I’ll give you the disclaimer up front: this post is likely only for the more stalwart and thick-skinned reader who is honestly open to real change.
A MESS • TRAMP • LOSER • PSYCHO • BAD MOTHER
AUTO-TUNED • TERRIBLE ACTRESS • MAN STEALER
SPOILED • PLASTIC • DOUBLE DIVORCÉE • DRUGGIE
DITZ • HEAD SHAVER • REHAB REGULAR • ALCOHOLIC
ENTITLED B*TCH • LOST HER KIDS • WHO CARES?
We buy the rag mags, or just flip through them in line at the supermarket. We click the headline links online. We tune in for the news (I’m still amazed at what counts as “news”) or gossip shows on television. We listen to friends’ accounts as if they are the gospel truth. And every pop radio talk show has some version of “Celebrity Sleaze.” So in answer to the question “Who cares?” the answer is — apparently most of us.
I picked Britney somewhat arbitrarily. It’s not because I’m her No. 1 Fan. Promise. I could just as easily have picked Angelia Jolie, Kim Kardashian, Charlie Sheen, Kirstie Alley, Michael Jackson or Barack Obama. The lives of the rich and famous are endless sources for entertainment, amusement and criticism.
“Look how fat she’s getting!”
“He’s such a pig.”
“Did you see that awful dress she wore?”
“What a lunatic that one is!”
“Did you hear his wife left him?”
“Aw, c’mon now, Erik,” you’re saying. “You can’t be serious. I mean, people like that are asking for it.”
People like that? Who exactly are “people like that”?
People who have more money than I do?
Would you welcome such comments if you had more money?
People who have a different kind of job than I do?
Would you feel that carte blanche personal criticisms were warranted if you became more well known?
People who choose to be in the public eye?
So, when you are jogging outside on a public street, does it then become fair game for passers-by to comment on your body flaws and how you look in that Spandex, how you are aging, and what they suppose about your family life?
I talk a lot about seeing and treating people as people, and not as props or background noise (for a crash refresher, see the post entitled “triple threat“). I suggested that if I see those around me as objects instead of people with real lives like my own, this necessarily carries over to how I treat those closest to me. I can’t treat some people as people, while treating some people as less. Every time I treat someone as an object — by looking past them, or seeing them as a means to an end, or using them for my amusement or humor — I feed the monster that tells me that I am better. Smarter. More important. And I hate to be the one to tell you, but that beast is never satisfied.
Maybe this even makes sense to you — when we’re talking about real people that you interact with on a daily basis. But Britney Spears? I mean … she’s …
She’s what? Not human? Not a real person like you? Not worthy of consideration?
Do you know that, shortly after Britney’s apparent breakdown when she shaved her hair off, several media companies went quickly to work making “special edition” documentaries of her traumatic life — ending with her death? Yes, that’s right. They were waiting for her to kill herself, so that they could add the final footage and make a quick bundle off of it. They had to count it as a loss when she didn’t wind up doing the deed as expected.
Do you think this is odd? Creepy? Sick? Yet how is it any different from what we choose to do? These companies wanted money. We want entertainment, someone to point and laugh at or to sharpen our wit upon. The pay-off is different, but the motives seem frighteningly similar. At best, we certainly aren’t wishing her well.
Oh, and by the way, word of these impending documentaries was made public at the time. That means that Britney, then in her mid-twenties and with two babies, knew that the media was hoping for her suicide. Think about that.
Britney Spears was thrust into the role of a sex object at the age of fifteen — with parental consent. She is the young mother of two little boys under the age of six. I imagine that family relationships are strained at best, given that her father has full legal control of her money and affairs due to her psychiatric history.
Every pound she gains or loses is broadcast to the world, with media trying to find the most unflattering pictures of her constantly. There are no quiet moments at a cafe or private vacations to truly relax without care for what she is wearing and how her skin is.
She must wonder who her real friends are — those who would stay true even if she lost everything. I’d guess that she is lonely quite often. That she thinks of her two little boys when it’s quiet at night, and cries at her failures with them. But she has to get up and smile the next morning, put on the outfit, and give a good show.
She will turn thirty this year. I imagine she thinks, “I’m not a kid anymore. My looks and body won’t last forever. What then? What will I have besides money in ten years? Who will I grow old with?”
That is Britney Spears — the person. I’m not claiming she is a victim. Like the rest of us, she makes some bad decisions. But she is a person just like me nonetheless.
“But I will never meet Britney Spears,” you may protest. “She’ll never know what I say about her. So my little jibes aren’t really hurting her in any way.”
That may be true. But it’s not the point. It’s about your choices, your attitudes, your world view. If we are really serious about change, we can’t pick and choose who gets to be treated with dignity and who does not. It spills over. And it feeds the ME monster, every time.
Treating the homeless woman as a real person feels right and noble to us, and so it is often easier going. Treating the rich and famous as real people? Well, that may take some hard work. It may take choosing to disengage from derogatory conversations at work. It may take turning the channel. It may take speaking aloud about celebrities in terms of their humanity and “real person-ness” whenever they are mentioned, even if your friends look at you like you’ve gone religious or something.
Before too long, you’ll find that you feel real compassion for the up-and-outers, instead of finding amusement at their struggles. And that will translate to everyone else with whom you come into contact, including those who matter most to you.
What’s more, in the process, you may find that kindness actually fits you better than being critical ever did.