Idol Chatter

owen_wilson_idol.jpgI am not easily offended or disgusted by the media. I peruse US Weekly, regularly log on to, and love reality television. Admittedly, I feel an impish glee when I see on the cover of Star or The Enquirer that celebrities have cellulite, too. But the suicide attempt of comedic actor Owen Wilson is not cellulite or celebutantes gone wild–and the press has officially crossed the taste line.
My colleague Esther Kustanowitz wrote yesterday that what she is taking away from this macabre blitzkrieg is that “this is yet another illustration of a simple fact of celebrity culture: A person is not always who they are on-screen–that even if someone seems relatable on screen, or seems raucously hilarious and fun loving, there is likely another side you can’t see, and might not want to see.”
But, I would argue that statement applies to everyone, not just celebrities. The funny guy in the cubicle next to you, the peppy aerobics instructor, the “put-together” executive you admire, they all could be harboring the illness dubbed the Noonday Demon.

Esther doesn’t go far enough in her chastisement of the media. Unlike Esther, I do believe in the veracity of many tabloid stories; heck, it was The Enquirer that broke the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and found a photo of O.J. Simpson wearing a pair of Bruno Magli shoes after he testified he had never owned a pair. Imagine what we could do if we sent some tabloid reporters out to find Osama Bin Laden … But reporting on Wilson’s suicide attempt is an egregious illustration of the poor judgment of media corporation. It shows an outright disconnect between compassionate coverage and salacious sensationalism.
As tasteless as the suicide speculation was, I was appalled at what I saw on last night. There are times when I think Perez places a single toe over the line with his commentary, but last night I was greeted with the headline, “It’s Official!” above a photo of Wilson and a blurb talking about how it had been confirmed that Wilson attempted suicide.
“It’s Official!” is a fine headline for a story about a secret wedding, a contested palimony suit, or the signing of a star to a big contract. Not a suicide.
And searching police records, as the television show Extra first reported, to confirm that it was in fact a suicide attempt? Disgusting.
Even turning on CNN this morning I was accosted by a “This Just In” headline confirming Wilson’s attempt.
Is it hypocritical of me to draw a distinction between the depression of Wilson and the addiction problems of a Britney Spears or a Lindsay Lohan? Yes. They too obviously have serious personal issues that are really, in the end, none of our business. The entire lives of celebrities should not be, by virtue of them just being celebrities, public domain. But, many stars, including Lohan and Spears, actively invite people into their lives via the paparazzi for the free publicity.
And while I don’t want to diminish the struggles that Britney and Lindsay have gone through, it is a seriously hurt and wounded individual who attempts to take their own life. William Styron in the memoir of his own suicidal depression, “A Darkness Visible,” beautifully illustrates the suicidal mindset–the despair and the abject hopelessness–saying, “The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.”
The latest edition of Entertainment Weekly dubs this the “Summer of Scandal,” proclaiming that ” … while we can’t be claiming to be living in the first, or most epic, scandal era ever, there’s zero doubt that our 21st-century media have flung us into the fastest, most relentless period of public shaming in human history.”
Admitting to even having suicidal thoughts and ideations, much less attempting suicide, carries with it tremendous amounts of shame in this culture. Can that truly be said for relapsing or having an affair in this day and age? If, as EW states, this is the “fastest most relentless period of public shaming in human history,” then I say it should be shame on the media itself.

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