It’s not uncommon for guests on any news program to get bumped for “breaking news” but imagine hormer congresswoman Jane Harman’s surprise when she realized the news for which her NSA segment got bumped was the arrest and subsequent booking of Canadian Popstar Justin Bieber.
Bieber’s arrest is notorious in part because of who he is, but in truth celebrity is no longer a prerequisite for unsolicited commentary. In fact, Bieber’s mugshot joins several on a “Hot and Busted” Tumblr that not only lists the charges issued to “attractive” criminals, but it also gives the names of these young offenders and their place of arrest. These mugshots have real life consequences for the men featured in them– they committed crimes for which they’re going to be held responsible. Trivializing those consequences dehumanizes them and makes it okay for us to all laugh along.
If someone of a certain kind of fame trips up, then reasons to laugh at them qualify as “breaking news”.
I remember being absolutely baffled a few weeks back to see CNN touting a breaking news item related to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. While the intensity of coverage on Ford’s antics seems to have subsided, the Mayor– who clearly needs help– remains “newsworthy.” CNN posted an item earlier this week in which the Mayor addressed his alcohol induced public outbursts.
It’s “breaking news”– but for these folks it’s actually just another day in the life.
In truth, we’ve lived through this narrative time and time again. It wasn’t too long ago that another Popstar’s “breaking news” updates consisted of unfortunate anecdotes fueled by a deeper problem. Brittney Spears was crying for help but rather than put down the camera or hold off on printing another front page feature, our culture kept feeding the beast until she snapped.
I remember watching Matt Lauer’s insanely callous 2006 interview with her prior to her 2007 “breakdown”. The entire interview is heartbreaking because you can’t help but want someone to put the camera down and just talk to her as she sobs pleading to be left alone.
You have to realize that we’re people.
Lauer’s responses are uncompromising. Rather than question the behavior that has her sitting there broken, he wonders why she does what she does and the following exchange takes place:
Spears: “Because I have to believe- that I’m here for a reason”
Lauer: “What’s the reason?”
Spears: “I don’t know- I keep searching everyday, just like you do.”
She’s hurting but he doesn’t hear her– the emphasis is on getting the story. He actually asks her to explain why she exists. At some point in the interview Lauer asks her if she’s a bad mother.
How is this okay? Furthermore, what’s the point? Is it to make the rest of us feel better? Is it working, yet? Is there a limit on this or is this going to just be the way it is from here on out?
Whether it’s Brittney Spears or Justin Bieber or Rob Ford, our culture encourages us to hurl objects into the water from the drier side of the fishbowl.
In response to the Bieber coverage, Mark Memmot over at NPR posted the following video from Craig Ferguson, in response to the 2007 coverage of Brittney Spears. Ferguson leverages his own experiences of seeking treatment and getting sober to explain why he wasn’t going to make Brittney Spears jokes.
He introduces the idea over the laughs of an uncertain audience– to them, at the time, the mere mention of her name was enough to elicit a chuckle.
To view someone’s existence as a joke – regardless of who that person is – is cruel. To feel like any of us has it figured out enough to ask someone else to justify they’re own existence is bullshit.
Justin Bieber is many things– but above all else he’s a troubled kid who’s trying to figure it out. The fact that he’s “famous” doesn’t justify dehumanizing him. The fact that he’s engaged in a number of activities that aren’t awesome- also doesn’t justify dehumanizing him.
Once you start to dehumanize one person- or one kind of person- it makes it easier as a practice. It’s a failure to recognize someone’s humanity regardless of who they are.
Life is hard and self medication doesn’t rely on your level of fame, your economic status, or the number of followers you have on twitter.
To treat it callously is irresponsible of us all and it sends the message that we’re all on our own in a world that’s rooting for our failure.
I don’t want to participate in that kind of world where the act of doing so is breaking news.
I hope Justin Bieber gets the help that he needs.