So Your Favorite Celebrity Said Something Awful
It’s good to be critical of the things we love. The sooner we recognize that the things we love – movies, people, texts – can be flawed and problematic while also still retaining their overall goodness, the sooner we can be honest with ourselves about what it is, exactly, that we love and what it is that we don’t. Celebrities, as human as you or I, will mess up, and when they do we will have to straddle the line between blind and undying love or total hate and contempt.
To a certain extent, love and passion are natural and healthy. Passion can mean we have identified with some artistic expression and in doing so express ourselves through its promotion. But being a fan can lead to a dangerous unquestioning environment where we will defend our favorite movie and music stars to the death, regardless of what awful things they may have said or done.
Those in the public eye are often thrown to the media dogs, along with the mantra that it “comes with the territory.” But it’s important to remember that not all celebrities ask for celebrity – although even if they do, no one deserves to be ripped of their privacy. In general, most celebrities somehow just find themselves on top of a media soapbox, whether or not they have good things to say.
So, this puts fans in a tough position: how do we worship the Tom Hiddleston’s and the Lady Gaga’s of the world while also acknowledging their missteps? How do we acknowledge the flaws of those we love without crossing them off our list altogether?
It’s a fine line to negotiate but it’s an important one. When Lady Gaga showed up to London Fashion Week last October in a burqa it was time to ask some questions. Although she has spoken out about gay rights, bullying, and most recently her struggles with an eating disorder, it doesn’t erase her actions last October. Even if Lady Gaga’s wardrobe choices came from a place of political statement and protest it does not erase the fact that many Islamic and burqa-wearing women were offended by her appropriation of such a highly political and cultural symbol.
This is when it gets tricky: when stars try to use their fame to make a statement and instead end up offending the very group they are trying to speak out for. This doesn’t mean we have to delete all of Lady Gaga’s songs from our iTunes libraries, but it does mean it’s time to take a break and do some internet research on what she did wrong, why it’s offensive and whom she has offended. It does mean that it’s time to acknowledge that she has made a mistake. It means that although she might lose respect from some of her fans, it doesn’t erase the overall goodness that she continues to do for gay youth, anti-bullying and youth self-esteem campaigns.
But media is inescapable. There is almost no way not to come into contact with “bad” or “offensive” media. Friends watch television shows, and advertising appears on public transportation. No matter how much we wish to avoid Daniel Tosh (after he reportedly made a rape joke about an audience member who spoke out about how “rape jokes are never funny”) we can never fully get away from it or him. We could take to the internet or we could certainly keep our own television sets off of Tosh.0 when in the comfort of our own homes, but this of course is not always possible.
But maybe we also find ourselves watching an episode of Tosh.0 or listening to a Lady Gaga song and enjoying it. Maybe we like Lady Gaga and maybe we have tickets to see Tosh’s next show. The fact of the matter is we can’t boycott it all. It would be impossible.
Rachael, a writer from the Social Justice League’s blog makes the case that all human beings (creators, stars, and fans), by definition, are imperfect. Therefore she says we “need to find a way to enjoy the media we like without hurting other people and marginalised groups.” We need to find a way to belt out every lyric to “Bad Romance” while also recognizing the struggles and the attacks made against very real Islamic women who wear the burka for cultural and personal reasons and not, as Lady Gaga did, as an edgy and political “costume.”
As much as we may want to defend our favorite pop, film, and music stars we have to remember it doesn’t erase why we started loving them in the first place. It just means that it’s time to stop ignoring the criticisms and pretending they are perfect. When someone criticizes a celebrity we love we have to try not to get offended because even if they did something wrong it doesn’t mean we are bad people for liking them. As Rachael says, “Really loving something means seeing it as it really is, not as you wish it were. You can still be a good fan while acknowledging the problematic elements of the things you love.”
As fans, we take it hard when our idols are anything less than perfect but if we crossed every problematic thing off of our “favorites” list we would have nothing left. Every television show that makes a sexist comment and every movie that makes use of racist stereotypes can teach us something. They can inspire debate and self-education. These media missteps, although usually coming from a good place or even from a place trying to make a positive statement, can call attention to what has been normalized and what needs to be changed.
So, no matter how great a musician, a writer, or an author a celebrity may be, they will make a mistake and say something awful during their media careers – but that doesn’t mean we can’t love them anymore. Remembering to be critical and not simply hateful of those in the public eye might take some getting used to but it can help keep us from being taken in by media outlets and our favorite celebrity’s charm.
Lauren Vaughn is a Collegian columnist and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.