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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

The issue with celebrity worship

Deifying the stars is incredibly harmful for everyone involved.

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Dan Schneider (left) is pictured on the set of iCarly in 2011.

Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and sexual assault.

If the #MeToo movement didn’t expose the dark and twisted side of stardom for you, the past month certainly should have. When Kate Middleton went missing, conspiracy theories flooded TikTok accounts, claiming that the Princess of Wales was killed in a Diana-esque incident, had a mental breakdown or even had a Brazilian butt lift. An edited image of Kate and her three children only added fuel to the fire. On March 22, Kate announced that she had cancer and was recovering from abdominal surgery before undergoing chemotherapy. Though she wanted to keep the matter private for the sake of her children, the world seemingly pressured Kate into revealing this secret.

As the mystery of Kate’s disappearance reached its peak, Maxine Productions and Sony Pictures Television released the first four episodes of “Quiet on Set,” a documentary series on Dan Schneider. Schneider, the former “golden boy” of Nickelodeon, was the brain behind many of the most iconic childhood shows for millennials and Generation Z growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I can still recall the outro clip, “Schneider's Bakery,” that accompanied the end credits of “iCarly” and “Drake & Josh.” Though his shows were made for preteens, Schneider placed blatant sexual innuendos and demonstrations throughout — bodily fluids in motion, moans and many, many toes. Off-screen, Dan was abusive and uncontrollable. Crew members massaged him on set, he encouraged unpaid overtime and he split wages between two of his female employees — one of whom he pressured to repeat a story to the staff while bent over the desk like she was being sodomized. Oh, and there were multiple sex offenders on the set of his shows. Yet, until #MeToo, Schneider faced practically no accountability. Instead of focusing on Schneider’s actions, the Internet was busy following the public breakdown of Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes and performer Britney Spears.

We can’t blame the Middleton or Schneider-Bynes extravaganza on the viewers. Clearly, news outlets and the legal system need internal reforms. Child stars should receive mandatory mental health checks, and states should expand laws that protect celebrities from intrusive paparazzi and the manipulation of money-hungry relatives. Yet, I do believe that changing the way we look at celebrities will lead to a more positive society, both inside and outside the bounds of Hollywood, Universal Studios and the royal family.

We must simultaneously understand that celebrities are both normal human beings and walking advertisements whose job is to sell the newest movie, product or trend. When we worship celebrities, we hurt them — and we hurt ourselves.

Our tendency to place celebrities on pedestals has led many psychologists to categorize “celebrity worship” as a clinical disorder. In our society, celebrities are gods. While there have always been shrieking fans who are eager to touch the Beatles, or in extremity, murder John Lennon, the expansion of smartphones and social media platforms has proliferated a new generation of makeshift paparazzi and internet crazies. Today, celebrities have barely any privacy. They have become products of the general public. We scrutinize their every move and comment on their every interaction.

Kate’s public statement is a less extreme result of what happens when we invade celebrities' lives. While the pressures of fame likely encouraged a long list of intentional or drug-induced celebrity suicides, certain deaths are unmistakably fame-induced. In 1932, at just 24, British actor Peg Entwistle plunged to her death from the “H” of the Hollywood sign. In 1934, actor, director and film writer Lou Tellegen stabbed himself with engraved golden scissors, leaving his body surrounded by accolades from his bygone Holywood career. In 1968, American actor and politician Albert Dekker hung himself after writing negative film reviews with lipstick all over his body.

These events are tragic both for these individuals and for humanity. “Copycat suicides” are a real phenomenon. Yet, even if fans do not commit suicide directly in response to these celebrities, fear of such a phenomenon proves that celebrities dictate culture, and that widespread celebrity imitation is real.

Young women find themselves buying lip filler to look like Kylie Jenner, while young men fall prey to Andrew Tate’s alluring machismo and misogynistic rhetoric. When these celebrities push their exaggerated and restrictive definitions of morality or beauty, their cult follows. Unfortunately, as there are always new products to sell, there are always new ideals to push.

Since celebrities carefully craft their public image, we simply don’t know their true personalities. Inevitably, we give massive platforms to terrible people. We treat Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in movies produced by Harvey Weinstein, as gods. Weinstein, who controlled hundreds of these actors-turned-gods, became an untouchable lord. With actors desperate to get a piece of fame, stacks of money and adoring fans, such a figure becomes unstoppable.

Certainly, celebrities can be positive role models, inspiring the next generation of changemakers and championing social issues. We can look up to these figures, but making them otherworldly is unhealthy, as it places too much pressure on them to be perfect and on us to be perfectly like them.