Toxic Fan Culture and Celebrity Witch-Hunts

Renowned singers, musicians, actors, and artists or broadly, celebrities often leave us starry-eyed and dazzled with their larger than life on-screen personas and beautiful voices. Their art touches the depths of our emotions and colors in resonance with our souls. Their capability is so iconic that it is worth remembering for posterity. Sometimes, making them almost godlike. This, of course, is the first fatal flaw in our viewing of them. For they are just as human as we are, with vices and sins coloring their past as much as any common Joe’s. Celebrities are simply people whose careers happen to be in the public eye. 

Admittedly while those who choose this career path do have some obligation to keep in mind their impressionable audience when making lifestyle choices, they still have the liberty to be human. A human that inevitably makes mistakes. This expectation adds an additional burden to the already existing mound. They are also assumed to know who they are and what they are at all times and are deprived of their journey of self-discovery.

Public figures should have the right to privacy. The way paparazzi and media outlets exploit their every move for profit is sickening. Scandal clearly sells. Princess Diana’s car crash is a horrifying example of this exact breach of privacy. She was quite literally chased to death and photographed afterward.  

Sensational deaths and suicides in particular tend to cause a ripple effect in fans and followers even leading to copycat deaths and romanticization of mental illness. These deaths are also manipulated for political gain. The Sushant Singh Rajput case serves as a grim reminder of the same. Instead of talking about the lack of acknowledgment of mental health in our society the case was spun into a scandalous affair to be printed across TV channels without any of the respect or dignity which it deserved. Media houses played judge, jury, and executioner of the surviving family and friends while hardly giving even a tokenistic reporting on depression and its harms. This form of accusatory reporting of course points to hidden agendas rooted in distracting the public and possibly even the upcoming Bihar elections. The truth, whatever it is, should and must be broadcasted but only through empirical and fact-based reporting. No one’s death should be used as a ploy in a bigger game.

Pedestalization and celebrity worship are another aspect of our fan-culture which in fact can be tremendously problematic. This often leads to fanaticism and huger issues causing both mental and physical harm to both followers and the ones followed. Both Christina Grimme and John Lennon were murdered by their fans. Almost every A-list celebrity has stories of being stalked and or harassed by obsessed followers. This kind of behavior is slowly becoming the norm. This cannot go unchecked. It is imperative to realize boundaries and give them due importance.

Social media has only made this worse. Although many movements started online have led to much good such as the #MeToo movement, a lot of wrong has also been perpetuated by a new emerging cancel culture online. This is a proverbial double-edged sword where it takes less than even hearsay to turn a celebrated hero into a villain without proper analysis of the accusations. Fact-Checking and actual issues seldom hold relevance in these discourses which primarily stem from an ardent need for gossip and scandal. This witch-hunt often greatly harms members of marginalized communities regardless of their guilt and barely chinks the armors of the privileged cis-het white male. Such disproportionate impacts of online movements can be extremely detrimental in the long run, especially when targeting figures who represent minorities. 

This leads to another very important point. It is wrong to paint public figures as the face of certain movements or minority groups because one person’s lived experiences cannot define an entire community. The movements of the people must remain of the people. Only then is its diversity and authenticity preserved, further, this prevents missteps taken by these particular celebrities from destabilizing or maligning the entire movement. Their role should be to bring attention and raise awareness but never to completely overshadow its true motive. 

Celebrities do not owe fans their personal information, relationships, friends, or even lifestyle choices. To expect that is dehumanizing to the core. Being human is their basic right. Let them be simply as artists whose work we enjoy consuming and nothing more, definitely not objects for morbid fascination or daytime news-breaks. 

As Taylor Swift once said, “There’s a difference between ‘I connect with your lyrics’ and ‘I want to break in’.” I think it is imperative we remember that both literally and metaphorically moving forward.