PITNB’s NEW popCULTURE CLUB: theoretically putting the “culture” back in “pop culture,” one post at a time…
It’s been an interesting few weeks in terms of courtroom drama. Between the Jerry Sandusky verdict announcement and the Chris Brown/Drake drama that is still unfolding, we at PITNB have had a lot of discussion in our comments about public figures and what should and should not happen when they break the law. I saw a related conversation taking place on two posts that were also, seemingly unrelated. The Abercrombie and Fitch lawsuit prompted comments about industry life and what models do (and do not) sign up for in this line of work. Do young people, in fact, wave their legal rights when they participate in certain exploitative practices? And when I posted the photos of Gisele Bundchen, I couldn’t help but bring up the history of the photographer; Terry Richardson’s sexual allegations introduced an interesting question about artists, celebrities, public figures and certain criminal behavior that we seem to ignore because of status, or because we like a particular style of work.
We as a pop culture seem reluctant to view our celebrities—even the ones we dislike—as actual criminals. There’s this adorable little phrase that we throw around (I use it to an obscene amount), and it goes something like this: “I love ((insert fave celebrity name here)) and he/she can do no wrong.” It’s funny, but aren’t we being serious, to a certain degree? Aren’t we admitting that we cannot imagine this person (i.e. Joan Smalls, who I recently referenced in that manner) doing bad—let alone criminal—things?
The movie Frost/Nixon comes to mind right now; there’s that powerful good scene (embedded below, for your viewing pleasure) where Frank Langella as former President Richard Nixon declares, “When the President does it, it’s not illegal.” And everyone goes into shock, but not because he said something that was entirely untrue. Rather, because he spoke to an idea that we all subscribe to, in some way. Isn’t that how we all (secretly or otherwise) feel about our celebrities and public figures? That when they break the law they’re doing it as a result of their celebrity status, rather than criminal tendencies?
This is probably not that big of a deal if it means got into a few clubs before she turned 18, but what about serious crimes? When we support an artist or a public figure by enjoying (and buying) their work, do we, in some way, support the crimes they have committed? And if so, why the hell do we do that?
One PITNBr commented on the Jerry Sandusky post and was honest enough to admit that, as a member of the Penn State University community it was difficult for her to believe that people she felt an affiliation towards would participate in covering up the child molestation scandal. That stuck with me because I realized that we all align ourselves with certain celebrities and public figures, and when they do something wrong it almost feels like a reflection of our own selves. On the Gisele Bundchen/Terry Richardson post I’d mentioned that Carnage was one of my favorite films, but I feel a certain guilt about this, knowing that Roman Polanski (the director) was convicted of raping a 13 year-old girl and has since fled the United States. I find it hard to completely divorce my love for his film from his other actions.
If Roman Polanski ever came back to the US and ended up in prison, the part of me that is a fan of his films would probably feel bad for him. And that’s a big part of me because I effin’ love Carnage! But when else would I mourn the imprisonment of somebody who forced a 13 year-old girl to have sex with him?
In that same post, Woody Allen’s name was brought up in the comments, in an effort to reference another iconic figure with extremely questionable morals (having had an affair with and then marrying his adopted step-daughter or daughter-figure) who still receives total love and support from the industry and the public.
In an interview to promote Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen was asked about the scandal. Allen, 75, replied, “What was the scandal? I fell in love with this girl, married her. We have been married for almost 15 years now.” [Source]
I wonder if this is partly because in admitting that they are wrong—or, more than wrong, that they are monsters of some sort—do we admit to something wrong and monstrous in ourselves (if we enjoy their work and see their films)?
A slightly less philosophical way of looking at it is to say that we’ve come to expect a certain element of criminal behavior in our celebrities; we just don’t call it criminal. We call it ‘celeb drama,’ or maybe we use the phrase ‘legal woes,’ because when the name John Travolta or Lindsay Lohan, or Chris Brown is in front of the word “crime” or “criminal” the idea is modified. I think it’s partly because we know they’re probably not gonna go to jail. Unless we’re talking about certain rappers. We kind of like our rappers—at least the so-called gangsta ones– to do a little time at some point in their life (sorry, it’s apart of the culture), but when the big, commercially successful ones actually go to jail (i.e. Lil Wayne), we’re still taken aback.
Why? Because we think they don’t commit crimes? No. We know rappers—like other celebrities– sometimes do bad things or break the law. But we still expect them to be treated differently or to buy their way out of things. When a celebrity gets sued, there’s a big part of us that also assumes that someone is after his/her money. And we assume that because it’s happened before, or because victims have settled out of court and dropped charges. All of these factors affect the guilty/innocent victim/criminal dynamic to a great degree.
But I think we also don’t really want our celebrities to go to jail. And if Jerry Sandusky had been more of a celebrity, a more familiar face to those of us not a part of the PSU community, I believe our reactions would have been slightly different.
It’s no secret that there are major double standards when it comes to celebrities. Physically we expect them to be perfect, but does that mean we lower our standards for their behavior? If they’re pretty enough, if their music is good enough, if their movies are good enough, or their numbers on the field are good enough, does that outweigh any possible bad? With each achievement they make, do we expect less of them?
In a way, I think we take on this familial love for celebrities, and while I think this makes sense, I’m wondering if an element of it is dangerous. I have family members in jail for horrible crimes right now; but if you ask my biased ass, they’re all good kids who got caught up with bad people! Similarly, my best friend once told me that, at my graduation celebration, one of the men in my family made her a bit uncomfortable. In that way. I kind of waived her off, casually mentioning that he used to be a pimp, so it kind of wasn’t his fault. [Sad, but] true story.
In the same way that I don’t want to believe that the people I love do bad things—criminal things—I don’t want to admit that the celebrities and filmmakers I admire are guilty of criminal or morally questionable acts as well. I once stumbled upon a link that read ‘David Boreanaz affair’ (not to imply that an affair is criminal, but it’s a pretty bad thing, usually) and I X’d out of that ish so fast! I was like, No! Not Angel! And I was right; not Angel. David Boreanaz. There’s a difference, Shannon.
Bu what I’m curious about is whether or not any of this could or should change. Some of us wonder why actors still work with directors like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, considering everything we know about them. Others say that it’s about the art and personal lives should be kept separate—Woody Allen the director is not exactly the same guy who screws his step-daughter, and Roman Polanski the filmmaker is something different from the man who sexually assaulted a little girl.
But are they different people? Or do we just want them to be so we can enjoy their brilliant movies, guilt-free? The same goes for artists like Drake (who many of you wanted to believe had nothing to do with the club brawl); is he innocent because he’s innocent or because we need him to be?
What I’m really asking you guys is, should I or should I not go see To Rome With Love? It comes out July 6th so make your moral position known in the comments.
Just kidding. I’ll decide on my own. But I still, as always, want to hear your thoughts.
Does fame change the way we understand criminal behavior, and will we ever be able to see celebrities as ‘just people’?