Friday, 4 June 2010

Hey! Wackos! Leave Them Stars Alone.

In a world where everyone is increasingly becoming part of the fish bowl, some fish are definitely bigger than others. More and more kids want to stare at them, point, and go "Oooo! Aaaah! Look at that one!"

Robert Downey, Jr is one of the Big Ones. Few share his acting prowess, his back-story is compelling, and his recent triumphs are inspirational. I'll admit to being a fan. But I'm certainly not the kind of crazed weirdo (or paparatzi) who stalks celebs through the power drink aisle of the grocery store, trying to get myself noticed on the Internet by capturing a few annoyed, famous glares.

So the dude hangs out at the beach just like everyone else. BFD.

I don't want an autograph. I don't need a photo. I don't have piles of Iron Man merch in a drawer awaiting signatures and a quick sale on e-bay. I like to think I'm a different kind of admirer, one who shares a passion. I am a fellow student of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Surrounded by movie posters from from film festivals, love notes from my kids, and articles on geography is the only picture of Mr. Downey I've ever displayed in my home. The May 2010 cover of Men's Journal is on my wall solely because the man on the cover has his guard up. It's a daily reminder, the way some people scribble morning mantras on the bathroom mirror or put notes on the refrigerator to remind them to eat less. It's time to train.

We all search for inspiration. I believe it is a human psychological need, a survival mechanism. Our brains tell us, Find the most successful animal and copy it. We begin with our parents, our caregivers, and other family members. We turn to that "cool" kid in school, a favorite super hero, or an Olympian. We dive into books about historical figures who risked everything to achieve some great aim. And, sometimes, our encouragement comes from pop culture media. All I can say is, choose carefully.

A positive role model is understandable. But there is also some twisted part of us that wants to tear down those same people we put up on pedestals. Santa Claus. The Tooth Fairy. President Obama. It's the part of us that wants to believe we are better than everyone else because it makes our tired, petty little hearts feel superior. "I'm better than that," you think to yourself. "I would never do what that person did!" Some of us read tabloid-style newspapers and web sites because we want to know that these rich, privileged people are no better than we are, that they suffer the same slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that they sometimes act like dumbasses just like we do. And we can vilify them with impunity.

The typical, sneaky candid photos these tabloids rely on really turn my stomach. I can understand why Mr. Downey trains so hard. He has to find peace for himself and his family, in a world of diminishing privacy, amongst crazies who feel they deserve to own a piece of him because his face is splashed 15 feet high on a glowing movie screen.

Some nut job once faked his way into an interview with Tom Cruise, then squirted him with a water-filled microphone. It could just as easily have been acid. It could have been any celebrity.

Most of us enjoy a measure of anonymity on the street, especially if we travel outside our home towns. Imagine being followed by people with cameras and Flip vids every time you left the house. There is no privacy for celebrities in public. For the more successful, there's no privacy anywhere.

Before you start whining that you'd happily put up with all of that if you could make the kind of money these people make, remember the old adage that money doesn't make a person any happier. Prince Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. Buddha) knew it, and based an entire religious practice on the notion.

A good fraction of the money celebrities earn probably pays for lawyers, some of whom are charged with watching over the money managers who are supposed to keep that money safe. (We've all heard stories about those money managers, haven't we?) It also pays for the security necessary to be sure no one kidnaps your kids or breaks into your house looking for treasures to hock. It pays for the guards to keep away the real wackos, like the woman who stalked Paula Abdul and eventually committed suicide down the block from Abdul's home.

Is all that money really worth it? Tough call--you'd have to ask the person who earns it.

The reason we love celebrities isn't because we wish we had that kind of money. It's because we want to be loved. We want to be important. We think we know these celebs because we see their interviews and watch their movies and we think they'd want to know us, too, because Gee, if only Angelina Jolie knew that we're just so alike! she'd surely call us up to hang out, shopping in Beverly Hills.

Stop kidding yourself.

Yes, you're a good person, a lovable person. You're also a person with faults and foibles and skeletons in your closet, just like the rest of us. You have the right to be known and appreciated for who you truly are, by those that you want to know you. But NOT by everyone.

Celebrities deserve the same.

So the next time you see this guy and his wife buying groceries, give them a break, will ya? Wave hello and leave it at that. Go hyperventilate on aisle 5.

And paparazzi, I'd suggest you folks rewrite your "Code" before you end up on the wrong side of a restraining order. Or a roll punch.

Neither the money nor the portfolio are worth it.

6/5/10: Errrhm.... All that stuff I said about the Downeys and their privacy? I take it all back. After listening to Robert and Susan Downey on Howard Stern (this audio is reeeeally NSFW!), it's clear they don't give a damn who knows what. Holy smokin' canole.

Angela writes about surviving life with a little inspiration from her family at the Silicon Valley Mom's Blog. When she isn't practicing Wing Chun, she shares her training trials at From Basic Training to Black Sash: A Mother's Wing Chun Journey. This is an original post to World of Words.

Photo credits (in order of appearance): Asif Akbar; Mark Seliger;