Award season is upon us once again. That time of year when Hollywood nearly explodes with self-congratulation on a job well done. The red carpets are unfurled and throngs of fans line the streets for a glimpse of their favourite stars. The dresses dazzle, the celebrities smile as the lights from hundreds of cameras flash and entertainment reporters fawn all over themselves in an attempt to get the latest “news” on Brad and Angelina.
We are a society that values the beautiful and famous, regardless of whether they are people we should emulate. Take, for instance, the aforementioned “Brangelina.” This is a couple that has six children; and according to Ms. Jolie, intend to have more.
The world is ga-ga over the good deeds that Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie perform. They are building houses in flood ravaged New Orleans, Ms. Jolie is a UN Ambassador for refugees, Pitt helps raise funds and awareness for people in Darfur; and on top of all their charity work, the couple still finds time to have six children and make movie after movie. Surely, the rest of us mere mortals should be in awe of them.
But step back a minute and look at what we know of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. At the time they met, Mr. Pitt was married. And whether they were involved physically or not prior to the break up of his marriage, it seems clear from statements made by all three parties involved, that once he met Ms. Jolie, Brad decided to end his marriage. And Angelina has recently told reporters that she cannot wait for her kids to see the movie “where their parents fell in love”, which leads me to suspect that she had no regard for the wedding vows taken by her love interest.
These are not people we should be looking up to, folks. And yet, that is exactly what we do. Nor are Brad and Angelina alone in their disregard for morals. Heath Ledger recently, albeit posthumously, won an award for his work in “Batman Returns”. Just a year after his death, his reputation as an actor has been elevated beyond what it was while he was still alive.
We have been told repeatedly what a wonderful person and actor he was; that he was a fantastic dad to his daughter. We are setting the stage for young men to look up to and imitate his life, all the while forgetting that the reason Mr. Ledger died before his 30th birthday is that he overdosed from a lethal combination of six different drugs. Yes, the final autopsy report concluded that Mr. Ledger's death was accidental, but it also goes on to state that it was caused from the “…abuse of prescription medications.”. While I will not accuse Heath Ledger of being a drug addict (since there appears to be some debate on the topic and I do not wish to set myself up for a libel suit), I will go out on a limb and suggest that his lifestyle is not one that should be copied.
For some reason, we have a different set of rules for the people we see in movies and on television. Brad Paisley, a country and western singer from the United States, had a hit song a few years ago titled, “Celebrity”. In it, Mr. Paisley poked fun at the idea of celebrity and the perks that come with it. Lyrics like, “I can fall in and out of love, have marriages that barely last a month” and “I get community service, no matter which law I break” make us laugh, but the fact is, that does seem to be the benefit of being famous. We read or watch reports about celebrities being arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, we hear about marriages that last little longer than a few months and wonder if these people had the same influences growing up that we did. Quite often, it seems that celebrities really just need a good spanking to set them straight.
The constant barrage of media coverage is enough to make me want to throw out my television. The every day lives of celebrities are not news. Barack Obama being elected the first black president of the United States is news. The failure of banks in America, Britain and Germany is news. The escalation of violence between Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas terrorists is news. Jennifer Aniston going out to dinner with her latest boyfriend is not. And following a never-ending stream of “news” reports on the bad behaviour and poor choices of the rich and famous glamorizes that lifestyle for adolescents and young adults. Cheating on your husband or wife? No problem; just cite “irreconcilable differences” on the divorce papers and you are free and clear to move on to the next conquest. Got caught driving under the influence? Don't worry; while your lawyer gets you a reduced sentence, your publicist will book you on every talk show so you can crack a joke or two while you ask (however insincerely) for forgiveness. And we will give it to you. Why? Because you are rich and famous and so you must be better than we are.
Once upon a time, I used to eagerly anticipate every award show, with the Academy Awards being the king of the season. I too, was one of those who sat in front of the television set for hours, living vicariously through the beautiful people on screen. If only I was one of them, life would be so much better, I thought. Thankfully, those years have passed. Along the way, I have come to realize that we are to blame for the leniency that is granted to celebrities. If we stopped lapping up stories about them, stopped letting them off the hook when they do something wrong, maybe they would start behaving better. Until then, we have two choices; listen to the entertainment industry's on going narcissism or turn off the TV. I choose the latter, what about you?
Barbara Lilley is a writer in Ottawa, Canada. She blogs at Don’t Stand on the Watermelon.