August 12th, 2005 12:04 EST
Lend Me Your Ears
For good or bad, as a celebrity you inevitably and unavoidably are caught in the spotlight of public attention, particularly through the media. The more popular or recognized you are in the public eye, the more attention you attract.
Genuine privacy becomes a blessed and uncommon luxury, at times; and the public interest, a burden. Your life is no longer entirely your own, and now becomes the business and conversation fodder of anyone and everyone else who wants it, at almost any time and place. In a sense, the famous become public domain, or public property.
An unfortunate side effect, alas, of being famous, which frequently inspires presumptuously inconsiderate violations of privacy by fans, media, and paparazzi.
The more popular you are with the public, the more the news media tries to investigate and involve itself in your life. I figure that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appreciate your support and interest, but enough is enough already and now they would rather be left alone, please and thank you.
Many people become fascinated or impressed with celebrities, in general and in particular, because the celebrities appear to possess an essential quality, which makes them seem special, iconic, and “larger than life”. Maybe even “better than me”.
People are excited by and drawn to them because of the psychological power emanating from their celebrity hood.
Such celebrities can often be conceived or perceived— even occasionally among themselves-- as demigods, of a sort, living on a higher plain of existence.
The public desires to touch the face of God, to immerse themselves in their “greatness”, to be connected to or associated with them, feel as if they are part of a celebrity’s life, to know them (or imagine so).
We especially esteem our favorites, the ones who appeal to us personally, and are beloved and appreciated by us, to some degree.
Several of them are, or have been, regarded as role models, and we may choose according to their preferences.
When these celebrities speak, people often listen.
Therefore, high profile individuals in the entertainment industry may sometimes use their celebrity status in order to lend support to a cause or generate public awareness or… as a platform to make a statement.
Nothing wrong with that, per se. If someone’s celebrity status enables him or her to promote attention to something that they care about, so be it. Why not take advantage of it, if the opportunity arises? It is a perk and benefit of being a celebrity. Surely, we will not forbid them to speak their minds, if they want, just because they happen to be famous.
And yet, celebrities that do this have often been criticized for it in recent years, usually by those who do not agree with what they have to say. Although, some people— even some celebrities-- oppose this behavior in general, merely on principle, believing that celebrities should not comment on subjects and topics they do not specialize in, considering their position of power. Some say it is an abuse of power, or could be.
These critics ask of celebrities, in essence, “Why should we listen to you, or care what you have to say, just because you’re famous?”
A fair question.
Celebrities tend to wield some level of influence over many peoples’ attitudes about various things, so maybe they do have a responsibility— whether they like it or not-- to the public to moderate what they say and do while explicitly “in public”.We should not care what they have to say ONLY because they are famous. I think we should judge the message based on the merits of the message itself, and not so much the messenger.
However, just because celebrities are famous for whatever they are famous for, does not mean they know nothing about other things, and have nothing of value to say about anything else. It does not necessarily mean that they do not know what they are talking about.
Just because I did not live during the American Revolution does not mean I do not have any idea what went on back then. We can still have an informed, even if amateur, opinion on the matter. Why should celebrities be denied voicing their opinions and perspectives simply because they are famous individuals? Despite common impression otherwise, they are people, too, just as we are, with thoughts and feelings and interests. They have just as much right and prerogative to speak as we do.
We still have free speech in this country, more or less. As always, that does not mean you must listen to, like, or accept what someone says, whether they are famous or not.
In addition, if you do listen to them, you always have the option of making up your own mind as to the veracity of their comments or claims.
Not long ago, actor Tom Cruise was berated for chastising interviewer Matt Lauer for being glib and uniformed on a topic of discussion, as well as for maligning psychiatry and psychiatric drugs. The “incident” was blown out of proportion and made a bigger deal than it actually was. However, Matt specifically asked Tom his opinion on psychiatry, and when Tom gave his negatively candid— but apparently unpopular— reply, he was ridiculed and condemned in the court of public opinion.
As if, we somehow hold celebrities to a higher standard of decorum than “normal” folk.
If you do not want to know, do not ask and do not blame him for answering directly and honestly. Perhaps Tom was a bit arrogant and undiplomatic in his approach, but he had researched the subject, where as Mr. Lauer had not, and so he had the confidence of conviction that often intimidates people who are not so certain. Regardless of how his opinion was delivered, I believe Tom made a good point. If nothing else, he at least briefly brought attention to the subject.
Tom Cruise was also repeatedly criticized for so exuberantly and honestly expressing his affections for Katie Holmes--- when asked about it. He did not go looking for the attention; attention went looking for him. Those critics appear to have forgotten what it is like to fall in love. Does such unfettered honesty truly frighten people?
However, I digress.
Your disagreement or disapproval with what someone says does not make someone wrong, nor does your agreement or approval make him or her right.
Tom does what he does, knows what he knows, and cares not what anyone thinks about him, as he keeps having to remind people. I commend him for such integrity, and recommend it to others under scrutiny in show business.
Notice that I am referring to Tom informally, by his first name… as if I know him.
MmmbutIdon’t. Ok, enough about Tom.
Conversely, it is also true that some individuals who have a public forum do not always have something meaningful, productive, or competent to say; ironically, many of them are so-called experts or informed sources or authorities. We assume they know something, because we expect they do or are told they do. Not just actors, musical performers, sports figures, politicians or news reporters. Many people manage to get in the public eye, commentators, analysts, panelists, committees, representatives, reviewers, and witnesses-- who are little more than “talking heads”. Those who have nothing much relevant to say, who maybe like the sound of their own voice, and are looking for attention. They talk just to talk, not interested in a sincere dialog or authentic evaluation, but merely in making known their opinion, or complaining, and belittling others to make themselves feel better. They often believe that because they are in the spotlight, what they have to say is— or must be— important, valid and true. Some of them host a talk show. People are giving them credence, if at all, for no other reason than the presumption of title or the presence of a spotlight. People speaking in public, especially TO the public, would do well to remember to think before they speak, if at all feasible.
With great power comes great responsibility. Or, so I have heard.
However, the audience, the public, also has a measure of responsibility in this: Give conscientious consideration to what anyone has to say, if you choose to listen, and think for yourself.