I read this article by Keith Olberman in Salon Magazine, and I had a quite a bit to say about it. So I wrote the following letter back to him, through Salon’s “Letter’s to the Editor”.
Keith Olberman makes a bit of a mistake when he says “… yet our appetite for giggling must still be fed. So at some point, we gave ourselves the right to focus on the famous with impunity.”
The “at some point” was hundreds of years ago — public figures, including actors, politicians and athletes, have always been targets of fun for the media and for the public. This is not something new, or something that happened as a result of growing social awareness of the harshness with which other minorities were treated, as Olberman states.
Remember Grover Cleveland’s 1884 presidential race, conducted to chants of “Ma Ma, Where’s my Pa?” given the rumor and innuendo about his possible paternity of an illegitimate child?
Or go quite a bit further back… to Voltaire, or even Chaucer or Dante, all of whom poked fun at the celebrities of their day and age. Celebrity baiting has always been a popular public sport, and I venture to say always will be.
As a gay person who has experienced quite a bit of harsh treatement, I’d certainly quibble with the statement “Celebrities have become our last unprotected minority group.” And since both white men and Christians are claiming the same thing these days, you’ll have to duke it out with them over whether that title is deserved.
But let’s say for a moment celebrities ARE the last group we can get away with making fun of… I’d say that’s a good thing. They deserve it, frankly.
I’m not sure where along the line the American Dream changed — but it did, and not for the better. It used to be that people came to American for the freedom to live in peace and the opportunity to raise a family without starving. Now it’s accepted that the “American Dream” is about becoming rich and famous. Well, not everyone is interested in that particular version of the American Dream.
For the most part, these “celebrities” (a word that implies they deserve to be celebrated for some reason) are people who pursued a profession or even an avocation with the intention of achieving fame and all that it entails. They didn’t become famous as a by-product of their choice of vocation, they went after the fame itself.
It is possible to be a successful actress, singer, politician or athlete without becoming famous. There are hundreds of talented actors in local theatre who are perfectly content honing their craft far away from the Hollywood limelight, and who are on stage for the simple thrill of acting. There are small-town mayors who do as much good proportionally as the POTUS, and who have no intention of ever sitting in an office that’s oval. Those people are no less worthy than Winona Ryder or George W. Bush.
Ryder could have become one of those people, but she chose to go to Hollywood, and to appear at each premiere, and to go the Academy Awards. She chose to jump up in the public limelight, because for whatever reason, her personality craved that attention. Now that she’s there, she must realize that not everyone is going to think she’s a wonderful or marvelous person… and that people will express their opinions. And honest to God, if you steal stuff that you can easily pay for, and carry all your ill-gotten prescription drugs with you while you do it, I’m certainly going to make fun of you. You deserve it.