This is an old piece I wrote for another blog that is defunct, but the message is still wonderfully relevant today (Caitlyn Jenner comes to mind).
“I finally watched the video of Ellen Page coming out as gay. Yes, I know it’s been at least 3 or 4 weeks since it happened but I’ve been reticent as of late to learn about those who are famous. However, watching it helped me to remember something important about celebrities; they are not so dissimilar from other people. Celebrities too have real experiences and the core of what it means to be human is something that none of us can avoid.
The reason this is such a lesson for me is that I have recently taken a dim view of celebrity culture as it pertains to entertainment. I don’t think celebrities are horrible people; it’s just that I think they are people like the rest of us. They have my general respect, but my admiration is earned by actions other than showing up on a television screen.
I see my coworkers devour every piece of celebrity news. These fans know the people, the movies they’ve been in, where they shop, who their kids are, and what they wear. It becomes more than a game, going beyond the fun of “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” This stuff is seemingly their life, and certainly their obsession. Sports fans count in this as well. “Did you see who we traded in the draft?”
The public’s fascination with celebrities has real harm because it is often employed as an escape from reality. Many use immersion and vicarious living as a way to anesthetize themselves to many of the things happening around them. After all, most people don’t want to read about civil unrest, the abuse of corporate and political position, or the myriad of ways in which humans are supposedly ending their existence every day. It can be depressing at times to say the least. It is much easier to retreat from the things that really affect one’s life in order to enjoy some sense of calm and even power that can come from being on the inside track of celebrity life. The reality, cruel as it is though, is that ignoring the ills of the world doesn’t make them go away. The larger that socio-economic issues loom, the more the public’s escapism with celebrities increases—much like an ever escalating arms race.
So, when I read about Ellen Page coming out, I thought, “Who cares, so what if she’s gay? Join the club.” I was busy reading the coming out accounts of people that didn’t have the insular effects that money can bring and who aren’t part of the Hollywood culture that allows for and even revels in this type of admission. I was convinced that these everyday accounts were the stories of legitimate consequence, unlike those from media darlings.
Then I watched the video. I’m not sure how it happened. I didn’t even know who Ellen Page was aside from an actress. Nevertheless, perhaps in a moment of weakness or boredom I clicked on a link to open the video.
It was readily apparent from the beginning that I was watching something of importance. Culture and wealth might change certain aspects of how we feel society’s pressures, but here was a woman bravely laying open an aspect of her identity and hoping for something positive and transformative as a result. As I watched her nervously shake I became anxious for her. It was a humbling and informative experience for me and, as identity issues often do, it brought me to tears. Throughout her address the core message of hope, love and perseverance was ever present. This message rang out and not once did she allow it to be overshadowed by her personal declaration. It was beautiful; every part of it. The experience made me realize that when someone decides to forge their identity through self-revelation that it is important to listen regardless of their social position.
Even after this revelation, I will admit that I still don’t care for celebrity worship, but this reminded me that much of what I see isn’t something that those in the spotlight can always control. A large portion of what they say and do is recorded by photographers and writers who then rush the latest tidbits out to news stations and publications. When I think of the gaffs I have made throughout my life it becomes very apparent that I’m fortunate to be free of such scrutiny.
The truth is, I was right all along: celebrities are just people. However, instead of using this fact to marginalize them as I had done before, I realize that it should be used to recognize the struggles they endure and that they too can contribute something valuable to our lives. The next time I see a celebrity in a vulnerable position or trying to communicate in a meaningful and positive way, it won’t take a moment of weakness to discover their message. I will seek it out willingly and with purpose, hoping to expand upon what I know of the human experience. When this happens, like many of the adventures that play on the big screen, it truly will be something to watch.”