Celebrity Culture: Death, Addiction and Mental Illness

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As the news poured in about the death of Terry Prachett this year, I sat in silence as I mourned the loss of someone I’ve never seen beyond a picture on a screen. I’ve never read Terry Prachett’s books but he was always a man I admired from afar after seeing his documentary on Euthanasia and yet I still feel shaken up from his death. Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson in popular Fox TV show Glee, died in 2013 and I remember that day vividly. I remember feeling like I’d lost a sense of youth and innocence as I’d eternalised their characters. It can be hard at times to remember that celebrities are simply human and therefore things like addiction, mental illness and death still happen to them. The fact that we sometimes have to be reminded of this  is definitely unhealthy though and increasingly the attitude of putting a celebrity on a pedestal has shattering effects for both the celebrity and their fans.

I want to focus in on mental illness in particular as it is a major thing the mainstream media and a large proportion of the general public seem to forget exists in celebrities. Often, even after someone has spoken out about their experience with mental illnesses, they still get copious amounts of abuse and insults thrown at them. There is a certain idea that they should uphold the image of being ‘perfect’ and ‘pure’ and to admit that, like every human being, they have bad days is not allowed. The mania surrounding some celebrities at times can seem overwhelming even if you’re simply watching it from a youtube screen and the thought of your every move being watched and analysed makes my skin crawl. When you pair that with not being allowed to speak out about it in fear of being seen as ‘ungrateful’, you create a society packed full of celebrities who are at breaking point. If you look closely, the life they live is not all that glamorous and luxurious. For example, countless singers and bands say that when they come back from touring, they find it incredibly hard to adjust to everyday life and it is not easy to fall back into a routine. It also must be exhausting and yes, while the idea of traveling around the world sounds glorious, a lot of them will not see much but the back of a tour bus. From being sexually harassed to stalked, numerous celebrities have faced some really arduous situations and then had to relive them through the lime-light as wide-eyed spectators gawked at them.

I’m treading carefully with the topic of celebrity culture as I do believe we all play a key part in the dehumanising of these people from the top companies that manage them to the fans that buy into the mania. Also, Social media completely breaks the barriers down when it comes to interaction between the celebrities and the fans. For some, it can make them feel like they can say or do anything to their idol because they’re only a tweet away and reinforces a level of “friendship” rather than simply idolising.

It’s a vicious cycle. We believe an image that is sold to us, an untainted palatable image, and when the humanity shines through and the person we thought was perfect turns out to be flawed, we shame them mercilessly in the media. Furthermore, we don’t often think of the effect of the image projected on the celebrity instead reckon that we know them because we follow their Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat religiously.

It’s easy to be surprised when something like this happens, Amy Winehouse in 2011, Cory Monteith in 2013 and Terry Prachett in 2015, because we believe we see these people purely as they are. However, we have one image and more often that not, it is exactly the image the media or professionals want us to have. I mourned Cory Monteith because it was a shame he died young, it was a shame his girlfriend was hounded by paparazzi where a smile was written about poisonously and a frown was met with aggressiveness, it was a shame he had a problem with drugs. It always is. However, I do not believe I mourned Cory: the man his family, his friends and his other half knew. It’s confusing and hard to grasp especially because society is positioned in a way where automatically these people are idolised and placed upon a pedestal.

I suppose this plays a part in the bigger discussion of Celebrity Culture in the modern day which could go on for pages and pages but quite simply my overall view is neatly summed up by a John Green quote: “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person” and it is. It truly is.

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Celebrity Culture: Death, Addiction and Mental Illness

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