On Stardom

miley, cyrus, miley cyrus, billy ray cyrus, hannah montana, justin beiber, justin bieber, haircut, justin bieber haircut, justin bieber middle finger, justin bieber first kiss, drugs, pot, weed, marijuana, celebrity, achy breaky heart, gq, gq magazineI just finished reading the GQ interview with Billy Ray Cyrus. It’s heartbreaking.

The interviewer seemed a too jaded, unable to share the pain of the subject. Either that, or he doesn’t believe that Cyrus feels the pain (or even has a right to. And maybe that’s it. The writer sees Miley’s situation as a joke, as not serious, and thus is unable to empathize with Cyrus’s concerns).

But I think I can understand, at least a little bit. When I see the young pop starlets flash and burn out, my heart breaks. It seems like Hollywood has become a voyeuristic culture of self-loathing and Schadenfreude, sadistically taking pleasure in the destruction of young lives.

I don’t enjoy borrowing from the far-right Evangelical worldview, which often smacks of isolationism and self-victimization, but I can’t help but share a nuanced version of their ideology: Hollywood and all of it’s trappings are poison; not just to the audience, but to the participants. Their souls are crushed; young, talented dreamers full of potential and hope are exploited for their talents, then made pariahs in their inevitable flame-out. And all of us are to blame.

We love them because they’re new and not famous, just like us. We love the story that got them there, because it’s our dream, too - to make it big. But once they’re big, like crabs in a tank, we hate them for the same success we dream of, and we take sick satisfaction in watching them self-destruct under the pressures of the fame, in the ever-watching eye of the paparazzi.

Maybe we’re to blame. I work for a web company that tracks and responds to popular news, and never in my life have I heard so much talk about Justin Beiber. We covered his birthday, his haircut, the subsequent auction for the shorn locks, his first kiss, and that he flipped off photographers who wouldn’t leave him alone.

I don’t care about Justin Beiber. I guess he’s a talented kid, and he’s acted on a couple of shows that my wife and I watch on TV. But I don’t care about the details of his life. He’s being scrutinized in a way that no kid should ever have to be. I remember me at 17; I certainly wouldn’t have wanted that much attention. How can society ever expect these kids - who we foolishly call role models - to grow up to be decent adults when they aren’t given room to, well, grow up?

You’ve heard of the observer effect - the act of observing a phenomenon changes it - and never is that more true than in the case of these children. We watch them struggle and fail, then turn and criticize the parents for not raising them better. For his part, Cyrus admits that he was too much of a friend and not enough of a father to Miley, but his failure is as much ours. In a world dictated by shock-value and popularity, every time we log-on to see the latest public disaster, we continue to contribute to these children’s delinquency.