One of Moviepilot's trending topics for the week was about “Celebrities Moving Away From LA” and kind of retreating into their own spaces to escape from the public's eye. That immediately reminded me of earlier in the week when Jack White was the subject of discussion for about two days.
Have no clue about what I'm talking about? Well, maybe this headline will jog your memory:
In case you're still confused, White was visiting his neighborhood potluck in Nashville and apparently, nary a neighbor recognized him.
Though I doubted that absolutely no one recognized Jack White, my initial reaction went like this:
“Whaaaat? Y'all don't know Jack White? Lead singer and guitarist of The White Stripes? Ranked among the top guitarists of all time? One of the masterminds behind White Blood Cells? Doesn't ring a bell at all?”
I stopped myself, however, because something about my initial reaction really bothered me. It was tough to pinpoint at first and then it suddenly dawned on me:
Our relationship with celebrities is toxic.
To elaborate, while my initial reaction wasn't too malicious, there was a very kind of detached element to it (which I'll elaborate on later). What's more is while my reaction was rather tame, I saw many other reactions over the last few days that show the invasive nature of how we scrutinize the sh*t out of celebrities.
Some examples included people questioning how long White had lived in the neighborhood and whether White lived in the neighborhood at all. Others included accusing him of “crashing” the potluck and even snidely imploring him to quit wasting time and get to his latest project. It was jarring to see it all play out and even more so to see people so comfortable with commenting on the lives of these people they don't even know personally, engaging in bewildering hero-worship, or not even treating them as people at all but more like things in the abstract.
To explain, I've always been curious when people say that we “put celebs on too high a pedestal”, as my immediate reply is always “well, who put them there?”
I say this to comment on our tendency to greatly distance ourselves from these people and turn them into figures—statues even—in order to be comfortable with scrutinizing them like we do. I will never forget entering in high school some years back, obsessing over my favorite movie star—it was Will Smith at the time—and then being subsequently told that I was wasting my time because “he's not real”, “he's not a real person”, and “You [I] are not real to him”.
After hearing things like that, it would naturally become easy to draw the line between us (“real people”) and them (“celebrities”). Referring to these thinking and feeling people as unreal allows us to distance ourselves from them (and occasionally even othering them). It allows us to be completely fine with picking them apart and intensely scrutinizing them. And if the distance becomes incredibly great, we might even be okay with harassing them.
Over the years, there have been way too many examples of celebrities getting held under a microscope, examined, picked at, and harassed. While most of this is usually perpetuated by a distinct category of deplorable people that most like to call paparazzi (re: say, like, Perez Hilton), a lot of this is still entertained by the general public. All in the name of spectacle. Various examples past and present come to mind, but the few that have stuck to me include Halle Berry, Adele, and Britney Spears. There are examples of this happening to men too (re: Chris Brown's stalker, Lebron James getting called a b*tch by some random fan, etc). Still, I really want to emphasize female celebrities, in particular, are much, much more likely to experience excess harassment and scrutiny.
Halle Berry and Adele
Halle and Adele have particularly stuck with me because they are the mothers of small children and the act of having children has not been enough to deter the invasive eyes of the paps and would-be fans.
I remember Adele going incognito for damn near a year in order to avoid potential run-ins with the paparazzi (which would ultimately include her newborn son) and take a much-needed break. I remember applauding her decision even as she emerged, citing the scrutiny that not only usually falls on the new child but also the spectacle that is watching a mother “get back into shape”. The latter is usually expected at a nigh impossible rate, to the point that celebrities in Hollywood have had to make it a point to say that they'd be taking their time with their body.
As for Halle, I will never forget seeing Halle read a paparazzo for filth after the asshole SAT OUTSIDE her daughter Nahla's school, waiting creepily for her to come out. I will never forget Halle recalling an extremely grimy paparazzo asking Nahla “How do you feel, Nahla? You may not see your father again. How do you feel about that?” and recalling Nahla later asking her “Why did they say that to me, mommy? What does that mean? Who are these men and why are they following us?"
She would later go on to add that the harassment got so serious that Nahla expressed sadness at having to go to preschool every day because she would be trailed.
Nahla was barely five at the time.
And that is so f*cked up.
Still, I will never forget when Halle decided enough was enough and helped usher forth anti-paparazzi legislation that was eventually backed by fellow celebrity and actor Jennifer Garner and eventually passed by California. One thing that was said during the hearing particularly stood out to me and apply to the subject at hand:
"I chose a public life … [but] my three children are private citizens. I love my kids. They're beautiful and sweet and innocent, and I don't want a gang of shouting, arguing, lawbreaking photographers who camp out everywhere we are all day every day to continue traumatizing my kids."
I'd even add that while Garner and Berry and all these celebrities chose “public” lives, they still did not consent to being harassed. I continue to be of the belief that we can criticize a celebrity and their body of work without tearing down who they are as people. Why don't we do that more?
Britney's life in the public eye has been inexplicably burned into my mind. But 2007 in particular still haunts me.
2007 was a particularly rough year for the pop star and the public ate that sh*t up. For many months, we watched Britney's life unravel. The press bombarded us with news of her on again, off again relationships (re: Kevin Federline), personal news about her family (re: Jamie Lynn Spears) and news about her on-hold singing career.
However, what the press notably lingered on and refused to NOT cover (and lapped up in their star-hungry camera lenses) was the infamous incident in which Britney walked into a hair shop and literally shaved off all of her hair.
Now that I'm older, I'm better able to understand the significance behind her doing so. Obviously, I have no insight into Britney's thoughts. But if I were to guess, I'd interpret her cutting off her hair in particular as a way to not only shed the expectations that people around her placed on her, but also functioned as a huge middle finger to the extremely high standard that female/female identifying celebrities are held to (as well as the high degree of scrutiny that they face). In addition to that, with the kind of stock that is placed in hair in the entertainment industry, her act of shaving her own hair was incredibly ballsy.
At the time, however, I didn't understand the significance. All I knew is that I felt that I should not be seeing this play out. That this was something that should have been going on in private, or something that Britney should have gotten to deal with without the flashing of a million and one different cameras in her face. She never got that privacy, however, and I was mad for her because of it. Of course, this made her eventual comeback that much more powerful, but I am sure that the psychological effects of having gone through that still remain.
All of these things aside, I have only one thing on my mind:
Why do we do this?
Why do we pick these people apart and think it's okay? Is it because we think they owe us? Because, you know, they don't. These “statues” are in fact people, and as people, they signed up to act, and to sing, and to share whatever passion they're good at with the world in return for some acclaim for it. Let me be clear and say that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized/paid for your work.
They did not, in fact, sign up to be harassed and ripped to shreds.
Now, a lot of folks are probably going to be like: “they've got loads of money and whatever else. They'll get over it” and somehow use that as an excuse. And you know, I don't think that's a valid excuse. I don't think the price of fame and fortune should be the steady invalidation of someone's humanity.
It's too high a price.
And it's a price I certainly wouldn't want to pay.
So, bringing this back to Jack White, I don't care if he showed up at that potluck or not or whether or not his neighbors recognized him because frankly, it's none of my damned business. What I like about Nashville/that area of the country, in particular, is the anonymity and privacy that it affords celebrities and the like. I'm kind of pissed that someone at the party felt that Jack didn't warrant the privacy and instead opted to get a few quick likes on Instagram. Because, at the end of the day, as legendary, established, and distinguished as Jack is, he too is a human being.
And he too deserves his own privacy.