I'm not sure when idolizing the famous became such a large part of our culture. I suspect the seeds were always there, and grew along with the reach of fame as world-wide audiences were possible. The loss of life is tragic. How much of the problem traces to celebrity-culture with its impossible demands for performance, beauty, energy and perfection? How much of it is the fleeting nature of fame, where the size of the talent pool results in so many "flash-in-the-pan" careers? (How many articles feature less-than-kind follow-ups on ex-celebrities: "Where are they now?" "You won't believe what they look like these days!" "Why won't anyone hire them anymore?") Some of it is the entertainment industry's pursuit of novelty and edginess, and as the frontier of edginess is pushed ever farther, some people selected for celebrity may be less grounded or stable, less able to deal with the stress, scrutiny, and instability of the industry.
And it can't be healthy for the consumers of the culture, when the culture is produced by -- and built on the lives of -- people who ultimately reject the worth of life itself. A few haunting times since the death of Amy Winehouse from alcohol poisoning, I've heard the song in which she sang about turning down rehab. Given what happened to the artist, why are we still playing that song? And part of the problem is that we've become consumers of culture, not so much participants in it. It's too easy to live vicariously through performers, too easy to go along with unreasonable expectations being placed on a performer, or finding someone who will voice our brokenness and at what point does it become taking advantage of them?
I've been mulling over whether there is anything we can do. The ideas below are tentative as I struggle with what we can do; there are ideas both what we can do to help celebrities and to help with the impact on the rest of us. I wonder whether it would help to:
- Not buy tabloids that exploit the stress or misery of performers
- Not follow click-bait links to articles that are vulture-like in dealing with lost careers
- Call for ethical standards for media coverage of public figures
- Call for better working conditions (hours/schedules) for performers
- Encourage everyday people to have more real friends than imaginary ones, which should be a healthy step even if every celebrity were mentally-healthy and a good role model