The Media's Obsession With Celebrities: Fame's Negative Side
I am not a celebrity. I am simply a writer with my own ideas, opinions and creative pursuits. Behind my words, you cannot see me, except for a small profile picture in the corner of the screen. If you saw me in the street, you would not recognise me. And even if you did, you wouldn't care. That's how I like it. For the writer is only one side of me. I like to delve into the ethereal world of creativity. It is an intrinsic part of me. I feel a sense of fulfillment when others like my work. But I am also a mother with dependants. I have pets and a house to clean. I like to spend time at the park; the coast; browsing round the shops. Sometimes I feel sociable. Other times, I do not. Everyone is multifaceted. It is how it should be.
I wonder how I would feel, then, if all these other sides of me were no longer private. If, as soon as I stepped outside my door, nothing that I did was really my own. I wonder how it would be if I felt obliged to look and act a certain way, even when accomplishing the most mundane tasks. If every time I made a comment, all the world listened. Just a quick remark, barely thought through, my every word hung upon as though my sentence depicts my soul. Or if I made a mistake; failed at something and all eyes were upon me, watching me fall. What is it like not to be able to bury one's head in a pillow and cringe, then get up the next day and move on? What if you were reminded of your slip up everywhere you went, by those you don't even know - for days or weeks on end? It's not my reality. But for some, it really is.
Invasion into Everyday Life
Our digital age allows us instant access to almost anything we want to know. Coupled with an obsession with celebrity and the idea of fame in general, the media does not hold back when it comes to laying bare the lives of the well-known. Sometimes, it seems that almost anything is used to sell a story - the flux of recent pictures showing the young child of a celebrity couple (recently separated) almost every time she steps outside is surely an unnecessary invasion. Princess Diana was hounded literally until her death by relentless paparazzi way back in 1997. At airports, reporters await the arrival of well-known stars in advance, hoping for a quick shot and a few words. Today's stars are stalked, chased and spied upon. Paparazzi wait outside their homes for hours on end, hoping for a moment of communication. It's all about tomorrow's papers; the next big scoop. It's all about the money.
Celebrities with a very high profile commonly find it difficult to lead 'normal' lives. Aside from inquistive, autograph-hunting fans who pop up at every opportunity, the celebrity has to deal with photographers who take snaps of them eating, shopping, playing with their children and sunbathing round the pool on holiday. The most ordinary aspects of family life, those little things we all like to do without any fuss and interference, are suddenly deemed interesting enough for the whole world to read about. But how would you feel if you couldn't go to the park without it ending up in a newspaper? If every time your child had a tantrum in public, the way in which you dealt with it became breakfast-time reading? What about if you wore a bikini on the beach, only for someone to zoom in and publish pictures of your cellulite the next day? Or if you had an argument, perhaps little more than a minor disagreement, and 24 hours later the entire nation knew - and the whole story had been blown epically out of proportion and the state of your marriage judged?
And it isn't only the paparazzi. Modern technology allows anyone who happens to be around to snap a celebrity going about their everyday life - mobile phones with built-in cameras means that photographs and even videos are easily obtained, even for the unprepared. What's more, social media like Facebook and YouTube means that the whole world can view it, whether published in a newspaper or not. Today, anyone can be a reporter or photographer. Anyone can set up a website. It is the age of the amateur. The internet means that everyone has readers, and if the material is deemed interesting enough, it will go viral very quickly. Of course, all this puts more pressure on the celebrity that tries to exist in the 'real' world.
Even worse, are the methods that have been used to invade lives still further. Not content with the usual boundaries, News of the World was investigated in a high profile court case after many celebrities claimed to have had their phones hacked into. Going back to 2006, very personal voicemails were unknowingly listened to, and the information obtained was published for all the world to read about. Not only did this invasion (illegal, by all accounts) violate the privacy of high profile personalities like never before, it even intruded upon those suffering deep personal distress. Among the victims were the traumatised parents of missing daughter Madeleine McCann and the phone of murdered schoolgirl of Milly Dowler. It is hard to imagine how reporters could stoop so low to sell a story. Also affected were celebrities including Charlotte Church, Hugh Grant, JK Rowling, Sienna Miller, publicist Max Clifford and a string of politicians. Whilst victims might have been compensated in court, it goes to show that sometimes, the media shows no mercy and recognises no boundaries when it comes to printing facts to sell headlines.
The Longevity of the Internet, Speculation and Lies
While yesterday's papers might end up as fish and chip wrapping, the internet holds onto its stories with an iron grip. Scandals and opinions are not erased to make way for tomorrow's news - they simply take a backseat, ready to be ressurected whenever the right phrase is entered into the search engine. It's a permanent, digital footprint. Uncompromising stories, whether accurate or not, can return at the touch of a button to haunt the celebrity. There is no escaping it - today's artists and personalities have to develop ever-thicker skins, if they hope to stay the course. Not only that, but some stories which end up in print have no truth in them whatsoever - an event which can sometimes leave a celebrity quite distressed and considering legal action.
Speculated infidelities, even when not true, can put strain on a partnership - especially when a couple spends a lot of time apart due to work commitments. A scandal like this can challenge the trust between even the strongest couples - after all, how would you feel after reading rumours that your significant other was cavorting with somebody else while you were working hundreds of miles away? And what about if it happened again and again, yet you were assured that there was no truth in it? It would take a very strong couple not to even wonder - and don't forget that the children of celebrity couples use the internet too, which could have a potentially destabilising effect. Yet, while some speculated infidelities obviously turn out to be true, others are simply the result of a celebrity caught in innocent banter or companionship. Still others turn out to complete lies, fabricated by fame-seeking wannabes who sell made-up stories to the press in order to create exposure for themselves - and, of course, to obtain money.
The media often likes to speculate in order to get a story out. Celebrities have been reported as suffering from illness; addiction to substances, excessive weight loss and eating disorders, without any concrete information. Occasionally, celebrities have even been reported as dying or close to death - when the real facts simply aren't there. This, of course, is aside from the hoax scandals circulated on the internet by callous members of the public who start false rumours via social media that a celebrity has died.
Nowadays, the internet allows readers to go one step further, offering the opportunity to comment at the foot of almost all articles. Comments by anonymous members of the public are often unmoderated and have few boundaries. Sometimes, readers leave supportive messages. At other times, the comments are cruel and personal, penned by ignorant members of the public who have no clue of the true situation. Even the children of celebrities have been attacked in the comments section of articles. Some people act as though a person's public success is an invitation to dissect every aspect of their being. Comments are nearly always based on speculation, because articles, whether in print or online, are rarely unbiased - and readers who have a lot to say generally have no accurate knowledge of the celebrity or the situation. They don't know the person behind the story and they do zero research - yet they have a lot of uncensored opinions. Even paparazzi photographs can be misleading - it is not uncommon for the same picture to adorn several articles, leading to a photo taken in one situation to become associated with a report focussed on another occasion entirely.
Photos and Quotes - A Split Second in Someone's Life
The danger is that a picture depicts a split second, a mere moment in someone's life. The camera might not lie, but neither does it tell the full story. A bad moment does not always make a terrible day; a single sentence is often taken out of context by someone who simply wants to sell a headline. Even negative comments made by a celebrity are part of a wider conversation, the rest of which is not printed by the press. Hence, the quote is misinterpreted by readers who have not been given the bigger picture. Humdrum situations don't make much of an impact; dramatic insinuations and falls from grace turn heads. Somehow, the suggestion that we 'own' our celebrities arose. We love to gossip and to point the finger. We love to pass judgement and point out the faults of the famous. Too often, we put our celebrities up on a pedestal, then bring them tumbling down. Of course, not everyone adheres to this philosophy. But it is enough to cause effect, leaving paparazzi clambering to capture any shot of a celebrity acting less than perfect.
Of course, though avoiding prejudice has always been an issue in the media, some stories really are, for the most part, true. Many a celebrity has suffered addiction problems, for example, only to have their worst moments plastered across print and online newspapers and magazines for all to see. Let's ask ourselves, is this acceptable, as long as all the facts are right? Should another person's struggle entertain us over our morning coffee? How easy is it for a person to overcome difficulties in life if the whole world seems to be gossiping and pointing the finger? One fact is almost certain - publishing negative stories is very likely to influence the perception of the public towards the celebrity. And that, in itself, can compound the very struggle they were fighting.
Most of us get to work through our problems in relative anonymity. But what about if that luxury was taken away from us? The whole world gossiping over our downfall would surely chip away at our self-esteem. In some cases, media reports could be a reality check for a celebrity in denial, even propelling them into action. However, it also heaps added pressure onto an already difficult situation. The truth is, most of us want to be liked, even the famous. Maybe we could say, especially the famous. Those who reach the top usually take an ambitious, driven path to get there - because they want to be heard and they hope their hard work will receive positive reviews.
Talented and artistic people in the public eye often give from the very centre of their beings. They give a little bit more of themselves than most people do, to entertain and move those who come to see them. In order to create great music or portray a character in a believable manner, an artist may reach deep inside themselves to bring forth emotions and feelings - sometimes, based upon their own personal experiences. This can create a rather vulnerable situation, whereby the artist's self-esteem is knocked when their emotive efforts are accompanied by bad press. Media reviews can be very unforgiving, slamming down work that an artist has spent months working on. People involved in artistic pursuits are usually their own worst critics - they strive to better what they have already achieved. At the very least, they must live up to what they have already done. Therefore, it surely puts pressure on the artist when they are suddenly panned by the media, especially if it is ongoing.
A celebrity, even when surrounded by an entourage of supporters, can sometimes feel more alone than may be apparent. It might look as though famous people live in blissful luxury, day in day out. But a high profile celebrity has to face the problems of hangers-on - and, worse still, 'friends' who sell them out.
The media loves juicy gossip from the inside - and what better way to get it than to pay handsomely those that are really in the know. Friends, distant or estranged relatives, ex partners, business associates, even a past hairdresser - all could potentially be persuaded to part with private information in return for a nice cheque. Therefore, it is more difficult for a celebrity to form true relationships than it is for the unknown - because the issue of loyalty and trust will always lurk somewhere.
A Celebrity's Past
Celebrities do not have only the present to worry about - sometimes, the past returns to haunt them like an old, forgotten ghost. Compromising photos and stories that occurred long before a celebrity found fame, when they were young and naïve, can return out of the blue and land up in national newspapers. Sometimes, they can taint the image of the celebrity, especially if they challenge the image the public have come to associate with them. The resurrected news usual arrives in the form of old friends or associates 'selling out' the celebrity in return for a nice sum of money - and the media, always on the search for juicy gossip, laps it up. The media does not care whether the resurfacing story damages the reputation of the celebrity - all it really cares about is money. To those in the industry, a celebrity becomes a 'business', and the human aspect is forgotten.
Tabloid reporters hate nothing more than not having anything to write about - and sometimes they create tension, seemingly out of nowhere. Celebrities that don't get along make for much more interesting reading that the ones that act like the best of friends. Sometimes, the media sees competition between stars that have never even met - and a story of resentment and dislike builds out of nothing. Sometimes, a simple comment in an interview is taken completely out of context and moulded to the benefit of the reporter. The reading public, assuming that what they ingest is true, goes along with it and thus, a situation with little basis for truth is born. Gossip, once started, takes a strong hold and is difficult to extinguish.
The Power of the Media in Shaping Public Perception
The truth is that the our media has a lot of power - perhaps more power than many celebrities give it credit for when they start out on their path of fame. Those who make the break in their chosen field arrive there because they have a certain 'something', a talent that sets them apart from the rest. However, when a rising star catches the eyes of the public, it is only a very small matter of time before curious fans want to know a bit more. They want to know what this person is really like; what they do in their spare time; what makes them tick, who they are married to. And the media plays a huge part in painting a picture of the celebrity, creating an image that we, the readers and listeners, will either warm to or not. The media will show whatever side of a celebrity it chooses to, with scant regard for the feelings of the individual. Thus, the persona portrayed in newspapers and magazines may not resemble the 'real' celebrity at all - or even if it does, only one side of them. If you view a celebrity who has a bad day and snaps at someone, does this mean they are essentially a negative person? Everyone has moments that are less than perfect, but if we are given too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good, then the balance is tipped the wrong way.
Of course, not all celebrities court a lot of bad press. Some may seem as though they are the nation's 'sweethearts'; that they can do no wrong. Just as the media can be responsible, in part, for the downfall of a celebrity, it can also help them rise to the top. Good exposure assists the careers of those in the public eye by drawing interest and building a positive image. However, it is always possible for the tables to turn, and this is something that the celebrity has to live with. The same machine that helped a celebrity rise to the top can just as easily be a part of their downfall. After all, when it comes to the tabloid press, a celebrity is only ever a tool to bring readers and thus generate revenue. Music artists, actors - too often, they are only as good as their last project. Too many bad choices, whether in a career or personal life, can eclipse past triumphs - but the way the media choose to report the information (sympathetically or callously) can go a long way into influencing how it is received.
The strong power of the media in shaping the public's perception can sometimes leave a celebrity feeling misrepresented. They may feel as though the image created for them, and presented to the public, is not who they really are at all. Perhaps a talented performer, giving their all effortlessly on the stage, finds it harder to open up during interviews. This may be misjudged as 'frosty' or 'unfriendly'. Perhaps another is portrayed as extrovert and wild, even arrogant - because the media only sees the face the celebrity puts on as part of a performance, and not the reflective, quiet side they exhibit at home. And even if the image the media portrays is positive and welcome, a celebrity may then feel obliged to live up to that image at all times - which can leave them with a kind of 'identity' crisis and even more pressured.
Part of the Job..
Some people will say that it is part of the job; that successful people in the public eye sign up for a certain degree of attention from the public. Of course, that is true. In fact, it is inevitable. But if you had a talent and a passion for something that existed deep within your soul, wouldn't you want the chance to pursue your dream if it was made possible? For those celebrities who pursue a real passion, as opposed to the experience of fame for fame's sake, then dealing with the fallout of sudden fame can be difficult. The intrusion of the media, although helpful in escalating the careers of those starting out, can be overwhelming. Not everyone who becomes well-known is confident and extrovert - many can be naturally shy and reserved when not performing.
Supply and Demand
Of course, the media's obsession with scrutinising every aspect of a celebrity's life would not exist without the demand for such information. We have become a society obsessed with fame - not everyone is interested, but a significant enough proportion of the public dutifully allows the scrutiny to continue with a passion for all things celebrity related. Searches about celebrities are hugely popular on the internet. Glossy magazines full of snaps, sightings and gossip fly off the shelves of newsagents every week. Pictures of celebrities walking, shopping, committing fashion faux pas, getting drunk, looking grumpy, tired or miserable - they all grace the pages of newspapers, magazines and online websites every single day. They satisfy our need to know as much as possible about the ordinary, daily lives of the famous. The work they produce is not enough. We want to feel as though we know these people. At least, many of us do.
So often, people view the lives of celebrities with envy, without recognising, or understanding, the enormous levels of pressure they have to learn to contend with. Young people in particular have become fixated on the idea of fame for fame's sake. Too many see only a lavish lifestyle, without the hard work and drive it took to get there. They see the 'glamour' - the red carpets, nice clothes and adulation - and, of course, the extensive media exposure - but they don't see the hard slog. They don't see the laborious hours a celebrity must put in to achieve success. And they don't see the sacrifices made when it comes to the privacy of themselves and their families, or the downside of a high-profile existence.