The following personal essay explores reasons why we shouldn’t idolize celebrities or call them heroes and ways to find greater self-worth.
As a teenage girl, I was just as easily influenced and insecure as the next girl, if not more so. I lived in an odd place in-between popularity and unpopularity. I wasn’t quite either. Like many, I was depressed, anxious, and lonely, trying to find herself and never really fitting in.
But I got through high school (barely)—frizzy hair and over-sized glasses and all. I took refuge in the arts, in creative writing (i.e. emo poetry), and in drama.
I always loved acting and theater. My childhood dream was to become an actress. I was an overly-dramatic child, staging living room performances and executing theatrical interpretations of my disdain for Hamburger Helper. I drove my parents crazy, but they gladly supported me, came to all of my plays, took me to Les Misérables on Broadway, and even drove me 500 miles to be an extra on Dawson’s Creek 17 years ago (boy, now I feel old).
So, my love of theater and tendency to admire and idolize celebrities stems back to a very early age.
But there’s a problem with it.
Why We Shouldn’t Idolize Celebrities
Well, They’re Just People
The cliche “celebrities are just people” is undeniably true. Flawed, imperfect humans that carry their own baggage, distress, and personal issues.
And some more than others.
Many of the celebrities we worship as teenagers are teenagers themselves. They’re trying to figure out their place in the world, which is made increasingly more difficult by being in the public eye. As a teen, I had posters of Jonathan Taylor Thomas hanging on my walls (again, showing my age here) and, like most girls, I wanted to be Britney Spears.
We know how the story goes for Ms. Spears, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Chris Brown—celebrities maybe our children (or us ourselves) idolized that didn’t turn out to be such great role models.
I recently watched Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special where he talks about how much he admired Bill Cosby growing up. “Obviously, Bill Cosby was a hero to me,” he explains. “And she doesn’t know what it feels like to think that your hero might’ve done something so heinous, my God, you can’t imagine.” He continues to detail how Bill Cosby was an inspiration to so many people and the good he did for the African American community.
Anyone who considered Bill Cosby a hero certainly finds themselves in a difficult, uncomfortable position right now.
At the end of the day, we have absolutely no idea who celebrities really are. And we necessarily shouldn’t, because a celebrity’s personal life is their business. But without this knowledge, we set ourselves up for disappointment and deceit.
So, Here’s My Story
Here’s the thing. I would have never wrote this article on why we shouldn’t idolize celebrities if the celebrity I idolized didn’t, well, hurt my feelings.
But it got me thinking.
Most people that know anything about me know three things to be evidently true: that I’m a Pastry Chef, that I have a Corgi, and that I am a fan of Zachary Levi.
In my office, you’ll see a framed signed Carnegie Hall playbill from him, a Tangled Funko, the She Loves Me soundtrack among my Most Played in iTunes.
People ask me all of the time why I like him so much and I tell them that I love his work and who he is as a person. When, in fact, I have absolutely no idea who he is as a person. But the real reason?
The TV show Chuck got me through some deep, dark things in my life. It aired during one of the most difficult times of my life, and I held onto it almost like this piece of my personality, a piece of who I was as a person. I went on to support and watch everything Zac did. I went on to follow his off-shoot at Comic Con, to fly across country to see him sing at Carnegie Hall. I was even asked to do a video and ask him a question by Amazon for an interview they did. I went on to buy around 25 pieces of apparel from his company, to force friends and family to watch everything he did, to successfully convince the company that brought She Loves Me to theaters across the country to bring it to even more towns, including mine.
I called him my hero. I defended him. I even unfriended an acquaintance on Facebook who posted on my wall a comment about something unprofessional he saw him do. I took it personally.
Why? I have no idea.
And then the other day, he responded to a question I asked on Twitter.
Lately, most of my fellow ‘nerds’ (he owns a company called Nerd Machine and most of his fans lovingly refer to themselves that way) have made comments about signing on to Twitter just to see who he’s currently arguing with. He seems to spark a lot of ‘discussions’ on Twitter and argue with those who conflict with his viewpoints. I asked him if that drains him of his positive energy. I asked this because it drains me of mine when I respond to what we so lovingly refer to as Internet trolls. As a blogger, we get them… a lot.
He responded back to me, more or less, that I was an Internet troll. He asked, “or do you somehow qualify as ‘Other’?”
My first reaction, was shock. How could this person, that I’ve called my hero for the past nearly decade, just call me an Internet troll? I’ve never Tweeted him a mean thing in my life. My last few Tweets were supporting him and a limited release wine his company was putting out. I signed myself up for two non-refundable shipments, totaling about $200. A Tweet a month before that thanked him for his honest Larry King interview. A Tweet on my birthday, a photo of a personalized She Loves Me phone case my husband got me. A Tweet in the beginning of last month was promoting the new Tangled series and talking about how much I loved it.
And, that was about it. I have a life. I run a business. But a part of my personal life has been about being his fan, following his Broadway career, supporting his company, showering him with support.
How truly awful I felt at that moment.
I felt like an Internet troll. I felt like I did something horribly wrong, when I did nothing. I felt heartbroken. It was also how I felt after I met him. He made a comment to me, more of a snap. And I immediately thought it was my fault and beat myself up over it. I thought that because of how nervous I was and how I was such a quiet, anxious person that I came off in a certain way. That I did something wrong. And I beat myself up over it for a long time, wishing I had said something different.
It was because I was letting a stranger, a celebrity, validate me. I was letting them make me feel like they knew anything about me or had any right to judge me. Just like I knew absolutely nothing about him.
That’s Really the Problem
We can become so attached to art or to a celebrity that it somehow determines a portion of our self-worth. I felt like absolute garbage after Zac tweeted that to his 700,000 followers. I didn’t think he would respond to me, but if he did, I was expecting a conversation about how hurtful comments on the Internet are draining and negative. I wasn’t expecting for my hero to make me feel horrible about myself.
But I was the issue. The problem was all on me, because I gave him that power. I gave a complete stranger the power to control my self-worth. I’ve spent money I didn’t even have supporting his career. All because I thought, for an illogical reason, that he had something to do with who I am as a person. That he had something to do with me getting through a horrible time in my life, when I was very ill.
But he didn’t. I did.
I got myself through it.
Is it a Big Deal?
Of course not. Nothing that Zac does is any different than anything another celebrity does. I don’t have anything against him, and I don’t think he did anything intentionally. But I also feel like if I left out his name or my story that I wouldn’t tell my point of view genuinely and honestly.
I think that there are so many people in this world who idolize and admire celebrities for many of the same reasons. Because they got them through something painful.
But the problem is that generally, we also allow those people to validate us. To make us feel a certain way about who we are. And, in turn, to almost destroy us with one stupid Tweet.
What can we do instead? By all means, be a fan. Fans are great. It’s great to be passionate about something in this hard, often-crappy life.
But also understand maybe why we shouldn’t idolize celebrities. Understand your self worth. Find a hero or role model in your life that actually knows you as a person. Someone that knows you would never say something mean to anyone a day in your life.
So much of my own personality and life became about being Zachary Levi’s fan. So much so that it allowed the room and the permission for him to validate how I can feel about my own-self. If my hero called me an Internet troll I must be one, right? Wrong.
Just like we shouldn’t allow our relationships or other people in our life to make us feel less than or inferior, we absolutely shouldn’t allow celebrities to.
Know your worth, and know that you’re not defined, ever, by the type of music you like, by the shows you follow, by the comics you read. Choose your idols wisely.
And, also, maybe the next time you’re at Comic Con or a convention, talk to other people. Talk to them about why they love something so much, about their lives, and get their story.
You may make a friend. Someone who’s been through something just like you have.
Lastly, I suggest never, under any circumstances, that you ever Tweet a celebrity. 😉 Social media sure does give people a whole lot of power without a single ramification.
Thank you for reading You Lost a Fan, but I Lost a Hero: Why We Shouldn’t Idolize Celebrities. This was a personal essay and story and was in no way meant to disrespect anyone talked about in this article.