While saddened by the death of a major talent such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, a loss that's heartfelt and spread widely across the world, we are once again reminded of how we really are fixated with the lives -- and deaths! -- of celebrities. And how it can swing quite easily from the sacred to the profane. Just over two weeks ago the airwaves were full of Justin Bieber's egg barrage on his neighbor's house as the lead-in on most news channels. Most even aired the 911 call from the neighbor whose house was under attack!
And that story then has to be commoditized to become a product (news) that has to appeal to more viewers which begets more advertising dollars. It's like the timeless clip from Kentucky Fried Movie where the announcer comes on to tell you "Moscow in flames, missiles headed to New York, film at 11." then cuts to commercial. They really do want you to tune back in, especially when there's a big storm headed our way and they'll tell you how to prepare for it -- after this commercial message.
But what happens when a celebrity, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Paul Walker, lives a life that eventually can be said to bring about their early demise? Sure, Paul Walker may not have been driving the Porsche Carrera GT when it went off the public road into a tree, but he was known for his passion of fast cars. It was his co-owner of the custom house "Always Evolving," Roger Rodas, behind the wheel that fateful day. Speed kills, and both knew the consequences. Talking about Roger was almost an afterthought as all the initial news stories were about Paul. The fact that he was a professional race car driver made the story even more enticing and gave it a second wind, so that fact nestled itself into the story a day or two later, bringing Roger's name to the co-starring role.
A lot of the posts I read online over the past week actually criticized the outpouring of sentiments from other actors and news outlets. They were all guilty of putting Philip on a pedestal. According to many, Philip took his own life and lived with reckless abandon. They pointed to Philip's three young kids while proclaiming Philip chose drugs over his family. The news channels brought in addiction experts to talk about Philip and how drugs do not discriminate. It wasn't really a choice with lively debate on whether it is a choice, or not a choice, or a series of bad choices. What about the many people who die daily from drug addiction? What about them? The news doesn't cover them.
Looking at Walker's death there is a similar disconnect. Living in LA you often hear about people dying from road racing. Usually they show the car, talk about the deceased, interview a surviving family member, then have a cop denounce street racing in general. How these people should find better things to do and not put the public at risk.
Where was that cop when Paul died? They all wanted to talk about the high-performance Porsche, or that Tyrese and Vin showed up at the crash site vigil. Where were the protestors saying they were driving recklessly and could have killed innocent bystanders?
Yes, the news plays favorites and in essence we go along for the ride, enjoying the vicarious nature of our need for things salacious and extreme.
If there is one good thing about this one-sided coverage though is, it gets us talking. Talking about drugs or even talking to our kids about the dangers of street racing. Understanding that actors and celebrities are just people. No matter the famous line by Charles Barkley in his 1987 Nike advertisement "I am not a role model" the media uses them as archetypes because we all know them -- at least superficially -- and as such they are identifiable and relatable. We've watched their movies, we've followed their careers, seen them grow up or blow up in the public eye. In cases like Paul and Philip, they should and can serve as examples, too.
What if, like a celebrity, we don't think through the consequences of our actions so fully that we know the damage we are creating in our wake to loved ones and even perhaps to those we've never met? What if, like a celebrity, as Mark Bryan, the co-author of The Artists Way, asks in one of his later books, "it is possible we are even more loved than we will ever know?"