In Western society, particularly in America, people tend to tout an artificial supremacy over other cultures because we have “free will” and “liberty.” Although institutional forms of slavery still exists through sexual slavery, the prison system and forced labor, state-sanctioned slavery is no longer in existence. People have rights and privileges protected by constitutions, law enforcement agencies and judicial courts.
But there is a population within our borders that are trapped within a grey zone for all the world to gawk, judge and criticize: celebrities.
It’s sometimes hard to have sympathy for the lives and misfortunes of celebrities because, even though we know they’re real people, they live on a different plane than we do. They’re like modern-day mythological figures, but powerless to retaliate against our pokes and prods. They’re gods and goddesses, but we know they’re not and that makes the public twice as dangerous.
When Justin Bieber gets pulled over for driving under the influence or when Miley Cyrus begins to assert her (problematic) individuality through her music, we’re reminded of their fallibility, but we do not run from them. We engage in an unrestrained charge to topple them over.
Conversely, when other celebrities ridicule the fails of their fellow prisoners, we flock to praise them. Make someone a hero and have them believe in their own infallibility and they become reckless. For a case in point, read Jared Padalecki’s tweets from the last three weeks, as they range from criticizing Justin Bieber to defending his comments on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
While it’s good to exercise social criticism and challenge people on their criminal behavior, sexual misconduct or culturally appropriation, it’s not OK to criticize anyone, celebrity or not, for problems related to an addiction, suffering related to physical or mental health or issues in their relationship and private life.
It may seem obvious to some that those are issues best left unreported, untouched and unexploited, but in a society where we’re free to express our opinions in 140 characters or less, discretion is not valued. The deaths of people like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ned Vizzini and Lee Thompson Young are all equally tragic and are not in any way diminished by the manner of their death. They serve as grim reminders of our mortality and the simultaneous meaninglessness and perilousness of fame.
These people whom we place in barless cages on pedestals are just like us at their core. Wealth doesn’t change that. As students, we can relate to those struggles because we see them everyday, whether we’re escorting a friend to counseling services, handing out food to a homeless person or just watching someone get arrested for possession.
Struggles are universal and we should treat them as such. It’s easy to be blindsided by the wealth of individuals and the idea that a plethora of resources and supporters are there for them, while you have to survive on metaphorical scraps.
Most of us tend to oversimplify problems of addiction, abuse and mental health. You don’t just go to rehab or see a therapist for a few weeks, months or years, promise to avoid certain situations, friends and substances and live the rest of your life without worry. You’ll relapse. You’ll struggle. You’ll need to work to fight for maintaining your new status-quo everyday. Some days will be easier than others, but it’s never over.
Be humbled by that knowledge. Instead of ranting on Twitter, reach out and advocate for sensible drug policies that offer drug users, whether they are addicts or not, an exit from that life that doesn’t involve a jail sentence.
Recovery is a lifelong process. Bearing that in mind makes you more sympathetic to those who relapse, those who falter and those who are beginning their journey. Tragedies surrounding celebrities aren’t too far removed from the tragedies that surround us.