Wed | May 24, 2017

Are celebrities people, too?

Published:Tuesday | March 24, 2015 | 3:00 AMPatria-Kaye Aarons
The spectacular marital meltdown of Tessanne Chin and Michael Anthony Cuffe Jr has spurred the debate whether celebrities have a right to privacy.

Before they were record-breaking track athletes or politicians or world-famous singers or TV personalities, they were plain ol' people. And long after the activity that caused them to rise to fame, they will still just be people. Society forgets that.

The walls insulating the private lives of public figures have come down. People feel like they know celebrities - and not just for their jobs that make them famous. Society feels like they KNOW, KNOW them. People feel personally invested in the lives of their celebrities, especially since in quite a few cases, they had a hand in hoisting the celebrity to stardom. "I voted for you" or "I bought your CD" or "I watch you on TV" somehow equates to "I am entitled to details about the rest of your life".

The most popular public figures are often those who people know most about. Secretive and aloof don't couple well with building popularity. Fans support people they feel they know, people whose successes they can celebrate and whose failures they can empathise with. We want to know where they go, what they wear, who they marry, who they divorce, and everything in-between. And there's always someone willing to supposedly dish the dirty details.

 

treasonous sources

 

I'm always wary of stories that carry the expression "sources close to X". Who are these treasonous sources who feel so comfortable sharing intimate details about their close personal friends, and why are they so reluctant to identify themselves by name?

Knowing full well that people don't hesitate to fill in the blanks with their very own creative version of the truth, I take the "expert sources" with a huge grain of salt.

And yet, I'm hypocritical about it all - as perhaps the celebrities are, too. I welcome the media coverage of their private highs; new relationships and births, and endorsements I love to hear about, but it jars me when negative private matters in the lives of celebrities become 'news'.

The criticism is levelled: "You chose the fame; expect the resultant scrutiny." The suggestion is put forward that people who chose to be in the sunlight can't very well run and hide from the storm clouds.

I actually think everybody has a right to privacy no matter your profession. The argument that someone chose to be in the spotlight, so invasion comes with the territory, doesn't hold water for me. They signed up to be a singer, an actress, an athlete, not to be a walking social experiment.

Sure, there are also those celebrities who invite the attention. Social media have given an outlet to the attention seeker. A space to post photos and rack up 'likes' and popularity points. A free, free-for-all soapbox.

I also blame the Olivia Popes of this world. Publicists know that beyond doing their jobs well, people fall in love with celebrities more because of the back story. PR practitioners encourage their clients to let persons in and share with them parts of their life that make them more endearing and human. More appealing than 'the star' is 'the star next door'.

However, not every celebrity loves the added attention. And those who shy from it are accused of 'going on like dem nice'.

 

double-edged sword

 

Why should fame come with a straitjacket? Why should popularity come with the pressure to be accessible and perfect. It's a double-edged sword. We tend to hold our celebrities to unrealistic expectations of faultlessness. And most can't live up to them. 'Role model' was the catchphrase of the '90s. Artistes didn't choose to be role models, athletes didn't ask to be emulated, and I think the world is being unreasonable when they expect them to live vice-free lives.

Can the person be separated from his or her profession? Are celebrities allowed to curse and drink and make mistakes and fail at relationships and get in trouble with the law? You are not your occupation. None of us are. Public figures are humans first, entitled to private lives.

Most people have the luxury of dealing with life's pitfalls in private. Of getting hurt and failing behind closed doors, drying their tears, brushing off themselves and trying again. Celebrities are forced to suffer all that in front of the world's watching eyes, and it isn't fair.

 

gossip

 

People love gossip. Not just about celebrities. But we gossip about our neighbours and our co-workers and sometimes even people we don't know.

When mainstream media begin to feed people's insatiable appetite for gossip, that's a problem. This isn't the time for investigative journalism; not when all you're doing is being downright nosey. Not unless the matter is of consequence to national importance, leave it alone. Especially when far more important matters that are long overdue sleuthing go unreported or under-reported.

Stories posited as hard news should pass the acid test: Who does it benefit?

The question must also be asked, "Who does it hurt? And to what end?"

News should never be purely to feed people's need for a juicy piece of suss.

Dear Moses, is it too late to add, "Thou shalt not faas" to the Bible's list of commandments? I think that omission was an oversight.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.