the public and media. West doesn’t deserve this, no one does.
Beyond those celebrities who’ve been unfairly targeted, our obsession goes beyond private lives. Why do we care what they’re wearing or buying? I cannot think of anything less relatable than a celebrity’s lifestyle. Leave it be, it doesn’t apply to us. We cannot compare ourselves to celebrities, that’s how you end up with pretty people on Instagram who act like stars, but do nothing to deserve that moniker save for being good-looking. I digress.
In the new world, we need to care a great deal less about celebrities. People like Taylor Swift, Brittany Spears, and Kanye West have been the butt of jokes for far too long. They’re people, not targets. If compassion and empathy are to ever reign supreme, celebrities must be treated as human beings, not exhibits.