“But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.” –David Wong
About a month and a half ago I was dog sitting for some family friends down in SoHo. I went out to take a walk and as I headed down West Broadway I saw a woman walking toward me with two of the largest great danes I have ever seen. Seriously they probably came up past my hip. Anyways while she was taking a morning walk with her dogs in her own neighborhood, this other woman was filming her and her dogs as she walked down the street. The impulse wasn’t lost on me. When you see something that should seemingly defy nature like these massive dogs, you want to document it. But as I got closer I heard the dog-walker politely asking the other woman to please stop filming her. And suddenly I was horrified at what was happening.
This dog-walker had gone outside to give her enormous dogs some fresh air and was minding her own business while this other woman completely invaded her privacy. This dog-walker had not consented to her picture being taking and would have no control over her image or the images that were taken. And considering internet culture today, once those images are uploaded, that’s it–they’re out there forever. And this made me think about people who go through this everyday.
Celebrity culture has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I grew up with social media, so easy access to my favorite personalities was never hard. I mostly remember keeping up with the Harry Potter trio (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) during the moment they were cast through my formative years as they made each movie and grew up in front of our eyes. I wanted to know what they did in their spare time, what music and books they liked, what projects they were working on. They were a part of something that I was really invested in and I wanted to be a part of their lives too. Because of this, I used to search the internet for every picture or weird piece of info I could find so I could piece together their lives. But I never stopped to think how I got this information or how it found its way online in the first place.
Everyday celebrities walk out of their front door with the risk of their picture being taken without their consent. They fight through crowds of rude paparazzi who ask them questions they have no right to ask, all while trying to seem friendly, and frankly, human. And then when those pictures or out-of-context answers make their way to the media, they are interpreted over and over until any original meaning is lost and they become caricatures of themselves, where a dim shade of their actual personality becomes their defining characteristic.
This is very hard to wrap my head around. I sometimes have a problem imagining the people I am close to complexly, let alone a star I have never even met, let alone personally talked too. I can’t imagine the type of work they have to put in to appear normal when there are a million flashing lights and screams are surrounding them. And god forbid if kids are involved as well. These children, who have no context for what’s happening to them, are exposed to these vicious people who have no regard for their well-being, who only want to get paid for their shot. And that’s no way to grow up and no way to live a life. Celebrities and celebrity parents can choose to show pictures themselves and of their children to the public, as can any parent, but there are boundaries that we all need to respect.
Seeing this dog walker have her picture taken without her consent was not the first time I thought about celebrity and paparazzi culture, but it was the first time I could really put into context the experience of being hunted simply for your picture. It really hit home the harsh reality that these celebrities live in. We say we worship them or look up to them – but at the end of the day, they are just people, trying to live a life just like us.
I guess this experience just really made me think about what it would be like to have such a public life. Some of my dreams for my future career could involve that type of attention for myself one day and I sometimes wonder if I could handle all the time or if at all.
I’m sure like most celebrities–and every other person on the planet–I would have both good days and bad.