In case you missed the news, naked celebrity photos were recently stolen and leaked on the web, bringing with them scores of discussions, debates and even an art exhibition.
Aside from our monster junk food, monster house and monster car obsessions, Americans also have monster celebrity obsessions as well as some fairly unhealthy relationships with the naked body. We idolize both celebrities and nakedness for what they represent, rather than what they are. (Which is to say: they’re people and naked people, respectively.) So should we really be surprised by the insane amount of media attention that’s been given to this ‘news’?
It all got me wondering why we’re so fixated on people we don’t know, let alone why we clamor to see them naked. I get the whole seeing people naked for, you know, practical purposes, if you will. But the level of gawking people are doing at an undressed Jennifer Lawrence isn’t serving a utilitarian function like pornography (although I’m sure it has for some)—it’s mostly being approached in the neck-turning effect driving past car wrecks have on us. We simply want to see something incredible.
This whole scenario got me thinking about the time Bill Murray and I shared our spit. Yes, that Bill Murray, and no, we didn’t make out. He was shopping at a health food store about ten years ago when I was there for a South American tea company. The tea, yerba mate, is traditionally drunk out of a gourd from a metal straw (a bombilla). The gourd is filled and shared as a ritual, which we were attempting to emulate in this humble north Jersey strip mall, when from behind me I heard the store owner say, “Hey Bill, you have to try this stuff.” Mr. Murray wasn’t the stock boy I thought I’d see when I turned around, and the shock and awe hit me hard, making my job to explain what I was handing over to one of my all-time favorite actors and asking him to sip, quite the task. As all this was registering in my head in super slow-motion, Bill Murray did what only he can do so well—he filled the awkward void with his even more awkward humor, asking me silly questions like ‘will I die if I drink the stuff?”.
Eventually I sort of mostly got my heartbeat down to a manageable thumping and was actually able to converse with Bill Murray about the reported benefits of the tea. He was clearly curious. After all, he was in a health food store looking for healthy products. And while I may have been able to share some information with him that impacted his life for the better, it was the lesson he shared with me that I’m reminded of anytime the media encourages us to go extra ga-ga over celebrities and idolize them in these unhealthy spectacles. It may sound so simple, but it seems we need reminded that celebrities are people too. Sometimes they’re just looking for a healthy energy drink. Sometimes they snap naked pictures of themselves on an iPhone. (And really, can you blame them? If I had a body like Rihanna, I would probably want to see it from all angles too.)
Which brings us to the issue of our strangeness over nakedness. The irony here of course is that some of these celebs have been next to naked in public, in films or videos. It’s not hard to imagine the rest, is it? But that’s not why we freak out over these photos. We freak out over the candidness, and the naughtiness of something we know we’re not supposed to see. We’re blindsided by the reality that these celebrities, are in fact, actually just sitting around being bored people who get tempted by the same iPhone camera opp as any of us.
Chuck Klosterman once wrote that television has turned us all into voyeurs. It’s a valid point. We spend countless hours each week just watching other people do mundane things. It turns us on in ways we’re largely unaware of, or unwilling to admit. We watch others, whether it’s in a pornographic setting or a romantic sitcom, to give our own lives perspective. We unravel a bit of ourselves in observing how we’re similar and different to other people, what we like or don’t like. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that setup. But idolization brings with it a slew of problems. Rewind thousands of years to the stories of deities that ruled cultures across the globe (and still do) and you can glimpse into the overwhelming power these people we elevate above our own lives has on society—and just how dangerous that can be.
What’s really dangerous today is that we let our celeb-obsession turn unhealthy in new ways. We’re encouraged to, in fact. Girls starve themselves to look like their heroes and boys wield weapons to emulate theirs. Multi-billion fashion and beauty industries prey on our insecurities and desires and we buy into them, no matter the cost. In today’s world you either have to be a celebrity, or work damn hard to look like one for your next Facebook selfie. That we now have these little slivers of fans in our own social networks gives even more fuel to our celebrity obsession.
And of course, the more distracted we are with celebrities, clothed or naked, the less time we have to inspect the real news of the day, the things that may outrage, inspire and motivate us to become more active and involved in ushering in real change on this planet.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t enjoy celebrities. We absolutely should enjoy them. They’re talented, beautiful, inspiring. But can we enjoy them more in the same ways we enjoy videos of puppies and kittens (who, by the way, are almost always also naked) than in our dehumanizing obsession of naked celebrity photos? What if we all take off our clothes and take naked selfies, whether we look like J-Law or not and then share them on the Internet? Maybe that will even the playing field. It will at least make things more interesting.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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