Why do we worship celebrities again?

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Photo by Michèle Eckert on Unsplash.

Of the revelations of the past two years- and there have been some- one of the most eye-popping for many people has been the true nature of humanity.

Some people are really quite terrible.

This wasn’t a surprise to everyone; any social worker or ER nurse could have told you so. Forget wearing masks or vaccinating themselves: That’s a lot to expect from people who still drive drunk, abuse their children, commit armed robbery. People lie, cheat, steal, defraud the elderly, die of drug overdoses.

They kill people. And no matter what you’ve seen on tv about stranger killings, murderers most often kill only the people closest to them.

Even people who aren’t criminals do other things that don’t make sense, like pay $65,000 to hunt a giraffe. Clerks at department stores sometimes complain of customers relieving themselves in the dressing rooms. If that isn’t illegal, it should be.

It is (mostly) the rise of social media coupled with COVID-19 which has revealed this home truth to so many who before were blissfully unaware of humanity’s less harmonious aspects- that is, the existence of people who seem to be an equal and opposite reaction, an anathema, to themselves.

You might have come across some of these yourself, although if you have it was probably online.

Social media revealed it, but how did people get so terrible?

For the answer, look no further than our televisions.

Sitcoms Made Us Mean

Most of America grew up watching sitcoms, where comedians traded pithy barbs and indulged themselves in light psychodrama or hapless misunderstandings for a half-hour.

Some weren’t bad. But from Archie Bunker to That 70s Show, cutting comebacks and insults were as central to the theme as misogyny and bell bottoms respectively.

The problem with this type of humor we all learned from television screen writers and actors is the missing piece- for us anyway.

Sit-com writers were always writing their rude jokes for an audience. When Eric Foreman made a snarky joke at the expense of his friend in front of the whole gang, the audience laughed.

If you make a rude joke at the expense of your friend, in public, there will be no studio or television audience to laugh at your wit and your friend’s over-emphasized idiocy.

Only your very offended- and probably former- friend’s hurt feelings.

Is it any wonder so many people find their most meaningful relationships fighting with strangers on the internet? How else to use this extremely useful schtick as an insult comic? Their friends won’t put up with such nonsense- if they have any friends left- but they can savagely burn strangers on the internet all day.

Television and Movies Broke Reality

Or rather, television and movies have convinced far too many impressionable people that other people’s lives are more interesting, more fulfilling, and less dysfunctional than their own.

Thanks to television and movies, some people are completely out of touch with reality.

They think borderline sexual assault is persistence overcoming resistance. They expect the good guys to always win.They think manipulation and savagery makes a good love story. They believe in stereotypes, hero-worship, and questionable pop psychology concepts- all based on what they saw once in some movie.

Back when the hit television drama “Dallas” was all the rage, the actress who played the sweet old mother of the show’s villain told interviewers about one devoted fan who wrote her faithfully, every single week to tell her what nefarious deeds her “son” had been up to on the last episode.

“Do you think that was really filmed on Mars?” I heard someone ask during a screening of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall in the late 80s.

“No,” replied his companion, sounding slightly incredulous.

“Well, it must have been filmed in the Grand Canyon, then,” the man said with finality, without the slightest trace of humor.

“Do you think there will really be a purge?” someone asked at a function, many years later, in all seriousness.

“What do you mean?” someone replied.

“You know, like a night when all crime is legal,” was the follow up.

Well, no; no one else really did think that. That was, as astute readers might have noticed, a movie.

Hollywood Glorified Addiction

And worse.

Tom Petty, Prince; Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, James Dean, Heath Ledger; the list of celebrities killed by drugs and alcohol is so long, there is one list specifically for Hollywood luminaries who died at age 27.

Besides drug and alcohol addiction, Hollywood has glorified other human frailties as well, to the great detriment of many. Eating disorders, rape culture, racism, and the pernicious “conspicuous consumerism” which has been so detrimental to the wealth gap, the planet, and (almost) everyone on it- to name only a few.

And violence. Hollywood has glorified vast, and growing, amounts of violence. In particular, violence against women.

Hollywood Made Us Love Lies and Liars

Movies made us prefer well-told lies to messy truths.

Acting is an odd career for any society to venerate. Why not scientists, or doctors, or pastry chefs?

Next time you are watching a movie, press pause and stop suspending disbelief for a moment. Do the opposite of what we usually try to do; force yourself to remember that it is all fake.

Remind yourself that these are all actors. They aren’t really happy, sad, scared, in love, in danger at all. They are in fact all safe in a sound studio somewhere, probably thinking about the same thing everyone else thinks about at work: Lunch.

Now imagine how odd it would be for you, at your job, to turn to your coworker and pretend- convincingly- to be escaping a burning building or fighting an imaginary monster against a green screen.

Some of us would burst out laughing. Most of us would find this impossible.

The people who are best at convincing us they are happy, sad, scared, in love, running for their lives, are the ones who get so into it that they forget about lunch. They actually forget who they really are for a time and believe themselves to be that other, fictional, person.

We watch so much of this, from people who do it so well, counterfeit love looks more authentic than real love. Fake confidence is more inspiring than actual competence. Lies seem more honest than truth.

Story and narrative seems more important than reality; getting a good laugh from a fictional audience after a sick burn, more important than compassion.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)