How the urge to dehumanize celebrities takes a dark turn when they become victims — not just of lip injections
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. There’s little people like more than seeing a wealthy, powerful, beautiful celebrity humbled.
It’s why every tabloid has its own version of Us Magazine’s “Stars – They’re Just Like Us!” spread, which boasts photos of celebrities doing very un-celeb-like things. We love to gossip about A-lister breakups, Twitter feuds and plastic surgery gone wrong. As the divide between the masses and the ultra-glam widens, so has the intensity of our love-hate relationship with boldface names. It gives us an illusion of having power over the powerful.
This urge to dehumanize and mock celebrities takes a dark turn when celebrities become victims – and not just of overly aggressive lip injections. When famous people become victims of assaults, theft, harassment and more, we become the ultimate rubberneckers, unable to resist the temptation to gawk and provide commentary.
This continues to be the case with the violent assault on Kim Kardashian and theft of millions of dollars worth of her jewelry, including that infamous 20-carat diamond ring. Kardashian was forced out of bed, wearing only her bathrobe, then bound, gagged and locked in the bathroom while her apartment was ransacked. She reportedly feared rape and begged for her life. The details are nothing short of horrific.
Yet, many people saw the incident as a great opportunity to make fun of Kardashian. Many commenters said she deserved it or brought it upon herself. Respectable media outlets questioned whether she made the entire ordeal up to get some extra publicity. Late night hosts worked the assault into their comedy routines. The worst internet trolls openly wished she’d been raped or murdered. The crime became much more than a disturbing news story – it became entertainment.
Kardashian isn’t the first celebrity to have her victimization turned into entertainment for the masses. Perhaps the most obvious example is the string of high-profile celebrity robberies that led to 2013’s satirical film The Bling Ring. Victims included Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr, Rachel Bilson, Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, Lindsay Lohan and Audrina Patridge. While Hilton appeared as herself in the film, Bilson (whose house was robbed five times) told media that the movie was “weird,” “upsetting” and glorified the crimes.
There have certainly been a fair share of male celebrities victimized by thieves, including Kanye West, 50 Cent and Nicolas Cage, who once awoke to find a naked man wearing his leather jacket and eating a Fudgesicle in his bedroom. Yet, these cases never seem to garner the same media attention and public interest as cases involving women. With male celebrities, the news is often reported matter-of-factly as a robbery. With women, there’s often a sensationalization that combines elements of potential rape with the idea that they brought it on themselves for being so rich, beautiful, fashionable and attention-seeking.
Women, who are objects of simultaneous worship and disgust in the public eye, become both victim and villain.
This was the case when Rihanna was assaulted by Chris Brown in 2009. Photos of the singer’s battered face quickly went viral and the altercation became the butt of more than a few jokes. While people tore down Brown, they also questioned if Rihanna had somehow deserved it – including a rumour that she gave him herpes – and self-righteously criticized her actions after the incident.
When numerous female stars became victims of 2014’s nude photo hack, the internet could barely contain its glee, even nicknaming the event “The Fappening.” The images represented a complete violation of privacy for women such as Jennifer Lawrence, Kaley Cuoco, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst, but media coverage ranged from tech articles about how the hacks could’ve been prevented to supposedly feminist women’s magazines analyzing what readers could learn from the celeb nudes to improve their own sexting. For many, the photos became completely separate from the human women they violated. They were simply objects to be shared, dissected and gossiped about.
Our eagerness to dehumanize celebrities, and particularly female celebs, during their lowest of lows doesn’t speak highly of our culture. The reactions to these crimes reveal an ugly underbelly of fandom that feeds on biterrness, jealousy, lewdness and misogyny. Kardashian is only the latest and most famous A-lister to suffer at the hands of not just criminals, but the torch-bearing public eager for blood.
When we mock, dismiss or blame victims, we all become the bad guys.