Thursday, August 8, 2013

Laughing at the stuggles of celebrities and marginalizing those who aren't

I'm just a bit disgusted. I really hate how we as a society love to make a joke out of the personal problems of celebrities. Currently, it's Amanda Bynes. I don't follow celebrity gossip, so I don't really know all what's going on, but apparently she's having problems with drug abuse, somewhat like Lindsay Lohan before her. I was just sitting here trying to work this last Friday and the radio DJ decides to play some clip that makes fun of Bynes' struggles. This clip was essentially a satire of advertisements for charitable organizations for helping people in need. The joke is that Bynes is not in need because she's a rich celebrity. I fail to find it funny, though. Here are probably my biggest two issues with such satire:
  • Incidents like this could be used to instead have serious discussions. What particularly comes to my mind is the conservative/libertarian fairy tale that poor people are just lazy (and probably do a lot of drugs) and if they'd just take some responsibility, they'd magically have better lives. Cases like this work as a bit of a counter-narrative, showing that irresponsible people can be wealthy. (Though, those who believe in the myth would likely point out that Bynes' career is going to suffer from all of this. They would be correct, so any conversation would have to focus on a point that the real world isn't as simplistic as conservatives/libertarians make it out to be.)
  • What bothers me most, though, is that such satire marginalizes people. Actually, this can be broken up into further sub-bullets.
    • I think in such a satirist clip is a criticism of culture. I'm going to start with a different example to explain what I mean. Back not so long ago, I was checking out on YouTube Five Finger Death Punch's video for their new song, "Lift Me Up." In the comments, someone said something about the song being awesome and how they can't understand how such music isn't as popular as Psy's "Gangnam Style." Except...they didn't call the song out by name but rather as a song by a fat Asian. Alright, I can understand and sympathize with not totally getting why such music is so popular. But what the fuck does Psy's weight have to do with anything! It reminds me a bit of a phrase I used to hear a lot a decade or so ago: "Don't hate the player. Hate the game!" And that really seems to be what they hate, with "the game" being analogous with what music is popular in culture. But "the game" can't be marginalized because it is not a person. The player, however is and thus can be.

      I suspect something quite similar is going on in the minds of whoever produced this clip on Bynes. They're really trying to make a critique of culture that props up people as celebrity that don't necessarily deserve such a status. It's a point to which I generally agree; in fact, I do find celebrity worship rather stupid and occasionally dangerous (like when a celebrity endorses a harmful product or idea). So when a celebrity struggles with life, these critics use that celebrity's struggles to attempt to make a point. The problem is with how the criticism is made. Essentially, these points are made without recognizing the celebrity as being a human being but instead treating the celebrity as an object in which to use to score points. There is no concern for the state of Amanda Bynes in this clip. In fact, there was the opposite as it mentioned her having "$4 million in her savings account" or something to that effect. In other words, you are not to feel at all sorry for her. Bynes is simply the latest object to use to make points against pop culture. Before her it has been Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan.

      And now I realize I made a mistake (which I could remove, but will leave in to show the development of my thoughts). These are not the players; these people are the balls. The game is still the same, but the players, I now realize, are members of society. On one team are those who embrace pop culture and on the other are those who do not. The idols of pop culture, then, are the game balls.
    • Worse than marginalizing celebrities, though, is the marginalizing of "common folk." I don't have any statistics handy, but it should not be a point up for debate that many people struggle with drug abuse or various psychological problems. When you make fun of a celebrity for struggling with such issues, you are essentially making fun of all people with such issues. This is because you are often making fun of the celebrity through their behavior that results from their struggles. Those behaviors are not limited to the celebrity. A drunk celebrity, for example, can go into a stupor just as much as someone who is not a celebrity. Drugs, alcohol, and whatnot don't have some special effects on celebrities that they don't on other people. If a person struggling with alcohol abuse sees you making fun of a celebrity going into a drunken stupor, what might they think? Is it unreasonable to suggest they might suggest that you would also make fun of them for their drunken stupors??? On that, another point that should not be up for debate is that laughing at people with such problems in no way helps them and may make things worse.

      The most common, seemingly legitimate defense I would suspect is something along the lines of, "Oh, but I only intended to make fun of Bynes!" Yeah, well, the road to hell (if there were such a place) is paved with good intentions. Not to mention that making fun of people is never a good intention...but I digress! The point I need to make here is that your intentions don't matter; it is how others interpret your message that matters.

      Other "defenses" may be to suggest that these people "develop a sense of humor" or "grow thinker skin." Yeah, well, you could stop being an asshole, too! These are examples of what I am starting to call "shifting the burden of responsibility." It's asking others to change their attitudes so that you may maintain yours. It's dishonest.
Now, I need to be clear that I don't think that people who laugh at the woes of celebrities are automatically assholes. Often, I doubt people think through the consequences of their actions. And that's what this post is really about. Such jokes can actually be quite harmful. You might be able to get a laugh out of them, but realize that not everyone does. Raciest jokes work much the same. They can be funny to many people, but often not to the group of people being marginalized. I hope we're moving toward a society that calls people out when they make a raciest joke. Let's now also start moving toward a society that calls people out when they make a joke marginalizing those with personal struggles. That is all I ask.

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