Los Angeles, 2012. In this town, so many people have to be careful what they say. They have to be careful about what they do and where they go. Privacy is at an all-time low and sometimes, by association, you could end up on some shutterbug’s camera and in the tabloids. That happened to me. No one claimed I did anything, but rather, the story was about the person standing next to me. Below is a screen-grab from a scrolling graphic that appeared on the tabloid show “The Insider” a couple years ago. That’s me in the white shirt.
Popping up in the media here and there is fun, but the appeal quickly vanishes when people become interested in everything you do. I know this because I work with famous people. Some of them are withdrawn in their personal lives, while some of them will walk around the outdoor mall/tourist hotspot The Grove in L.A., wearing a hat that advertises the show they star on. When that happens, it’s because they genuinely enjoy people and crave the adoration. That’s a lot different than trying to find appreciation for paparazzi outside your house, trying to take a picture through your kitchen window at 3 AM.
With a little research, you can probably figure out who was next to me in the above photo. She wasn't happy at all about the photog staked out across the street. The hat she held in front of her face is mine, and we could hear the loud, quick snaps of the camera shutter from all the way across the street. This was just one isolated incident.
Right now, at this moment, the same scene is playing out in various parts of this city. With that in mind, I have to wonder: to what degree does the overexposure of celebrities, and the display of who they really are, cause them to lose their mystique and appeal? I doubt the answer is something that can be quantified. But now that technology has given celebrities a voice other than a scripted one on television, exposure, for some of them, has clearly become a problem. In 2009, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined by the NBA over a Twitter post, and Courtney Love has been sued over them. Former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was busted for linking to a picture of his, well, namesake, and athletes were booted from this year’s Olympic teams over their tweets. These are all instances of public figures showing poor judgment in 140 characters or less.
Back in the day, most things were hearsay. There was no “citizen journalism.” There were no smartphones, and it was rare for people to even own a camera. Back then – a century ago – Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper provided Hollywood gossip to the masses via newspaper and then radio. In the years since, unauthorized biographies of people and music groups (like Led Zeppelin’s “Hammer of the Gods”) have made society collectively gasp and ask “Is that true? It can’t be!” But now we know with much greater certainty that many celebrities are just so detached from reality. They prove it by their actions and careless words. Don’t get me wrong – some are extremely smart, as are the ones I know, fortunately. But others…. We’ve all seen and heard those characters from “The Jersey Shore" and also people like Jessica Simpson, Kanye West, Britney Spears, Spencer Pratt, and Sarah Palin. Some people are immensely talented at their craft and know how to sell themselves, but they know little else.
Earlier this year, Spike Lee tweeted what he believed to be the address of George Zimmerman, prior to Zimmerman’s arrest for shooting an unarmed, black teen in Florida. Many people questioned the motive of Lee’s tweet (mob justice?), and the address ended up being incorrect and was that of an elderly couple.
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried also caused a stir when, after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, he began posting a flurry of jokes to his Twitter account. Among them: “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, “They’ll (sic) be another one floating by any minute now.” Gottfried was promptly fired from his gig as the voice of the duck on the Aflac commercials.
Another outspoken celebrity, who is no stranger to controversy, is Ashton Kutcher. His “brownface” Popchips commercial caused a stir, as did the time he provided a PSA-type Twitter post about human trafficking, citing debatable statistics. What really caused an uproar, though, was his disagreement over Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s firing for his knowledge of child sex abuse involving one of Paterno’s assistants. Kutcher claimed he didn’t know details as to why Paterno was fired and apologized. In what was probably a wise move, Kutcher then turned over control of his Twitter feed to his production/media company in 2011.
On the other side of things, the media’s interest is ratings-driven. Thus, they have a tendency to bring out the worst in those people we expect the worst from. Just pay a little attention to the magazine racks in the checkout line at the grocery for a convenient reminder. So with celebrities constantly being under scrutiny, it makes sense to “think before you speak.” Sometimes you never know who is watching.... or recording. Technology has allowed us to have greater insight (which is both good and bad) into the minds of people like Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Bale.
I grew up thinking most celebrities had their acts together… that’s how they got famous, through talent and intelligence. Now it seems that it’s more a matter of drive and luck – no intelligence (and sometimes talent) necessarily needed. Thanks a lot, reality TV! So I’ve got to give props to the stars that seem to be less impulsive and generally steer clear of stirring up controversy that can jeopardize their careers: Steve Martin, Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Meryl Streep...
Technology has ultimately bridged the gap between celebrities and Joe Schmos. You and I can send messages directly to our favorite actors and actresses directly on Twitter. Not that they will necessarily respond, but the medium has made such people more accessible. Twitter – it’s kind of a like a giant high school, with a quantifiable measure of popularity. But hey, we are all in this high school together. Never has it been more understandable to hear this being said: Celebrities are people, too.
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