The Dehumanization of Celebrities

Presumably, we all know that Amy Winehouse passed away on Saturday afternoon, after a long, public struggle with substance abuse. Though we do not know exactly what the cause of her death was, her tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol were most likely linked to any health complications that led to her passing. When the news broke, I was on Twitter, and immediately, there was a huge collective burst of sadness and shock among the people I follow who loved her music and were rooting for her to make a comeback. At the same time, there was another loud outpouring of contempt by people who decided to make tacky, tasteless jokes about how she should have said “yes, yes, yes” to rehab and celebrated the death of another waste of space drug addict. The complete lack of empathy for her, her family, her friends and her fans was just shocking to me, especially mere moments after her death was announced.
It’s one thing to delight in the glee of celebs showing up to events in consistently tacky outfits, becoming divas on the Home Shopping Network, continuing to star in movies that flop or getting caught in ridiculous sex scandals (Seriously, tweeting a crotch photo? Comical, lame and totally worth mocking).
It is a completely other story to take pleasure in another human being’s death. I don’t know what it is about celebrities that makes us forget that they are actual people. Is it the over-the-top lifestyle? Is it the way they live their lives so openly in a way that would mortify most of us? I remember talking to a friend during Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, and I asserted how uncomfortable I was with the way people were idolizing and condoning his ridiculous behavior, especially since he has a history of violence. In response, she said “celebrities don’t count.” But celebrities do count. Their actions have consequences. They don’t exist in a bubble. The way that we choose to contextualize the actions of our celebrities says a lot about our society’s values.
Sheen, the highest paid actor on TV with a long history of domestic violence, goes on some awful rants, complete with some completely unnecessary Anti-Semitism (rants that eventually led to making money), and everyone bows down to the altar of yet another privileged white man who knows how to drum up publicity and make a profit for himself. Chris Brown has still not been forgiven for his attack of Rihanna. He had a fit on the set of Good Morning America and the media was quick to paint him as angry and unstable, and I find it impossible to believe that race doesn’t have anything to do with it. He’s a young black man who sings music that widely appeals to a young black audience — ie: the majority of people are not interested in investing in him or his success. Now, I am not an apologist for violent men. I don’t think it’s hard to avoid hitting women, and I believe both Charlie and Chris should be blacklisted, but the unequal treatment is most certainly not a coincidence.
And when Amy Winehouse dies, her struggle with drugs and alcohol made people feel comfortable enough to express their delight, because they know their marginalization of substance abuse, mental illness and, let’s be totally honest here –women — is acceptable in our society. It’s even been perpetrated on College Candy. Amy Winehouse, despite winning five Grammys in one night, despite having two critically acclaimed albums, despite being a distinguished vocalist and songwriter who has sold several million albums worldwide, is still not considered “worthy” of being part of a morbid club of rock stars who have all died far too young. The impact that she has made in the music industry is undeniable.
To deny the fact that celebrities reflect the ignorant and dysfunctional norms of our culture is to deny the true extent of how deeply our collective racism, misogyny and tendency to devalue people with mental illnesses runs. It’s counterproductive and doesn’t allow our society to evolve to its true potential.

8 Under $20: PacSun
8 Under $20: PacSun
  • 10614935101348454