Analysis of a celebrity meltdown

By Elise Martorano

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We’ve seen it all before: the drugs, the DUIs, the shaved head, the social media boom and eventually the psychiatric ward. We are in the midst of yet another celebrity meltdown. This time, it’s childhood star of “All That” and “The Amanda Show,” Amanda Bynes. Bynes, 27, who had previously been worshipped as a quirky and unembarrassed comedy actress, has been “entertaining” an avid public for months with questionable tweets such as, “I Love Surgery,” “It doesn’t matter if you feel sexy if you don’t look sexy” and “If you’re not hot I don’t care about you.”

Bynes has been discussed and dissected by the public on every form of social media, and online news sources publish streams of stories concerning her behavior every day. Searching “Amanda Bynes” on Huffington Post yields 278,000 results, with headlines such as “Amanda Bynes’ Face Transformation Will Surprise You,” “Does Amanda Bynes Think You’re Ugly,” “Amanda Bynes Starts Fire, Gets Involuntarily Hospitalized” and “Amanda Bynes Speaks Out After Arrest: ‘I Don’t Drink Or Do Drugs.”

But the real question is this: with dozens of high–profile news stories currently playing out, why should we care? Instead of discussing current events or something moderately intellectual or useful, the consensus seems to be that this is among the most important news that we have to talk about.

It’s not a new trend, either. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have had the public rapt with attention for years. In their early days, their meltdowns co-existed with the war in Iraq and the Great Recession, but the general public was more informed and involved in Spears’ and Lohan’s latest hijinks.

The celebrity gossip industry has surpassed an annual revenue of $3 billion, according to Al Jazeera. The media has caught on to the public desire for juicy gossip and learned that the only way to fuel increasing income is to exploit this desire, giving the public more and more of what it wants and feeding the cycle. Analyzing the meltdowns of celebrities like Spears and Bynes allows the public to be openly cruel, ridiculing these women for their declines into drugs, alcohol, criminal charges and psychiatric diagnoses. But what is even more prevalent in the general conversation is how they look: haircuts, plastic surgery, exaggerated makeup and revealing clothing. These physical changes appear to explain their psychological problems and behavior, allowing the public to assert its belief that these celebrities have “lost it.”

They have become the object of disgust, pity and fascination. As Jill Filipovic writes for The Guardian, “When we’re used to seeing actresses, pop stars and models as part of an assembly line of real-life Barbie dolls, it becomes all the more interesting to see one with go by with her head popped off.” The most recent update on the Bynes scandal is the reveal of her alleged medical condition. Bynes’ doctors told a judge on Aug. 1 that Bynes is being treated for schizophrenia, but it is still currently unclear as to her actual diagnosis.

Does the possibility of severe mental illness absolve her of her mistakes or is it yet another reason to demonize her? Bynes may soon have the option of seeking treatment for her alleged disorders, but how much can her health truly improve when the entire country is obsessed with her instability?

By fetishizing celebrities, the public comes to believe that their lives are our business and we should be free to comment and judge them as we see fit. By scrutinizing their every move, the public and the media strips them of their right to exist as real people. Adezah Aalai of Psychology Today says of Bynes, “Does her celebrity status somehow make her immune from our concern, or does anything a celebrity does become filtered through a perception of performance, even when she doesn’t intend to be on stage or have her behavior exposed and consumed by the masses?” Obsessing over celebrity meltdowns also perpetuates our society’s stigma against mental illness. When the public sees cases of undiagnosed mental illness in its idols, it turns its back on them, insults them and mocks them incessantly and without restraint. People begin to see mental illness as funny, embarrassing and most importantly, something that they are fit to judge.

The mania resulting from these celebrity meltdowns is an abysmal result of the media taking advantage of the public’s desire for slander and scandal. We may say that it’s harmless to mock celebrities, to obsess over their failures, but this “harmless” obsession may cause us to judge normal people by the same insane standards that we judge celebrities.

It is not easy or necessary to defend the actions of celebrities like Bynes, Spears or Lohan, but it is basic human decency to defend their right to privacy.

Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]