My problem with celebrities began back in the ‘70s. I took a train from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to Chicago to attend my first Star Trek convention. I had fun mixing with some of the actors and science fiction writers who created Star Trek. And back then, the actors and writers actually mingled with the fans without entourages and security. (Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison was very entertaining.)
That first science fiction convention introduced me to a new world: let’s call it Planet Celebrity. The convention dazzled me and I left with an even greater love of Star Trek and science fiction. But there was a downside: I discovered that Planet Celebrity was populated by humans, and many of these humans were not the best examples of humanity.
There is nothing more disappointing than meeting or seeing one of your favorite actors up close and discovering that he or she isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, or is an egotistical monster. One of the actors I saw couldn’t put two words together to form a sentence. Some of the actors actually believed that, along with Jesus Christ, God had sent them directly to us for immediate deification. Being a young lad with little experience outside of Kenosha, Wisconsin, I had never met people who actually thought they should be worshipped. It was quite a shock.
As time went on, other actors, singers, and celebrities fell out of favor with me. I used to like Tom Cruise’s performances. But I reached a point where I could no longer watch him on the screen without thinking of all the news stories about his participation in a strange, cult-like religion. When I could no longer separate the actor from the negative publicity, I couldn’t enjoy any movie he was in.
Diversity was not the norm when I was growing up, so I didn’t listen to a lot of black singers, but that changed, in part because of Michael Jackson. His music appealed to me. Because of it, I started to seek out other types of music. I became especially fond of Delta Blues.
Then all sorts of weird stuff came out about Michael Jackson and I couldn’t listen to his music without thinking about all the other stuff, which spoiled the experience for me. So, I stopped buying and listening to Michael Jackson’s music.
Sometimes I could forgive and forget celebrities' transgressions. I loved Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance in Chaplin. Then Downey got into trouble with drugs, and for a while I had trouble watching his performances: I kept wondering if he was high. But eventually he redeemed himself, and I reached a point where I could enjoy his performances again. I loved him in Iron Man. After Elvis died, I was able to move on and enjoy his music. Will the same thing happen with Michael Jackson? I don’t know.
Reality shows can positively or negatively impact how I view a celebrity. Before I started watching their reality shows, I really didn’t know who Gene Simmons and Kathy Griffin were. Now, I watch Simmons and Griffin whenever I can. On the other hand, Paula Abdul’s reality show, Hey Paula, made me think that she needed psychiatric or medical help. I’m really on the fence with Denise Richards’ show It’s Complicated : it hasn’t increased or decreased her appeal to me. But her show must have brought her some free publicity. Celebrities should think long and hard before they agree to star in their own reality show.
It’s not that celebrities have to lead the lives of nuns or priests. That’s not the point. It’s just that I can’t enjoy an artist’s acting or singing if his or her personal life looms over them and colors everything they do. And if I can’t enjoy their performance, I don’t buy one of their songs or a ticket to their movie. I do enjoy visiting Planet Celebrity, but I get to choose who I visit there. And I don’t think I’ll be attending a Tom Cruise convention any time soon.