Personal Goal: Stop Gorging On Gossip & Irrationally Hating Celebrities
When I first started writing on the internet, I made a conscious decision to think twice before putting words out into the ether about celebrities, because I wanted to avoid making excessively cruel commentary about stars or their bodies. They’re people too, I thought, and the last thing I want is to turn into a bitter bitch typing unfounded speculations about people I don’t know from the comfort of a little office bubble thousands of miles away from them or their lives.
In some ways, snarking on famous people, especially when it came to unproven rumors, seemed just as icky a behavior as talking about a best friend behind her back. I realize that a famous person wouldn’t be aware of or give a damn about any bad words I had to say about them, but it still felt like putting a gross vibe out into the world, especially when it’s very clear that some public figures are significantly emotionally damaged by this stuff. At the time, I felt that while healthy criticism about the movies and art they put out into the world was fair game, their life choices usually were not presented to the world for judgment or profit, so what was the point in pulling those choices apart with a fine-toothed comb?
I have more complicated feelings on this today then I did then My job has me mining the internet all day, staring down a list of headlines about Hollywood royalty’s every last move. Writing about the rich and famous is somewhat part of the job, and it’s a beat I happen to love, but that’s where the line of exactly what I write about those celebs gets fuzzy for me. I still think criticizing a celebrity’s weight is generally an icky thing to do and something I avoid doing myself. When it comes to negative gossip about their lives, however, I regularly waffle back and forth on how much is too much.
See, I have this nasty little habit of judging celebrities as if they’re on a moral pedestal that’s beyond others’. Maybe it’s because their sins are so heavily paraded by the tabloids, maybe it’s because I have a silly tendency to look for signs of hypocrisy in the life of anyone with a decent amount of wealth or power. It’s just so easy. When I talk shit about Kendall Jenner to my coworkers or friends, she’s not there to defend herself or even provide some three-dimensional evidence that she’s a multi-faceted human being with both flaws and redeeming qualities — you know, the actual factors of a personality that make me think twice before writing off a real-life person I care about over one isolated action of theirs that bothered me.
Something I struggle with a lot in my everyday life is finding the line between people’s character and their actions. If a person repeatedly hurts or upsets me, I’m still tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt because I see that while they may have done something bad, they have good intentions. If a person seems like a generally terrible human being, I still have a pretty strong tendency to try to consider things from their side and try to convince myself that even though I don’t like them, they’re probably a decent person somewhere under all that awfulness who will eventually find people who will understand them. I see through people’s bullshit, but I can’t bring myself to write them off entirely, which makes me empathetic in a lot of ways but can also wreak havoc on me emotionally — it’s given loved ones I should have been able to trust easy access for manipulative behavior, and it’s a way for me to allow myself to waste a huge amount of energy.
With celebrities, it’s so much simpler than that, I don’t know them, so there’s no room for nuance, Everything about their public persona is set in stone, in a way. I rarely feel neutral about them — I either love or hate stars, and in my eyes, they’re either horrible people or extremely decent human beings (usually the former). Granted, this isn’t a healthy way to view people on any level, but life would be so much easier if there were fewer grey areas with our loved ones, and if people could just be characterized as “good” or “bad” with nothing in between. It would make the decision of who to trust and who to walk away from so simple. Some part of me seems to latch onto that fantasy and project it onto celebs. I’m the latest it-girl’s biggest supporter until Twitter or the tabloids dig up just one gossip-y tidbit of a sinful move, and then that chick is DEAD to me. I spend more energy disliking her than on people who’ve actually wronged me in my real life.
Irrationally hating celebrities is fun, though! It’s a quick way to bond with someone, and provides a seemingly harmless funnel for all my frustrations about things that, all told, have absolutely nothing to do with Kim Kardashian or her choice to dress her child in all neutrals. It just feels so damn good — orgasmic even, like stealing a secret bite of chocolate cake when you’ve spent the last month on a diet. Trashing celebs almost become second nature because it’s such an easy pick-me-up, and creates a sense of order in my head.
I’m no Hollywood insider, but when I was a college student interning all over New York City, occasionally in the entertainment industry, I witnessed a pretty massive amount of not-quite-A-list but well-known performers sit in waiting rooms as they anticipated their turn to walk into a stuffy room and audition for a chance at their next onscreen role, and the extreme vulnerability I saw in those rooms reminded me that they are just ordinary people who occasionally get caught up in extraordinary circumstances. For a while, my snarking stopped. But in the years since my cruel little vice has lurched back up again whenever I need a target to unload on.
The thing about the “sins” of celebrities is that they’re usually mistakes all of us have made in our lives, and I know this. I don’t consider myself to be a remotely “scandalous” person, but if I woke up a Kardashian tomorrow (HAH), tabloids would surely find something from my past or my social media presence that they could contrive into evidence that I’m a terrible person deserving of public shaming, just as they could with anyone on this planet. Everything we do could be considered controversial on some level, if the right person managed to spin it enough. When a celebrity is caught doing something bad, it just gives me free range to project my frustrations about society onto them and to satisfy some weird need for justice deep within my subconscious that allows me to believe that a person being extremely successful means some kind of trade-off for their decency, as if that somehow makes it “fair.” Typing it out makes me feel just as ridiculous as it probably sounds to read. I’m not too proud of it, but that habit isn’t going away anytime soon.
I’d almost call celebrity-bashing a form of self-preservation, because it allows me to spend at least a few minutes believing in a world that’s free of the messy grey areas that exist in my personal life. I can decide on the spot whether to adore a Kardashian or to essentially give up on them, with no concern for whether they’d have turned out to be worth keeping in my life if I’d been patient enough to forgive just one more misguided betrayal as they learned to be a decent friend or family member. Their sins are aired right out in the open for me to gauge without them buzzing in my ear about all their good intentions or how they’ll be better next time. Every strike against their character, truthful or not, is there in newspapers and gossip blogs in black and white, and the sense of “justice” I indulge in when judging them is just too satisfying to give up.
Should I eventually rise above even this victimless gossip? Sure. Will I try to, even when celeb gossip brings me joy? Actually, yes. But am I going to beat myself up about one more person that I should be giving the benefit of the doubt to, when I am all out of benefits to give? Not anytime soon.
Vice Week is our seven-day exploration of all the indulgences that surely will ruin us sooner than we can imagine. But hey, what a way to go. You can check out all of our Vice Week coverage here.