Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Celebrity

Most of the time, I hesitate to chime in on celeb gossip or stories. I enjoy movies and TV for entertainment purposes, and my interest stops there at this point in my life. That does not mean that it did when I was a child, or that somehow celebrities do not find themselves not just in the spotlight, but trying to figure out how they became role models.

The phenomena of looking to celebs to tell us how to look, how to act, how to vote, what religious views we should have, what words to ban... escapes me, but I am not naive enough to assume that others (especially others that are at an impressionable age) will also avoid the chatter.

While I could write all day about the choices that those in the spotlight face in their willing and unwilling roles as role models and trend setters, I would like to focus specifically on how we react and our expectations when celebrities are perhaps not good people.

Certainly there are rumors, and certainly no one is perfect, but when imperfection and violence are involved, there are victims. Our justice system maintains "innocent until proven guilty", and what often happens as a result is a real hardship for the victim: a football player kills the mother of his child and then himself but is lauded as a great guy. In a case of "community celebrity", a young girl is unable to give consent and her name is driven through the mud to protect the young boys responsible. A few Hollywood examples:

Michael Jackson
Jackson did in fact go to trial on charges related to child molestation, but was acquitted.

Alec Baldwin
Allegations have been made that Baldwin abused his wife, and tapes surfaced of voice mails where he is berating his then eleven year old daughter.

Chris Brown
The link here is a piece addressing the sexual activity of young boys and how different it is viewed from the sexual activities of young women. I think we all are aware of the intimate partner violence issues Brown has faced in recent years.

Brynn Hartman
Brynn is probably most widely known for the murder suicide she committed that took the life of her husband, Phil Hartman.

Kobe Bryant
One of the worst cases of victim blaming I have seen. I once attended a conference where the details of the prosecutor's case were read along with the public character assassination the victim experienced. At the end, the speaker revealed who the defendant was, and it was Bryant. A fine and devastating example of trying the victim in our public court instead of holding the perpetrator accountable.

Woody Allen
A brilliant director in the eyes of Hollywood, but a man that, at the very least, has questionable relationships with the children in his life.

This list could continue, but it is a good round up of the types of crimes and offenses that I am referring to: child molestation, rape, IPV, even death. What do we expect from Hollywood in regards to the perpetrators? How do we expect the victims to be treated? A reader (Hi, Mom!) pointed out that that we cannot or will not protect victims that are not famous, so what do we do about the perpetrators of these too-ugly-to-talk-about crimes? No one wants their good names sullied by being related to the mess, but no one wants to give up the perks of being related to genius mind that makes you fistfuls of money.

I find looking at these crimes as they relate to celebrity to be a good example of the reality for victims in our own backyard as well. The skeezy guy that doesn't shower and lives around the corner is often not the one to be most concerned about when it comes to this types of violent or sexual crimes. Often, perpetrators are in positions of authority or respect: teachers, scout leaders, church clergy and lay people. People with significant influence (or just enough influence) to make it more difficult for others to believe that a respectable person could be responsible for such a heinous crime. So we move to the next plausible explanation: the victim must be lying. It is easier to believe someone a liar that it is to give up our shiny happy world that sometimes people with talent or money can do bad things.

So I ask again: what can we do to protect victims of abuse? How can we better send the message that the perpetrators of these horrible crimes are not going to be rewarded but instead held accountable for their actions? As someone that truly wants to believe in rehabilitation, I ask: What good are we doing the perpetrators (that are statistically very likely to have once been victims themselves) by rewarding them for their talent, but by not helping them stop their own history from repeating itself?

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