Every so often there comes along a moment in pop culture that shocks us and get us all talking. Not every week, sometimes not even once a year but every two or three years a celebrity will die, or act outrageously and we will all be blogging and tweeting about it for days.
Certainly when someone acts in a way without inhibition and provocatively we want to talk about it, but why? Why do the actions of someone who we’ve never met, are never likely to meet and whose actions don’t have any direct implications for our own lives, get us so riled up?
Now as I am sure many of you reading this have guessed I am describing something that happened very recently and very publicly but I am not going to reference that person. I am not going to name the person even though we all know who I am talking about.
Why? Why not just name and shame?
Well there are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it can be one thing to be genuinely concerned by someone’s actions and another to exploit them. So even if we are right as we often think in situations like this; that the people in question are troubled or searching and lost or whatever, then surely the best action would not be to use that as a way of boosting our online views or our traffic.
This is why I have not named the person in this blog or in anyway given a clue to what this post is about in the title, because I do not know the person, I probably never will and my voice of judgement wouldn’t help them in anyway, shape or form.
Which leads me into the second reason I haven’t named them.
That it distracts us from the real issue at hand. Why we are so interested.
And I think it is because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
It’s so easy to judge someone and in the words of Homer Simpson, fun too. But in reality it’s not that we are all really outraged or disgusted but because we can sit nicely in coffee shops, blog our disgust and be glad that we’re not like that, or our kids aren’t like that.
A few days ago Ben Affleck was being condemned all over the internet for being the new Batman. Now here is where our apparent logic of why we judge those in the public eye breaks down completely. A celebrity shocks the world with their actions and instantly it distracts us from another celebrity who outraged us by doing absolutely nothing.
Before Ben Affleck had a chance to get fitted for the Batsuit everyone was judging him for something which hadn’t even happened. We’re all fighting each other to have our self worth validated and the easiest way to do that is to feel better about ourselves compared to others. We like to judge those who are in the public eye and if they give us a reason to do so all the better. But really, as can be seen in the case of Ben Affleck, we don’t need one.
If we can turn the attention onto someone else it means we don’t have to address the own issues we all have. And we all do have them. Sure, maybe we aren’t all movie stars or pop stars but just because our lives aren’t lived out in the public eye doesn’t mean we can take the moral high ground.
All this is not to say that parents or youth workers should not be concerned. This is not to say that celebrities can do whatever the heck they like. It’s not to say that sometimes they act in ways that are damaging to themselves or to the people around them, but it is a warning to us to stop pretending that just because ours aren’t exposed for the world to see, they aren’t just as damaging.
I’ve read open letters from parents to their children based on the incident in question which have acted as warnings to not let their lives spiral out of control. In all honesty these have depressed me rather than giving me hope. They’ve done that in the way they see no hope for the person in question. That someones life can be seen as good as over despite their young age and talent. There has been a tone of hopelessness in many of these responses and I don’t believe that is the case.
Actually in some ways it’s much better to be in the public eye and have things blow up publicly as now this means there is nothing to hide. This can be the place where there is more hope than anywhere. I can sit and judge everyone around me but if I am continuing to live in ways that are hurting myself and more subtly than other people, I am only falling victim to myself.
I am not sure if it is a sense of jealousy that leads us to act like this or whether it’s just human nature. What I do know is that it sure as hell makes me feel much better about myself. I then come out of it with a false sense that I am a better person than I really am and can carry on ignorant to the subtle hurt I have the ability to cause others every day.
If you’re into to the Bible, Jesus talks about the danger of having this attitude a couple of times. One time when the religious fundamentalists were preparing to stone a prostitute, He stepped in and asked each of them who hadn’t sinned to throw the first stone. Another time, He talked about the absurdity of trying to help someone get a splint out of their eye while they themselves had a plank in theirs.
I think the events and reactions of the past few days are just modern examples of this and I think if Jesus was around that would be the kind of thing He would tweet.
And what all this really means is that none of us are good enough to be Batman.