A lot of things have been getting me thinking about the cult of celebrity. Magazines have been noting that Justin Bieber cut his hair and lost 80,000 followers on Twitter. In reality, Justin Bieber was interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine and said things like “I really don’t believe in abortion…it’s like killing a baby.” The haircut was just a timely coincidence.
When asked about abortion in cases of rape, he replied: “Um. Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason.” A lot of people found these comments pretty shocking. What I found shocking was that Rolling Stone thought it was a okay to ask a 16-year-old boy questions about rape and abortion and then broadcast it in the international media.
But perhaps this is representative of the way we elevate celebrities to an almost demi-Godlike status. As referenced in one of Dave Chapelle’s stand ups, we often seek the advice of celebrities in times of strife. We assume some wisdom to be correlated with fame, that actors and singers are somehow automatically gifted with omniscience. In reality celebrities are just people, like you and me. Except they’re not like you and me, because they’re famous and wealthy and are usually coked out, and are therefore even less qualified to speak on rape and abortion and the correct response to a terrorist attack.
Idolatry of celebrities beyond the realms of their talents can be dangerous. I bet a lot of preteen girls will now be anti-abortion without researching the arguments and forming their own opinions, whatever they may be. I remember when Britney Spears spearheaded this mainstream virgin-until-marriage movement, inspiring thousands of girls to make virginity pledges just to have Justin Timberlake get drunk on an airplane and tell a tattletale passenger they’d already boned. A female generation’s role-model-based beliefs were shattered. My promise ring took a real hit that day.
But in reality, the cult of the celebrity is most dangerous for the celebrities themselves. They’re living in a fishbowl. And we’ve filled the fishbowl with excess income and elevated social status and easy access to drugs, prostitutes and sizzurp.
Case in point: Charlie Sheen. I didn’t even know who Charlie Sheen was until about three weeks ago. Now I know the intimate details of his everyday life. He lives in what he calls the “Silver Valley Lodge” with his two “Goddess” porn-star girlfriends and his twin boys, who the courts have inexplicably allowed to continue staying with him through joint-custody. The nation is watching Sheen’s downward spiral, or, as he calls it, winning. Sheen-related statuses are littering my Facebook news feed. Someone suggested him as commencement speaker. #Tigerblood and #bi-winning are two of the top hashtags being tweeted worldwide. One interview received over four million views in just eight days. (Watch the interview. Charlie Sheen compels you.)
If someone we knew were behaving this way, would we sit them in an interview chair and have a hot lady barrage them with judgment-laced questions? Would we allow them to run havoc and conduct five national interviews in one day? Would we trust them with the care of our children? I hope not. But Charlie Sheen is not like a normal person, and so we don’t treat him like one. Maybe it’s because he has Tigerblood and drinks water through his eyes, or maybe it’s because he’s famous, so his crazy outbursts and love of prostitutes seem removed and are therefore entertaining. We can laugh because he doesn’t seem real. His lifestyle doesn’t seem real. If we tried to live and party like him he would make us look like “droopy-eyed armless children.” Colin Farrell called him to check he was okay; his problems are gilded in glamor and therefore don’t really seem like problems.
My debbie-downer point is that we’re all a little twisted in finding this amusing. I’d make some theory about having an inner satisfaction in watching people with such lavish lifestyles tumble, but it’s nothing that profound. It’s basic entertainment. It’s like modern-day Gladiator fighting. It’s blood lust. There’s something inherently titillating in watching these people who we’re mildly acquainted with but who we don’t actually know go off the rails in such extravagant and unpredictable ways. Joaquin Pheonix knew this when he made his documentary that was secretly a mockumentary I’m Still Here. Rolling Stone knew this when they chose to ask The Biebs about abortions for rape victims. And ABC definitely knew this when they called Sheen for repeated interviews and agreed to an on-air blood test to prove that no, he is not on drugs, he is just plain ass crazy.
I guess we will just watch on as this crazy story continues to unfold, as clearly none of Sheen’s loved ones have any intention of putting an end to this media frenzy. In the meantime, the ratings of “Two and a Half Men” have been skyrocketing, despite Sheen being fired from the show. That’s fine, according to Sheen. Warner Brothers will be changing its name to Charlie Sheen Brothers this Wednesday, and he has no plans but to keep on #winning.