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Exploited celebrities deserve our empathy

February 21, 2010

Dr. Drew Pinsky, the doctor who hosted the radio and television shows “Loveline,” “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” and “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew,” hosted a discussion on Nov. 23, 2009, at Wharton Center. Thanks to the MSU Residence Halls Association, Pinsky ran an open dialogue with the audience about topics such as stress, relationships and addictions.

Having seen “Celebrity Rehab” and now having heard from the charismatic man himself, I had to go out and purchase his newest book, “The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America.”

Throughout the book he touches on topics such as narcissism in Hollywood, the modern celebrity and the lack of empathy in today’s society. After finishing the book, I realized my view of Hollywood certainly has changed. Using the narcissistic personality index, a psychological test, Pinsky’s results pointed toward the idea that Hollywood doesn’t create narcissists; narcissists create Hollywood — meaning that people with more narcissistic personality traits are more inclined to desire and seek fame. The psychological definition of narcissist, according to Dictionary.com, is one who “derives erotic pleasure from contemplation or admiration of one’s own body or self, especially as a fixation on or a regression to an infantile stage of development.” Once these types of people — Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton — have found the fame they seek, they will do anything to keep the spotlight on themselves.

This includes dangerous acting out because they weigh others’ validation of themselves more than their own. Examples of acting out include violating probation with significantly reduced jail time, highly publicized hookups, pictures of private body parts for paparazzi, cocaine and heroin use, rehab stints and other extraordinary means to keep the spotlight focused on themselves. Although some of these actions might only be for publicity, many of them actually are cries for help from celebrities who have endured traumatic events.

What is society’s feeling? Surprise. Disgust. Superiority. In the golden age of Hollywood, the private lives of stars were kept private. If fans knew of an actor’s drug problem it could derail their career or blacklist them from films. Now, however, all that acting out elicits from society is the front page of People and pictures for the paparazzi. Sadly, we have become desensitized and apathetic toward the problems of Britney Spears or Kate Moss. Instead of giving Spears the privacy she needs to deal with real problems, we scoop up the latest issue of US Weekly to see her shaving her head, coming out of the hospital in a wheelchair and other unflattering photos. We have no respect for the fact that she probably has bipolar disorder.

A problem within our society is the lack of sympathy given to Hollywood A-listers. The aura of fame around these people makes us think they are invincible. In fact, these stars, albeit talented, are regular people like us. Instead of condemning their problems as a behavior stunt, I think it’s important to realize many of these people have serious life or relationship issues. Fame and wealth are not enough to cure anorexia, bulimia or depression.

Now, anyone can become “famous.” All that you have to do is create a MySpace, Facebook fan page or YouTube channel and start recruiting “friends” or “subscribers.” No looks? No talent? No connections? No problem. Simply look to overnight hits such as Tila Tequila or Chris Crocker who have become famous for their antics instead of any actual star-like abilities. In the digital age, “fame” has never been this easy.

The worst part is that we as a society and as students add fuel to the fire by listening, purchasing and demanding in-depth celebrity coverage. We demand to see unflattering photos of celebrities as they come out of hospitals, jails or rehab centers, instead of giving them the privacy that they deserve. Throughout the years, magazines and media have become more invasive, yet the allure of fame only has increased. I believe that we need to learn to appreciate the boundaries between a celebrity’s public and private life. We must react with empathy instead of anger, disgust or happiness to their problems. And lastly, we must not deem their issues as “news,” which will give them the opportunity to heal themselves without national media attention.

Charlie Kraiger is a State News guest columnist and international relations sophomore. Reach him at kraigerc@msu.edu.

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