The idea of celebrity culture, and the amount of faith many people have in celebrities, is very perplexing to me. Specifically, thinking about recent events in the news, I am forced to ask the question: given that fans worship the polytheistic world of Hollywood to such a large degree, why is it that when a celebrity gets into trouble –legal, personal, or moral—their once adoring public salaciously revels in their fall from grace?
Two recent examples of fallen celebrities are domestic goddess Martha Stewart and repeatedly accused King of Pop/Peter Pan, Michael Jackson. These celebrities were (and some would say still are) veritable icons of domesticity and pop music, respectively.
They have both used their talents to rise from meager beginnings to amass great fortunes and garner worldwide fame.
However, once the allegations of wrongdoing began to surface, their levels of fame were surpassed by their levels of infamy. Stewart, accused of insider trading, has been recently convicted and may go to prison, on a hidden deal between friends involving a tiny percentage of her net worth. Jackson, accused and dismissed of child abuse charges years ago, is once again on trial, facing a seemingly more certain case against him, all the while becoming more and more odd.
These two celebrities, who were once widely revered power players within the show business industry, are now in front of judges to prove their innocence and defend their already tarnished reputations.
Subsequently, throughout these proceedings, the amount of news coverage from CNN and MSNBC and pseudo-news coverage from programs like Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition has been enormous and completely sensationalized.
When a celebrity gets into some sort of trouble, public obsession seems to increase, and develop into a form of mass-voyeurism. It is schadenfreude on a grand scale.
As the popularity of Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson has dropped considerably, their screen-time has increased significantly. News channels have been sure to catch all the craziness at all the proceedings. Other instances of over-hyped celebrity trials such as those of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Winona Ryder, have only helped to reinforce this strange obsession with witnessing larger-than-life figures reduced in status to that of unprivileged, vulnerable, ‘normal’ people.
For these celebrities, their rise to stardom and their height of worship may have been sweet but their falls from grace have been long, drawn-out and witnessed by millions.
Celebrity can be harsh. Small, questionable actions can escalate, and depending on the topic at hand, even small transgressions can balloon to ruin lives and fuel television news for months on end. This is their reality. The privilege is based on a perceived superiority, and once the bubble bursts, a celebrity has broken the public trust. They are not, in fact, without flaws, and therefore don’t deserve their inflated status. They no longer deserve our trust, do they? Their inclusion on the ‘A-list’ is no longer certain. We don’t believe in them anymore.