Ellen, Celebrity, and Us….

Cynicism seems to be winning at the checkout counter. First, there was “Ellen makes trans-phobic joke”. In the last few weeks, there have been reports that Ellen Degeneres’ marraige is falling apart. She responded by saying that she’s in love with her wife more and more each day. Today at the checkout counter, some magazine or tabloid had a nasty picture of her with bullet points that said “Doesn’t even like kids!”. I don’t know if either of these things is true, and frankly, I don’t care. I don’t know and will probably never meet Ms. Degeneres or Ms. DeRossi (her wife). I don’t think any of us actually “know” celebrities. We know their image, we know what their publicists say, we know what their industry wants us to know or think or believe. We don’t, however, have any idea what a celebrity’s like when they go home, or what they think when they look in the mirror, or anything that matters about them.

What we have are archetypes. For those people not familiar with the term, “archetype” is a term used by Carl Jung and it means something we all know or believe (because it’s from our “collective unconscious) as personified by a person or animal or theme, etc. For instance, “boy must face three challenges to win the heart of a princess” is an archetypal story. Black hats = bad guy, White hats = good guy is an archetype. For Ellen, it seems to me that she is an archetype for three things: 1) lesbians/gay people; 2) really nice person; 3) star on a pedestal/popular celebrity. Together, Ellen’s image is “really nice, popular lesbian”. So why would anyone want to spread rumors about such a person? Because some part of us wants to believe that those qualities, individually or collectively, can’t exist. In other words, there are no nice lesbians, there are no nice people, or there are no nice celebrities. There can’t be famously sweet people, there can’t be famous lesbians… Something just irritates somebody. Maybe we like our characters complex. We don’t want them to be “just” nice. Maybe we want our idols to be more human. I’d love to believe that, but I don’t. I think there’s something about tearing down celebrities that panders to the lowest instincts in the psyches of people.

We have this weird thing going on re: celebrities and we have had it for a long time. We build them up to ridiculous heights then we drop our opinion of them to the lowest of depths, taking down both the person and the pedestal. This just seems cruel to me. It’s like we have an aversion to good people or long-term relationships.
Maybe we’re mad at them because we think “they’ve had their fifteen minutes of fame”. Maybe there’s somebody in a media company who doesn’t like her. In any case, and for whatever the reason we do it, or our media does it, we shouldn’t throw people out — especially if they are good ones who have a history of making life better for others. If we cut the heart of someone out, is it really better for anybody when we put it back in?

What does it say about us that we can destroy the reputation of someone we once supposedly cared about? It says that it’s ok for someone else to do that to us. Why is THAT a good thing? It’s a time-worn Hollywood story, I know, but it’s not a story we should want to tell. The idea that “you’re only as good as your last” movie/book/show seems like an awful lot of pressure. The idea that a crowd of people that you don’t even know could turn on you at any moment has got to be terrifying and I have to think that it’s part of Hollywood culture so that studios can keep people under control, but we buy into it.

Long and short of it? People are not things and the more we depersonalize them, the more we can hurt them. The picture of this or that celebrity is not them. It’s an image of them. The idea that a man in a tux or a woman in a dress on the red carpet always looks that way is absurd. The idea that they must always look that way or they’ll break our heart suggests our hearts are in the wrong place. The idea that a person is the character that they play is messed up, but at least understandable. The idea that they should only play that part is mean. The idea that there are paparazzi swarming around celebrities waiting to either catch them being their image (see, there is perfection in the world)  or not being their image (we knew nobody could be that nice) are both messages that we don’t need in our society. The idea that there’s an industry devoted to those messages is sick.

Really, folks, there’s nothing to see here. Can we just move on without crushing people?