Tuesday, September 09, 2014

This Town Deserves a Better Class of Celebrity... Apologetica Celebritatus

Apology accepted, Kanye.
There is a lot to be made of our relationship with the concept of celebrity. In a lot of ways, this
relationship has become a cultural barometer, and the current forecast is slightly hazy with a seventy percent chance of bullshit.

In a recent example of the current climate, one Jason Biggs (you know, the pie-fucker), was slammed by a bunch of… bored assholes (I guess?) for a comment he made on Twitter about the recent Malaysia airlines crashes and/or acts of aggression. The first reaction for many people was probably the obligatory jokes about Biggs’ current level of popularity in comparison to the AMERICAN PIE days, followed by jokes about various articles of food that he’s probably fucking these days, followed by making up culinary-inspired titles of porn movies in which Jason Biggs could conceivably star (PIGS IN A BLANKET, PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME, DONUT HOLES, DONUT HOLES 2: BOSTON CREAM, TEA BAGGIN') followed by resurfacing memories of Shannon Elizabeth topless, followed by a hurried, late-night Internet search for her playboy spread when you’re sure the wife and kids are soundly asleep, followed by a relaxing 3 a.m. shit, followed by a few episodes of Breaking Bad, followed by calling in sick for work, and finally followed by--for some people--righteous indignation.

The offending Tweet went a little something like this:

"Anyone wanna buy my Malaysian Airlines frequent flier miles?"

He later apologized via a series of tweets, starting off thusly:

"Hey all- ok, so- I am deleting my previous tweets. People were offended, and that was not my intent. Sorry to those of you that were."

This is eerily reminiscent of another recent incident during which celebrated comedian and wolf of Wall Street Jonah Hill got pissed off at a member of the paparazzi and called him a "faggot" and told him to "suck my dick" in the heat of the moment. Hill also set about apologizing for his words and deeds. At first blush, the Hill Incident doesn't seem that newsworthy (the Biggs Incident even less so) when compared to issues of economic inequality or growing rumblings from beyond the far side of the tattered shards of the old Iron Curtain. It all seemed pretty innocuous; a person is (probably intentionally) provoked to anger by a member of the paparazzi, a sub-culture that seems intent on lowering whatever bar they can get their greasy hands on, and responds with an off-the-cuff remark intending to dissuade the offending party and express his extreme displeasure over the situation. Again, this incident led to profuse apologies on the part of Hill online, on late night talk shows, and anywhere else where it was deemed necessary by his publicist.

Ricky Gervais, on an Opie and Anthony podcast featuring Gervais, touches on the idea of holding celebrities accountable for every little thing they say and the relative value of information related to famous people. Gervais kind of bemoans the fact that there seems to be a direct and proportional relationship between fame and the level and scope of scrutiny that fame seems to elicit. The point he makes is that there appears to develop some deep sense of ownership over celebrities by the general fandom that he feels is unjust in some way. Of this mentality, Gervais sums up the general feeling when he says that "we [the general public] voted you in rich and famous. We're your boss."  This is actually a telling statement both on the part of Gervais and our culture as a whole, though what he said in irony, I'm going to take literally.

Gervais is an incredibly talented dude and one of the all-time funniest men in recorded history, but I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with him slightly on this one. Sorry, Rick. There are some celebrities who are down to earth and seem to have been able to hang onto that sort of everyman mentality to a great degree, but the thing to remember with Gervais is that, although he does appear to be a pretty grounded, pretty genuine person, he is also a celebrity and so his bias in this case can’t help but skew his opinion.

I don't say anything applicable to the current situation, guy.
The fact that Gervais dismisses the notion that anything is owed by celebrities to the common people is symptomatic of the breakdown in dialogue and the growing divide between the famous and the not-so-famous. The allegory to the democratic ideal is an apt one; celebrities are voted into office in much the same way as politicians are, namely though the application of large sums of money. Celebrities are elected to be our cultural representatives. And just like politicians, it's not a right, it's not a privilege, and it's not a goddamned career. It's a responsibility. A responsibility that comes with it's fair share of perks (like making love to tons of naked ladies, guy), but a responsibility nonetheless.

One of the problems is how fame is treated and perceived on a day-to-day basis. Thanks in large part to the perpetuation of some utterly irresponsible cultural expectations, being a celebrity is seen as roughly analogous to winning the lottery. It's a positive twist of fate that has bestowed this fortune (and accompanying naked ladies) upon the lucky recipient with no (bikini) strings attached and a licence for hedonism on an epic scale. It's quite telling when Gervais goes on to say that being a celebrity in this day and age it seems like "you've got to be grateful and apologetic all the time." Well, fuck yeah you should be grateful all time. As a celebrity in this postmodern culture, We The People have bestowed upon you a great deal of power, which is all too often squandered like a Greek god on a bad acid trip.

The other part of the equation that Gervais brings up is the issue of hyper-apologization that seems to plague the ranks of celebrities (another parallel to their political counterparts). Should celebrities be "apologetic all the time?" Well, the first gut response is that no, celebrities shouldn't be apologetic all the time because they should stop doing shit that they need to apologize for in the first place. This may seem kind of facetious (well, your mom is kind of facetious, dickwad), but it ties in with my earlier assertion about how the concept of celebrity is constructed vis a vis the Responsibility VS Windfall paradigm.

It's gotten to the point that the term "celebrity apology" has lost all fucking meaning. Should celebrities like Jason Biggs and Jonah Hill be apologizing for such seemingly trivial things that would be quickly overlooked and forgotten if attributed to less famous individuals? Probably not. It's become an empty gesture anyway, because now it's become such a common phenomenon that it borders on the absurd, and even the most stubborn idealist is giving way to the staunch tenets of cynicism. Apologies are seemingly increasingly being used as a cultural Get Out of Jail Free Card, where an apparently sincere apology for whatever depraved shit you've just copped to is supposed to earn you more street cred than if you'd actually stopped and thought things through in the first place. When taking responsibility after the fact garners more social capital than carefully applied forethought of the consequences, you know for a fact that something is fucking wrong.

Biggs and Hill and others like them should be apologizing, but not for whatever indiscretion they're being accused of. They should be apologizing for abusing the vast amount of power and influence that has been bestowed upon them by their fellow citizens. Guys like these who have been in the game a long time--especially Hill, who seems by all accounts to be an incredibly perceptive guy--should fucking know better. It's not the fact that they may have violated social norms so much as the fact that they may have violated these social norms in front of a much, much larger audience and with much, much greater influence than some regular Joe Dirt walking down the street. Like it or not, in a position of power and authority other people look up to you and follow your lead. The scary part is that my six-year-old daughter seems to have a better grasp of the responsibility of serving as a role model for her younger brother than most celebrities do for their potential audience, and my daughter still thinks that the "Everything is Awesome" song from THE LEGO MOVIE is the "best thing she's ever heard."  (It is pretty cool, but still.)

This does not excuse the Legions of the Damned who are increasingly succumbing to the intoxicating effects of deriving pleasure from the misery of others. There is a growing movement gaining a disturbing level of momentum based solely on ferreting out the minutia of other people's lives and feasting on the distilled Essence of Schadenfreude that results from using any salacious tidbits to squeeze any ounce of suffering and despair from those aforementioned individuals. Even worse than the immediate consequences, it perpetuates a negative feedback loop that sends people spiraling towards the lowest expectations that they can find. As with all gods, our growing pantheon of The Fallen is of our own making.

Damn you paparazzo!
Responsibility is a reciprocal process. On the one hand, you have a culture that fosters this hyper-obsession with celebrity. This is perpetuated by the paparazzi and various forms of pseudo-journalists looking for something sensationalist that’s going to sell along with the proliferation of various digital media that allows for the (potential) near-instant dissemination of information. Unfortunately, the trade-off for such a quick revolution is that the typical social filters and checks and balances that typically evolve alongside communications media have lagged far behind. Slow and steady, in this case, does not win the race. In fact, it’s kind of fucking up the entire competition altogether.

On the other hand, you have a group of individuals whose contribution to society has been valued (and in a lot of cases over-valued) so highly that they are elevated almost to the position of demi-gods. People reach a certain level of fame but don't necessarily consider the larger implications at play. The thing is, reaching a certain cultural threshold can do funny things to the human brain, and there have been studies done about this. It’s hard not to develop a sense of entitlement and a skewed world perspective when you have at least a close circle of friends telling you how fucking awesome you are and an entire social system elevating your individual importance through the stratosphere.

Far be it for me to tell celebrities their business… whatever that may be, but there is a trade-off for fame. Now, my perspective is kind of skewed because I’m not that, or at all, famous; however, I’m going to make a ruling on behalf of the Common Man. Particularly in certain industries where celebrity status is more of a possibility than in others, in this day and age nobody is going in blindly. You know for a guaranteed fact that, success or failure, if you’re starring in a Michael Bay Transformers film, for example, that you’re going to be fucking catapulted front and centre into the public consciousness. And like any action, there are consequences both positive and negative that accompany it.

First off, as a celebrity, the cost is going to be some portion of your humanity. By that I mean when you reach a certain level, your brand becomes a part of the cultural lexicon and the Person, by necessity, must in some way give in to the Iconography. A celebrity is really a being composed of two parts: a person and the culturally significant meaning or meanings that that person comes to represent or be associated with. Part of the issue is that the border between those two territories can get blurry, and those two parts are never truly distinct. How we relate to each other as human beings depends upon shared social meanings, and in our culture a large part of those meanings are transmitted through the language of celebrity.

For the Common Man without the proper understanding, education, or basic computing power, the distinction between the Person and the Icon can become even more blurry and distorted. Once you reach various levels of fame, you do give up (or sometimes have taken from you) some level of autonomous personhood and some right not to be objectified. I don't mean that they should lose basic human rights to which we are all entitled by virtue of belonging to the club of sapient beings. But when you cross a certain threshold of celebrity status, your cultural significance on a wide scale supersedes certain individual social concerns.

Celebrities are right about one thing: they are, indeed, subject to a different set of rules than other subcultures. They are given greater authority which must be balanced out with an equal or greater level of responsibility. Consequence-free power has been the calling card of every corrupt despot in history, and increasing numbers of the rich and famous seem to be entering the fray, clamoring to establish their own fiefdoms. Though complex in its application, it all boils down to a simple social equation: the level of accountability rises in proportion to the level of public exposure and accompanying range of influence. I believe people who get to a certain level whether through hard work or happenstance deserve to reap the benefits; however, I also believe that they should--indeed, must--be held to a higher level of accountability not just for their own sake but for the sake of us all.

I don't want to hear any more apologies from celebrities for doing stupid shit that one would normally associate with high school students. And conversely, I can't fucking stand the current trend in media trying to manufacture the next scandal, because feeding off of other people's misery is not equivalent to holding people accountable. What needs to happen is for all of us to take a good long look in the mirror and ask ourselves: What would Chuck Norris do?     

My Ode to Jason Biggs
(And His Perceived Propensity for Fucking Food)
In the Form of Potential Porno Titles

Cucumber Manwiches
Banana Hammock
Juicy, Ripe Melons
Salad Tossin'
Hot Cross Buns
The Return of the Cherry Popper
Cookie Dough Wad
The Tenderloin Chronicles
Rump Roast
Creamed Corn
Roasted Peanuts
Icy Cold Milk Jugs
Shove it in Your Pie Hole
Tuna Taco Tuesday
Popsicle Pete: The Iceman Cumeth
The Lollipop Guild
Extra Virgin Olive Oil


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