I will admit it. I occasionally (always) struggle to comprehend the editorials in my TIME magazine subscriptions.
Or at least I did struggle until I figured out a useful strategy to combat this. Now I just skip the editorials entirely and flip straight to the back to read Joel Stein's column, the 10-question celebrity profile featurette and of course The Culture section, which contains more celebrities and lots of colorful pictures.
A recent edition of TIME's The Culture lampooned actress Megan Fox for her poor choice of analogies when answering one of the press' many endless questions about her life as a celebrity. Only I don't know what those stuffy TIME editors were complaining about -- when asked what being rich and famous is really like, I think Ms. Fox showed refreshing candor. She said:
I don't think people understand. They all think we should shut the (bleep) up and stop complaining because you live in a big house or you drive a Bentley. So your life must be so great. What people don't realize is that fame, whatever your worst experience in high school, when you were being bullied by those 10 kids in high school, fame is that, but on a global scale, where you're being bullied by millions of people constantly.
How horrific. And probably also quite true.
As I have watched our celebrity-centric culture unfold and expand, I no longer glance back longingly at my little girl self standing on the edge of the tub with a hairbrush, singing into it like I would someday grow up to be Barbra Streisand. Now I feel like I dodged a bullet by never becoming a rich, famous singing star.
Or a rich, famous anything for that matter.
Here is why. Famous people get lonely. Famous people get their hearts broken. Famous people lose loved ones. Famous people have health problems. Famous people have daily lives to live just like all the rest of us do. But unlike us lucky ordinary souls, famous people have to live out all of those experiences under the pitiless gaze of the societal microscope.
I often actually feel sorry for celebrities with all their bags of money and the pressures that come with it. Of course they have to build pricey well-equipped fortresses for themselves and their families! If they go out, they are mobbed by press and fans and can expect to see their mug shots on the front pages of pretty much everything the following morning.
Ironically, as a culture we have grown more sensitive to bullying in schools, especially when the little people who are affected by bullying are our own. But this is only half the battle, because our celebrity-critical culture still models bullying through how we treat the rich and famous. For instance, it is still all too easy for us (or at least it is for me) to casually discount or criticize celebrities for their choices, their wardrobes, their mates, their art, their lives, their whatever... even when the only information we have to base our opinions on comes from those who are paid to stalk celebrities for a living.
How incredibly heartless. And sad.
So I empathize -- as much as any ordinary non-rich and non-famous person ever could -- with Megan Fox. More recently, I also empathize with Jodie Foster, who just received the Golden Globes Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award and gave a speech that (of course) has been alternately praised and vilified. And as usual, it seems that approximately 100 percent of this commentary is being offered by folks who don't know Ms. Foster well, or at all.
Perhaps this is why a mentor of mine once told me that if I was doing my very best to take care of my own self and my own life, I would have absolutely no time left to criticize the lives of others, and a bit (or a lot) more empathy to share as well. She was right. She is still right.
And I am still oh-so-glad I am not famous... although for the record, I am still willing to figure out how to handle a bit of riches were they to suddenly come my way. ;-)
How do you feel about celebrity culture? What is the quality of your own thoughts and words when it comes to speaking about famous or wealthy people you do not personally know -- or even those you do? Empathy is a quality sorely lacking in our culture today, but it is alive and well in individuals within that culture -- individuals like me and you. How might our celebrity culture transform to better support our young people -- and ourselves -- if we offered more grace and the benefit of a doubt to those who find the courage to endure the glare of our collective spotlight?