Originally posted 6/22/13, republished 1/1/16 | © Photo by Sherri Tilley
I met actor Scott Baio when I was quite young, so I've never really gotten star-struck. I've always tended to view famous people as just that ... people. Don't get me wrong, I have an immense amount of respect for the gifts and abilities that have been bestowed upon others. I just don't think it defines them. I believe rather that our God-given talents are merely tools to be used to express that which defines us.
And I believe that what defines us is our capacity to love.
Last week, I fell into the unique position of standing beside a well-known man who was expressing a sense of regret for a mildly offensive action that he had inadvertently committed in an attempt to please both his expectant public as well as a couple of new friends. He was unable to alter what had been a bit of an unfortunate circumstance; so I said to him,
You know, it's important for us as a society to learn to forgive. So think of it this way, you have provided people with an opportunity to practice forgiveness.
Likewise, the week's celebrity news has provided us with an opportunity to forgive.
When I saw the video footage of the 20-year-old Miss Utah Marissa Powell struggling to answer the beyond-her-maturity-level interview question during Sunday night's Miss USA competition, I cringed and thought,
Oh, they're going to crucify her. How I so deeply wish that it was culturally commonplace for us to be able to say,
You know, I've had a great many experiences in life, and I know something about a lot of things, but this particular topic is just not one of them.
Instead, public figures are often treated like circus performers with no safety net.
The fact that Paula Deen had to upload a video apology is sickening to me. Not because she spoke some arguably regrettable words, but rather because she was emotionally coerced into apologizing to fickle fans who were not privy to a complete set of personal details from her distant past yet somehow felt that they were owed an explanation. Similar to the incident that Paula once experienced of having a gun put to her head, I too have had a knife held to my throat; and understandably, I did not express courteous words about the man who did it until much later when I was more fully able to comprehend the excruciating emotional pain that he faced in his own life.
Do I condone any of this improper behavior? Of course not.
I absolutely believe that it's necessary to maintain a standard of accountability in our society. But shouldn't we also be looking for points to extend grace rather than just irrevocable condemnation? I shuddered to watch Mylie Cyrus' newest video which premiered the other day, and I obviously found it to be a less-than-ideal creative outlet for a young woman. At the same time however, I can't help but wonder how much of the suggestive display is rooted in her tumultuous family life liberally fueled by fan demand and corporate greed.
What are we willing to count as the cost of our entertainment?
When the rock band Guns N' Roses came to town last month, I watched as the local media made one disparaging remark after another about the now 51-year-old front man Axl Rose. Despite the millions of albums sold and dozens of awards won over the past three decades, fans seemed to be more concerned with speculating about why Axl repeatedly goes backstage during concerts.
Does he have drugs and/or girls back there? they disdainfully wanted to know. So I went to the concert, and I watched him; and I became increasingly convinced that after pouring his heart into each song he sang, he was intermittently taking a rest, quenching his thirst, and changing out of sweat-soaked t-shirts.
At what point are we shooting our stars and ourselves in the foot?
It has broken my heart this week to see our society so viciously attack itself. I once knew a woman who had a dog with such a bad case of fleas that it chewed off a portion of its own skin to try to rid itself of the incessant itching. I often wonder if we've developed a tendency to bite at that which turns out to be part of our own body in some desperate attempt to avoid the discomfort of looking inward at our own personal shortcomings. From the very first 'hey-she-made-me-eat-the-apple' defense, people have been searching for ways to deflect guilt in order to avoid the sting of rejection.
But judging people for their public missteps only serves to breed private insecurity.
It seems that lately there has been an overall failure to realize that what we do to others always turns out to be what we ultimately experience in our own lives. And I find it exceedingly cruel that we so often place such high expectations on members of our own society while simultaneously finding a type of twisted solace in watching them fail.
After all, we are not a barbaric, self-destructive society.