Column – Does the media make monsters?

August 18, 2008 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

Imagine walking down decrepit big city streets and alleys, feeling alone at three in the morning. You feel lost, confused, and oh so tired. The daughter you love more than life itself is nowhere within your grasp – halfway across the country with her mother, the woman you once loved. As alone as you feel, you can’t even begin to find peace with the cameras flashing at you even at this ungodly hour. They will go to any length for a scoop, a story, a scandal… But all you want is sleep.

This was the life of Heath Ledger in the months leading to his death.

Whether Ledger’s death was truly accidental or whether it was suicide is still – and may always be – unknown for sure. However, the toll that his fame took on his health was unmistakable. For a man who came alive and dominated on the screen, he was never comfortable in an interview setting.

This might have been fine, had the public and the media not always demanded every bit of “juicy” celebrity information they could get their hands on.

To quote “Spider-Man’s” Green Goblin, “The one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fall.” What are the biggest news stories every year? Not oil or global warming or Darfur. Rather, the things that draw the most attention are scandals. Members of public office having affairs. Divas having verbal fights with each other outside of night clubs. The possibility of actresses being lesbian or simply shaving their hair.

This can go from the seemingly reasonable to the outright insane. If teen queen Miley Cyrus isn’t wearing a seatbelt for a couple of seconds on screen, the media creates an uproar. If a somewhat risqué Vanity Fair photo shoot doesn’t stir up enough of a frenzy, photos are leaked of her being a teenage girl and posing (albeit in less clothing than she should) for pictures not intended for anyone outside of a small circle. Anything can and will be used in order to tear someone’s image down, simply because it sells magazines.

To some extent, it’s not entirely the media’s fault. Their job is to report news, so if someone is involved in an accident related to drunk driving, they should report it, whether or not the person involved is Shia LaBeouf. It’s just a shame that it’s seen as a much bigger scoop than it should be.

There’s no mystery behind an actor’s face anymore, and no secret is safe. Even parenting a child – something that should be nothing short of joyous and a cause of celebration – results in high dollar bounties for the first pictures of the newborn. People who work and have jobs just like everybody else are suddenly put on a thousand foot pedestal. Why does the public care so much?

It’s gotten to the point where many movies aren’t seen as much for their stories or quality as much as it is for the controversy surrounding the actors portraying certain roles. Even this summer’s “The Dark Knight”, a fantastic movie that deserved the praise and attention it received, was likely carried in its opening weekend solely because of Heath Ledger’s death. Even with a performance as stunning as his “Joker”, the disconnect between actor and character is fading. Are you going to see “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” because the plot interests you, or because Ledger only finished filming half of it before his untimely death? Perhaps more important, is the studio behind the film going to capitalize on this fact just to sell tickets?

Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t give credit where credit is due. Many of these actors other performers put on amazing performances, and deserve the attention they receive. Just as we acknowledge great authors and thinkers, it makes sense to recognize great acting, singing, and so on. You just have to wonder: How far is too far?

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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