One of my favorite gym songs these days is Kelly Clarkson’s “Second Wind” off of her latest album Piece by Piece. The opening lyrics are as follows:
"Why do we build up all these idols just to watch them fall / You’re wearing the crown, toast of the town / Then no one takes your call"
Clarkson is no stranger to the fickle nature of fame. After she won the first season of American Idol and became a celebrated pop culture phenomenon, Clarkson was the victim of widespread derision for her later attempts to make her music less formulaic and more personal. She thankfully managed to ride it out, and is once again thought of as one of the best pop belters in the business. But it must have stung at the time.
This peculiar cultural phenomenon that finds the general public hand picking a new star to send into the stratosphere and then shoot them down at the smallest provocation is (finally) being called out by actress Anne Hathaway, another “victim” of the trend. In a recent tweet, Hathaway addressed the Internet grumblings attacking Jennifer Lawrence for her behavior in a post–Golden Globes press session. To sum up the news, Lawrence asked a reporter to stop looking at his phone during her session. "You can't live your whole life behind your phone, bro. You can't do that. You've got to live in the now," she said, with please-look-at-me-when-you're-talking-to-me gesture.
Her critics have pointed out that (perhaps rightly) the reporter was not a native English speaker, suggesting that he was looking at his phone to reference questions, not take unsanctioned pictures or simply pass the time. I don’t pretend to know the motives of the reporter, or Lawrence’s true intentions behind the exchange (Was she trying to make a joke? Was she trying to make a legit point about our addition to phones? Was she being a diva?), but the backlash was instantaneous and harsh. It appeared that the media's most recent darling was teetering on her pedestal.
Which is why I love how Hathaway’s response both supported Lawrence and called out how ridiculous the fame cycle can be:
"Dear the Internet, It's become pretty clear that the Jennifer Lawrence "scolding" was taken out of context and that she was dryly joking with a journalist who was indeed using his phone to take photos of her. Let's not continue the sad but common practice of building people—especially women—up just to viciously tear them down when we perceive them to have misstepped. Jennifer is a beautiful, talented, wildly successful, popular, FOUR TIME OSCAR NOMINATED young woman. Please let us not punish her for these things."
So why is it that we, as a society, take such pleasure in watching the downfall of a young woman whose rise to the top was aided and abetted by our own fascination with celebrities? I will admit to being guilty of it from time to time, and I don’t know why. An unabashed Taylor Swift fan, even I grew tired of her complete domination of the entertainment news cycle during her 1989 tour. Her introduction of one celebrity gal pal after another during her concerts was at first an endearing celebration of girl power, but as time went along, the gesture grew gimmicky and trite. I have always been a huge Anne Hathaway fan and I certainly wasn’t alone, but when she won her Oscar and gave a sweet and earnest acceptance speech about how her hard work had finally paid off, I found myself defending her from critics who were accusing her of caring too much.
And now, here is Jennifer Lawrence, who has been a constant media presence due to her non-stop movie promotions for the Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, X-Men, and Joy. At first her laid back, off beat charm was refreshing. You could always count on her to say something outrageous, or trip over her couture. She was a living, breathing affirmation that celebrities were indeed “just like us.” (Millions of dollars of income difference aside…) And perhaps they are!
But here is the catch—if we want our celebrity idols to be “just like us,” then we need to allow them the wiggle room to have off days, to make mistakes, and to veer away from the narrative that we have assigned them. Yes, these women live a rarified lifestyle that is a perk of fame. And, just as when a friend says something she shouldn't, we should certainly be able to tell a celeb when she was out of line. But like Anne Hathaway showed, we should also be the kind of people who give our friends the benefit of the doubt.
At their heart, Kelly, Anne, Jennifer, Taylor—and all the other women who grace our magazine pages and offer us a brief escape from everyday life—are women who are genuinely interested in pursuing their art forms to the best of their abilities. If we are truly interested and invested in supporting all the varying facets of women, then we should allow these ladies the space to actually be themselves, not just the characters we have created for them.
Brava to Anne for lifting up a fellow woman. May we all be so gracious.
Image Credit: Getty Images