I think the concept of fame is a pretty weird one.
I mean someone does something generally fairly benign - plays a role, performs on a stage, tells a joke - that a lot of people have the opportunity to see so a lot of people become aware of that someone being present on this planet. That’s all it is really, at its most stripped-down.
Of course, we know there’s more to it than that.
It seems to me that celebrities - the holders of fame - cease to be actual people in our minds. It’s like they exist only in some alternate reality that is there solely for our entertainment. When we aren’t paying attention, they aren’t real. We don’t do this intentionally I don’t think, it’s just what happens; it’s just the way it works.
Unfortunately, I think the result of this phenomenon is that we fail to truly empathize with what they go through and we feel we have the right to judge not just their work, but them.
I know, I know, I know. The argument goes that they know what they sign up for and look at all they get in return. And sure, it’s your right to hold that opinion if you choose, but I have personally entered into a situation where I thought I knew the facts beforehand and still had no idea how it would play out on my psyche as the experience unfolded.
I think it’s incredibly naive of us to assume they know what they sign up for.
And even if they choose fame, they are still living breathing people who have thoughts and ideas and probably dreams besides being a celebrity for this one thing they might do. They have histories and experiences and families and friends. They change and they grow. I mean, as the wise curators of Us Weekly magazine would say: stars, they’re just like us.
Personally, I don’t think much about celebrities. It’s not that I don’t love musicians and actors, for instance, but usually not beyond their work. I like what they do, I don’t necessarily keep up with them. I haven’t had much interest in pop culture in general for a long time. Not since tearing pages from Teen Beat and tacking them to my wall in middle school.
Because back to my original point it’s weird, right? There are so many people doing and thinking such interesting things - truly fascinating people - who just live out their lives in near obscurity because they haven’t had the same opportunities for people to see them even when they choose to put their work out there.
But I’m getting way off track.
What I really want to say is that as weird as fame is, if we’re looking for something tangibly positive that can come out of it, why shouldn’t it be activism?
I say this to convince myself as much as anyone.
Historically, I haven’t put much stock in the celebrity cause, the celebrity endorsement. I didn’t necessarily disagree with those who asked why should we care about what you have to say just because you’re a celebrity? Being a celebrity doesn’t give you the right to go spouting off your own opinion. Well right, being a celebrity doesn’t, being a human does.
So I’m changing my mind and I’m starting to think using fame to promote what you believe in like a political stance or a cultural issue, is an admirable thing to do; as long as you do it admirably. As long as you do it honestly and thoughtfully and with integrity I say why shouldn’t you use the platform you’ve been given and say whatever you choose?
I challenge us to think about it this way: what’s weirder, fame or the way our culture elevates people to such a status and then doesn’t want to hear what they have to say?
It’s also, quite frankly, incredibly brave for them to say it. Because if you’re famous and people know you, you have a way bigger risk of backlash from opposing points of view. And in this day and age of everyone being able to have such direct access to celebrities, we all know this backlash can be brutal.
And I’m not just talking about a blow to their career. I’m talking about a blow to their human dignity, to their very safety in some cases. So again, let’s not minimize it by saying they know what they sign up for.
Let’s also not minimize them as people and dismiss everything else they might be and do besides their job that’s made them famous because even though we know who they are, we do not know them. A really, really important distinction.