Tag Archives: fame

Why Nobody Should EVER Be As Famous As Michael Jackson

JACKSON GRAMMY AWARDS 1984

A lot has been said about Michael Jackson’s legacy in recent years. Like so many others, I remember just how big he was. I’ve listened to his music. I’ve watched his music videos. I’ve also read some of the many weird stories that have been told about him. While I never considered myself a huge fan, I don’t deny that in terms of sheer star power, he’s in a league all his own.

The extent of that star power is difficult to fathom today, even for people who become stars for all the wrong reasons. It’s impossible to overstate just how big Michael Jackson was as an entertainer and a celebrity. Anyone under the age of 30 can’t hope to understand the status he had in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. He was the closest any celebrity ever came to becoming a full-blown demigod.

Whether you cared for his music or not, he forged an unparalleled legacy that will likely never be matched. Ever since his death in 2009, however, the narrative surrounding that legacy has branched off into two very different directions.

One attempts to celebrate just how much he contributed to entertainment, highlighting how he ascended from his days as the cute kid in the Jackson 5 to one of the undisputed King of Pop. The other attempts to cut through the breadth of his fame to reveal his egregious misdeeds, which may have included child sexual abuse.

The stories surrounding these misdeeds have recently gained greater attention thanks to the “Leaving Neverland” documentary that aired on HBO. In this film, the kids Jackson allegedly abused, who are now adults with families of their own, get to tell their stories. Without spoiling too much, the details of those stories are not for the faint of heart.

It’s impossible to know just how true some details are. I’ve noted before that people should never take documentaries too seriously. I’ve also pointed out that human memory is notoriously unreliable. Even though Michael Jackson was ultimately acquitted, there’s still an underlying sentiment that he’s an abuser who got away with his crimes.

Personally, I don’t blame people for thinking that way about him. Jackson was a weird, eccentric character and for understandable reasons. He was a child star who somehow managed to become an even bigger star as an adult. He even said in the days leading up to his death that he never had a childhood. His whole life was consumed by fame, celebrity, and stardom.

Even today, there aren’t many parallels. Even the biggest celebrities of today, from Taylor Swift to Ryan Reynolds, never had to endure fame to that extent. They got to have childhoods. They had a chance to anchor themselves to the real world, if only to a limited extent. Even the children of celebrities have some breathing room, although not all of them handle it well.

Michael Jackson never had that opportunity. Shortly after he achieved stardom with the Jackson 5, his life became consumed with celebrity. He ceased becoming Michael Jackson, the kid, and forever became Michael Jackson, the celebrity. He never faded into obscurity, like many other child stars do. He remained this superstar icon who, no matter what he did, couldn’t escape the fame.

It’s a caliber of fame that, logistically speaking, just isn’t possible today when one mis-worded tweet or one scandalous video from a smartphone is enough to cause a celebrity’s downfall. Personally, I believe that’s a good thing. I would even go so far as to say that nobody should ever achieve the level of fame that Michael Jackson had.

It’s not just that fame can corrupt otherwise decent people. Michael Jackson already had issues beyond fame, from his lengthy list of medical ailments to the way his father disciplined him and his brothers. Fame, in many cases, acts as a fuel rather than a catalyst. It compounds the good and the bad in people. For someone who has real demons, the bad can lead to real tragedy.

The level of fame that Michael Jackson achieved wasn’t just fuel, though. It was more akin to weapons grade plutonium, bombarding him with a level of volatility that no human being is equipped to handle. Through both the interviews he has conducted and the anecdotes of other celebrities, the effects of such immense fame are painfully clear.

Michael, as talented and weird as he was, couldn’t handle it. The pressure of navigating that kind of celebrity isn’t just daunting. It’s impossible. It’s also likely that pressure played a role in some of the health issues he endured later in his life. It probably played a role in his less-than-normal mental health.

Now, none of those issues should absolve him of any crimes he may have committed. The fact that he’s no longer alive to defend his legacy against a contrasting narrative is worth considering when judging him, as both a person and an icon. That won’t stop some from furthering a certain narrative, which has already had a substantial impact on Jackson’s legacy, but it should provide context.

Regardless of the narrative that best reflects the truth, there are lessons from Michael Jackson’s famous story that are more relevant now than they were when he was alive. Currently, we live in a world of outrage culture where the internet and social media has given people unprecedented access to the world of celebrity. With that access, the dark side of that world is harder to avoid.

Even at the height of his fame, Michael Jackson just had to dodge reporters and the paparazzi. He could also rely, to some extent, on people not taking the tabloids too seriously. After all, some of those tabloids published stories that were weird, even by his standards. Today, he would have to worry about everyone with a smartphone and social media account.

On top of that, the very nature of the internet and human psychology have made it so that even proven lies somehow become accepted as truth. They never go away. The internet never forgets. Once you’ve been labeled with an embarrassing smear, it doesn’t go away. Even if you’re innocent, the label sticks.

Someone of Michael Jackson’s fame and eccentricities wouldn’t last long in the current social climate. It’s remarkable how some celebrities manage to sustain themselves for extended periods of time, but those individuals are few and far between. In addition, none of them have ever come close to achieving Jackson’s level of fame.

Perhaps, it’s for the best that no one will ever reach the level of celebrity that that Michael Jackson achieved. The human psyche, no matter how talented or resilient, just isn’t equipped to handle that kind of stardom. What it means to be a celebrity is rapidly changing, thanks to the internet and even to Jackson’s influence on the culture, at large. Chances are the pace of that change will only accelerate.

For better or for worse, Michael Jackson’s legacy is a testament to how damaging fame can be when taken to ridiculous extremes. In an era where fame is both fleeting and increasingly irrational, it’s harder than ever to escape that damage. Even if it’s no longer possible for someone to achieve that level of fame, the lessons of that legacy are worth learning from.

 

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology

Celebrities, Loneliness, And The Price Of Fame

We all love to dream about it. We all love to build an elaborate fantasy in our minds. It’s right up there with our fantasies involving Channing Tatum, Kate Hudson, and a pool full of premium lube. It’s that tantalizing idea that we, despite our unremarkable physical traits, limited talents, and lack of opportunities, could be a celebrity.

It’s not an unreasonable fantasy to entertain. Celebrities are constantly showing off how awesome their lives are. They live in big, opulent mansions. They have more money than most of us could ever spend in a lifetime. They’re surrounded by servants and assistants who cater to their every whim,  be it a sandwich or a threesome with a couple of Swedish bikini models.

Whether they’re a movie star, a TV star, or a rock star, we all envy their extraordinary lives. That’s why it’s always so shocking and confusing when we hear that a famous, accomplished celebrity has taken their own life. It’s a tragedy and one that evokes an outpouring of mourning.

It was just hard to imagine someone as beloved and cherished as Robin Williams taking his own life. Just recently, it was hard to imagine someone like Chester Bennington from Linkin Park doing the same. These men achieved a level of success that even other celebrities envy. Why would they make such a terrible decision to end their lives?

It’s a question that we find ourselves asking way too often. Celebrities have been taking their own lives with alarming frequency in the 21st century. Some, like Kurt Cobain and John Belushi, had well-documented issues with substance abuse. Some, like Corey Haim or Freddie Prinze, saw their fame and fortune fall over time.

Whatever the circumstances, the shock still resonates. The question still remains. Why would someone who achieved something so few achieve choose to end their lives? Some of these people came from poor, impoverished backgrounds. Why would they end it after achieving the kind of success that most only dream of?

These are impossible questions to answer because we can never know what goes on in someone’s mind when they decide to take their own lives. We can speculate, but we can never truly know. I certainly won’t claim to know what was going on inside Chester Bennington’s mind. That would be wrong, especially as his family, friends, and fans mourn him.

However, even if we can’t know, there is one way to gain some insight into this tragedy. It requires another thought experiment, albeit one of the more uncomfortable variety. Considering how uncomfortable some of these experiments have gotten, that’s saying something. Even so, I think it’s an important insight to have, especially when you’re trying to make sense of celebrity culture.

Picture, for a moment, that you wake up in an alternate universe of the world you know. Everything is the same, from the shape of the planet to the laws of physics to the annoying video ads you see before YouTube videos. The main difference is that in this world, you have none of the friends or family that you know and love.

Instead, you’re in a world surrounded by total strangers. Most act nice. Some even try to be your friend. However, you don’t know for sure whether you can trust them. These people and this world may seem familiar, but it might as well be totally alien, complete with little green men and anal probes.

Then, throw in another huge complication. Imagine you’re rich and famous. Everybody wants a piece of you. Everybody envies what you have. People you don’t know and never would’ve known in your old life just throw themselves at you. They want to be with you physically, emotionally, and often sexually, as is often the case with rock stars. They even claim to love you with all their heart, sometimes excessively.

Therein lies the problem, though. How can you be sure they actually love you? How can you even trust them when they make such bold proclamations? You’re rich and famous. They’re not. You have a lot. They don’t. They also don’t know you on a truly intimate level. They know the image of you, be it in the movies or on a stage, but they don’t know the kind of person you are when the cameras go off and the lights fade.

Maybe these people want some of your money. That does happen, especially with women looking to hook up with athletes and rock stars. Maybe these people want a piece of your fame. That’s where you get some of the crazy fans who will throw themselves at their celebrity crushes in a frenzy. Maybe they really just want to have sex with you because they get a huge thrill out of having sex with famous people.

There are way more possibilities I can list, but at the end of the day, you can never know for sure. You can never truly trust someone who claims to love you. You can’t even just walk down the street, make some new friends, and build new bonds from there. You’re a celebrity.

Your entire life is overly scrutinized. People only know the character that is you, but not you on a truly intimate level. It means that, even among those who claim to be your friends, you end up feeling alone. Add on top of that the everyday stresses of being a celebrity and your caveman brains will start to strain.

Image result for stress of loneliness

Could you really function with that kind of mentality? Could you live the rest of your life not being able to trust anyone around you? Could you handle being in a world where nobody truly knows the real you?

Many think they can. Why else would there be lines around the block to participate in the next American Idol rip-off? I don’t doubt these people are sincere, but I doubt they’ve actually thought about the implications of celebrity life. I doubt anyone does, even if they were born into it.

There is a price for fame and fortune. It’s downright Faustian in its cost. Sure, you might be able to live in luxury, your every whim and desired pampered to at every hour of the day. However, you’ll still be isolated and alone. You’ll be stuck in a world where you can never be sure of who to trust. You can never know whether someone actually cares about you or the celebrity version of you.

Image result for alone in a crowd

That kind of loneliness and isolation can be pretty debilitating. It’s also completely incompatible with the default settings of our caveman brains. We are very social creatures. We crave connection and bonding. I’m not just talking about the sexy kind either. Take that away from us and it really screws us up. That’s why solitary confinement is rightly considered torture.

When you feel things like that, you naturally want them to go away. This isn’t a headache, a broken bone, or chipped tooth, though. This is a very different kind of pain, one for which you can’t fix with a band aid and an aspirin. That’s why many celebrities will turn to drugs and vices.

I’m not just talking about heroin, cocaine, and orgies either. Some celebrities will go so far to alleviate that isolation that they’ll effectively cut ties with reality and try to live in their own fantasy world. We saw that happen with Michael Jackson. We’re seeing that with celebrities like Tom Cruise, who uses a sci-fi cult religion that’s famous for legal extortion to deal with these feelings.

At the end of the day, no matter how successful or glamorous they may be, celebrities are still human. They’re still wired like our caveman ancestors, even if they believe weird things. If they struggle to meet these very basic human needs, then it’s going to cause problems and some of them will end in tragedy.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to manage. There are plenty of celebrities who do an excellent job handling the fame, fortune, and attention. Celebrities like Hugh Jackman, George Clooney, Jennifer Anniston, Bruce Springstein, and even Weird Al Yanckovic regularly show that it is possible to survive that lonely world.

While these celebrities show it is possible for some to function, it doesn’t make the tragedies of those like Chester Bennington any less painful. It also wrongly convinces many that they can handle that world too. Nobody aspires to be a celebrity if they aren’t convinced they can’t handle it.

The hard truth is, though, that precious few people can pay the price that comes with fame and fortune. Fame and fortune may make for an eventful life, but it doesn’t make us any less human. It doesn’t make loneliness and isolation any less debilitating.

Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, and countless others struggled with that loneliness. They endured that struggle on top of whatever personal pain they also carried with them. No amount of fame and fortune can make that struggle less agonizing. For some, it’s just too much.

It’s a feeling that few outside the celebrity world can understand. When everyone wants a piece of you and everyone wants to tell you what you think you want to hear, there’s no way to know for sure who you can trust. In the end, it leaves even the most talented and gifted among us feeling lost. In a sense, that only doubles the tragedy when a celebrity takes their own life.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Thought Experiment

A Quick Guide To Dealing With Internet Trolls

The late, great Benjamin Franklin once said, “[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That little pearl of wisdom has held up remarkably well over the years, especially when democrats are in charge or when despots need more money for their gold-plated toilet seats.

However, if Mr. Franklin were alive today, he’d have to amend that quote in a very specific way. While it’s still true that the only certainty is death and taxes, there is one other inescapable force that makes even the forces of nature tremble. It’s a force so powerful that it can reduce the best of us into wounded puppies begging for a band-aid.

What is this force, you ask? Get ready to embrace the horror because it will affect us moving forward. In fact, it’ll affect us more and more as the pace of technological advancement accelerates. It conjures dread, fear, annoyance, and frustration. It is the ultimate shit stain of the internet and technology in general. They are the true beasts of the 21st century.

Yes, I’m talking about Internet Trolls.

I’ll give everyone a moment to either cringe in horror or roll their eyes. Some of us have experience with internet trolls. Some of us may have even done our share of trolling in the past, although we’ll never admit in public that it qualified as trolling. Like a kid trying to get out of chores, we’ll make any excuse not to be associated with this horror. That doesn’t make us any less guilty of it.

I freely admit that I’ve done my share of trolling in the past. I’m not proud of it, but I’m only human. I’m passionate about a lot of things and I hope that shows in my erotica/romance novels. If it doesn’t, then I’m not doing my job.

We humans are passionate creatures. We always have been. We probably always will be on some levels, despite the efforts of movies like “Equilibrium.” It’s only recently that we’ve had a tool, namely the internet, to convey our passion all over the world about every possible subject from sports to pets to how we style our pubic hair.

I don’t consider this a bad thing. I’m not those who think the internet makes people into monsters or trolls. I believe that humans always had these sentiments to some degree. We just never had a chance to express them on a larger scale. The internet helps us reveal the breadth of our passions. There’s going to be the good and the bad. We can’t avoid either, nor should we.

So in many respects, internet trolls are like the sewer systems of a city. It smells, it’s ugly, and it’s flowing with shit, but it needs to be there. It needs to function for the city to function. You can whine about it all you want, and some people do, but you can’t escape it.

If we can’t escape it, then how do we deal with it? How do we deal with these digital demons that attempt to suck the fun out of anything and everything we hold dear? It’s actually easier than you think, at least for the non-famous population. For the famous crowd, it’s a little trickier, but not by much.

Since I can’t relate to famous people that much, I’ll stick to what I know before I dare to speculate. I’ve been on the internet for over 20 years and I’ve seen it grow and evolve, from the early AOL days to the fall of MySpace. In that time, I’ve picked up on a few techniques to combat internet trolls. Here are just a few:

  1. Assume there will be trolls wherever there’s an opportunity and don’t get overly upset when they show up
  2. Never assume a troll is being one hundred percent sincere, nor should you assume that the troll is one hundred percent knowledgeable either
  3. A troll that makes threats is serious, but a troll actually carrying out these threats is exceedingly rare so keep that in mind
  4. Above all, deny the troll any and all forms of attention or reactions, as this is the primary fuel in which a troll operates
  5. Apathy is the most potent weapon against internet trolls

There are probably more techniques that are unique to certain situations. There’s probably a whole host of tips and tricks to deal with certain trolls that go to much greater lengths to harass others. Those cases aren’t typical.

How can I be so sure of this? Again, apply a little caveman logic and it’s obvious. Human beings have a lot of remarkable mental and physical traits, breasts and balls being some of the most notable. However, when it comes to our attention span, human beings are incredibly lacking.

The average human attention span is not that great and some even argue (albeit not very effectively) that it’s shrinking due to technology. A troll operates at the very basic of levels in terms of human capacity. That means a troll’s attention span should not be overestimated. The internet is full of so many distractions, cat videos being just one of them. A troll that doesn’t get a reaction isn’t going to stay interested for very long.

In the end, the greatest weapon that any of us can use against internet trolls is apathy. That is a troll’s ultimate kryptonite. When a troll goes to such great lengths to harass and demean, but earns nothing but a blank gaze in the end, it’s downright toxic. Their brains simply cannot process why they are wasting time and energy that could be better spent hunting for tigers and seeking fertile mates. It’s caveman logic at its finest.

This is a sentiment echoed by those who have a somewhat larger social media presence. Being a lifelong comic book fan, I frequent comic book message boards and social media. I see a lot of trolling, to say the least. Comic book fans are a passionate bunch, as we learned during the Avengers: Age of Ultron controversy surrounding Black Widow.

This leads me to Tom Brevoort, an accomplished editor at Marvel and a genuinely interesting guy. I’ve met him in person at comic cons. He’s great at what he does and the way he deals with fans is nothing short of astonishing. A couple years back, he responded to a question that effectively proves my point.

When Mr. Brevoort was asked, “What does Marvel fear more? Angry fans or apathetic fans?” he responded as follows:

“Apathetic fans, definitely. When fans are angry, we’re selling comics.”

That’s a refreshing bit of honesty from someone who often has to be coy about his business. It also emphasizes the power of apathy, both in terms of dealing with trolls and dealing with public visibility. That saying about there being no such thing as bad publicity is somewhat accurate, but it’s incomplete in that it ignores how human passions operate.

So with that in mind, use these techniques whenever necessary. If you’re a celebrity, it may be somewhat trickier because internet trolls can sometimes turn into dangerous stalkers, which is an entirely different problem that I’m not equipped to deal with. For those like me, who are a long way away from being famous, this should help make your internet experience more tolerable.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights