When I was in elementary school, my parents took me to see (what I thought was) my first professional play. In actuality, it was a community theatre production in my local South Carolina town, but to me? They were famous. I made my mother wait until all the actors came out so that I could tell them how incredible I thought they were. They were everything I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do.
As I got a little older, I continued to idolize talent. In college, I found myself thirsty for the attention of the best actors in my classes. If you could make me emotionally respond to a scene with no set or lights, in a dusty classroom, sitting on a hard plastic chair? Then you were my world. You were without fault.
As a 35-year-old human looking back on the wonder of my childhood, and the talent-worship of my college self, I am often surprised by the one thing that all my incredible acting idols had in common, something that I’d somehow failed to recognize over and over again: that they were human.
Removed from those particular worlds now, I can recall the humanity of these idols. Self doubt, weak moments, mistakes. Just like all humans, they were not perfect in how they interacted with others, sometimes not perfect in how they interacted with me. But I never questioned their superiority because their talent was all I could see.
Our idols are human. And that means that sometimes, our idols are bad. Sometimes they’re very bad.
I have to pause here to note that at this point it feels like we’ve all had a hero turn out to be a creep. Like a true creep. There’s so much media out there showing us incredible abuses of power, assaults of other humans, violence. It is inescapable. We’ve watched celebrities fall from grace, and sometimes even people we used to call friends in our real lives.
For me personally, there’s no work of art so great that I feel I need to support someone who has proven a danger to women, to children, to any marginalized group. I’ll find a new show, a new favorite song, a new comedian. You do you, but I’m all set.
But this blog post isn’t about the extreme cases. Those are a different story. This is about your regularly flawed, run-of-the-mill humans.
Because of our constant access to information and media, we are also aware of celebrities (or even just artists in our own circles) who are, ya know, not terrible people. But are just…fine. Or awkward. Or kinda jerks sometimes. Or hate the spotlight that comes with their work. And aren’t they allowed to be imperfect? Aren’t they allowed their humanity?
I’m willing to forgive my friends when they cross a line, my family when we disagree. I can be cordial to coworkers of all beliefs. And yet I struggle to watch an actor who I’ve heard is a bit of a pill. It’s curious. I mean, I don’t know them whatsoever and their behavior affects me 0%. Why do I hold them to a standard I wouldn’t set for anyone else?
The other day, I was reading an old tweet from a B-list celebrity whose work I deeply enjoy. They were recounting an experience where a fan had approached them, and the fan called them by their character’s name rather than their actual name, so they refused to further interact with the fan.
And my first thought was, “Geez, they really could have been nicer to that fan. They’re just someone who loves their work!” And then I recalled:
- They are human.
- Fame comes with a price, and they aren’t required to love every moment of recognition.
- I have no idea how often this happens to them.
- I have no idea how their day went beforehand.
- I am constantly anxious about my own “off” days, and I’m rarely ever in any type of spotlight.
- Is this person required to be constantly pleasant just because they’re on TV?
- Do I have to deeply enjoy the personality of talented people to want to engage with their work?
I think of all the times I’ve been imperfect and asked for patience, and all the times I’ve been grateful to have been out of the spotlight. Maybe it’s time to knock down the pedestals I’ve built up so high and…expect less of my idols. To expect humanity.