Oh, how the media loves its influence. The hype it creates, the backlash it engenders, the stigmatization it causes. The drama. The craze. Especially if the source of all of these reactions doesn’t even exist. What’s it all for? It really varies. Entertainment, perhaps primarily. Chatter. Buzz. Pleasing, or at least trying to please, the masses. Most times, unfortunately, the subjects of media madness suffer the negative consequences of the media’s greed for the public’s attention, emotions, and time.
People probably check on their favorite celebrities more times a day than they can count. In fact, many have become obsessed with their idols. Jo Piazza, staff writer for The Huffington Post and author of If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, writes, “Whether we are obsessed with celebrities because the supply of outlets has increased, or the number of outlets has increased because of the demand fueled by our obsession, is a moot point. The fact is, Americans today are inundated with news about famous people.” But if you look at the way the media portrays celebrities, whether in tabloids or websites solely devoted to following their every move, the media is to blame — not only for the increase in celebrity worship, but also in the demise of celebrities themselves.
Celebrities are often portrayed as having unattainable and idealized lifestyles, which hurts both the celebrities and the viewers. The media disregards the fact that celebrities are humans just like everybody else and therefore paints them as the epitome of perfection; this unrealistic standard often leads to the demise of celebrities who become consumed with living up to this unattainable standard set for them. The reputable actor Denzel Washington said it himself: “Some people survive [Hollywood and fame], and some people don’t.” The public suffers, too, even when it refuses to acknowledge it; certain studies show that young people diagnosed with major eating disorders typically reveal that their struggles are not only related to “bullying they often receive from their age peers” but also to “the unrealistic media images presented as an ideal for them to follow.” The celebrities are faced with standards too high to maintain, and the public is faced with pedestals too high to reach. Both sides are hurt significantly, and neither side wins.
What about when a celebrity happens to kill him/herself after not being able to handle the complicated life of an individual placed on a pedestal too high for anyone, bombarded with more criticism than should ever be put on someone and worshiped with more adoration than what any human being deserves? Andrew Solomon from The New Yorker says, “When the mass media report suicide stories, they almost always provide a ‘reason,’ which seems to bring logic to the illogic of self-termination. Such rationalization is particularly common when it comes to the suicides of celebrities, because the idea that someone could be miserable despite great worldly success seems so unreasonable.” The media’s priority when it comes to following celebrities is flashing their unreal highs and catastrophic lows, playing a significant part in the demise of many celebrities who cannot handle all the attention and criticism given to them. Constructive criticism and effective discussion about celebrity influence? Not really a priority.
Who else is more skilled at manipulating the public’s views on social matters? When it comes to crime, the media has power over who is portrayed as the more “likely” criminal. Lisa Wade from The Society Pages says, “A new study by Color of Change found that, while 51% of the people arrested for violent crime in New York City are black, 75% of the news reports about such arrests highlighted black alleged perpetrators. Meanwhile, when people of color are arrested, they are more likely to be portrayed in ways that make them seem threatening than white people.”
The media is talented at twisting what people say. For instance, the media paints certain icons in society as radicals; celebrities recognize that the media will do what it wishes with the statements they make willy-nilly. Pharrell Williams, in an interview with NPR, said, “I’m not really fond of interviews, just because I realize that sometimes as an artist you can become overly passionate, you know, you should keep your passion and the medium of your discipline. But some of us, we have big mouths, and… we gotta have the last word, you know, and that’s usually the one that they print and turn into the headline, completely out of context.” It can be difficult for artists or any famous individual with a position of influence to construct what they want to say in a shrewd manner, since every word that comes out of the mouth is bound to be dissected and scrutinized.
The truth of the media is that, most times, there is little truth in what comes out of it. As Simon & Garfunkel once sang, “All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” More often than not, the media tends to be that man. So, if you know what’s good for you, don’t let yourself get roped into all the fireworks it releases every so often.