Madonna is having a rough week y’all. She’s currently embroiled in a bitter custody battle with her ex, Guy Ritchie, over their son, Rocco. Rocco has chosen to live with his dad in England, and homegirl is losing it. She’s been seen drinking on stage during her Rebel Heart tour, slurring her words, flubbing lyrics, and launching into emotional rants. In one of these rants, she begged for someone to f—k her and asked who would take care of her. Needless to say, she’s going through some highly personal things in a very public space. And the media has been there all along to document every embarrassing detail. In fact, I forgot that Madonna was even on tour until all this meltdown coverage started. It makes for one amusing and juicy story. That’s for sure. But should we feel bad about enjoying this?
It seems that we as a public love to build people up only to drag them down. All the way down. Madonna is one of the most influential artists of our time, and we definitely recognize her as such. But the minute she makes a mistake (like her tumble down the stage at the Brit Awards), we’re ready to join in on the global mockery. Why do we get so much joy out of knocking celebrities down a peg?
Well, for starters, everyone is fair game in this age of social media and oversharing. We all document our own lives just as heavily as any celebrity does. We have insight and access into everyone’s lives. This is inclusive of celebrities. When Madonna gets drunk on stage or Kanye goes on a belligerent Twitter rant, we share it and comment on it as though they were our friends. Social media has dissolved the line of exclusivity between us and them.
Maybe there’s a sense of resentment. At a time when so many people are fans of small businesses of the organically sourced, do-gooder, small batch, American-made variety, celebrities represent the type of excess that many are moving away from. Perhaps we love to see them fall flat on their faces because we don’t believe they should have all that damn fortune any way. Perhaps our favorite celebrities are more like our frenemies. We’re happy for them when they release a good song or a good movie, but we’re secretly waiting for them to fail. Because it should’ve been us. And if we can’t have the spotlight, no one can.
On the other hand, we’ve always loved a good takedown. Britney Spears was arguably at the height of her game when she completely lost her mind and shaved her head. And even though we weren’t yet living in a meme-tastic world, her meltdown was EVERYWHERE. The public was so intrigued by this pop starlet’s fast, hard crash.
It’s also possible we enjoy the takedown because we’re hoping for a great redemption story. More than we salivate for some salacious scandal, we love a great comeback. Whether it’s remarkable weight loss, a successful stint in rehab, or an award-winning performance after a tragic event, we love to see celebrities get back on their feet.
Some scientists and theorists have argued that our cultural celebrity obsession is a result of an evolutionary flaw. We all still operate with a need to identify a leader of the pack and worship that person. Celebrities are those who we’ve subconsciously labeled leaders, and we follow and critique their every move because that’s the natural order of how things are supposed to be. And when that leader fails us, we abandon ship. And we do so quickly.
Whatever the cause and regardless of how entertaining a meltdown can be, we have to remember that we’ve all probably experienced some kind of pathetic situation. And we were fortunate enough to have that experience in private. And by private, I mean not on Page Six or Extra. When we experience hard times, we want those around us to sympathize and support us. Celebrities want that too. I’m not saying that we should treat Kim K or the Biebs like they’re our best friends. Because they’re most certainly not. And I’m not even saying that we’re bad people for enjoying some of their misfortune. But what I am saying is there’s some reflection needed.
We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture where we can collectively make anyone famous, and, to an extent, stay more invested in their lives than our own. Success is great. Comebacks are awesome. Meltdowns are a guilty pleasure. But it’s all overrated. And our investment of time and emotion in the details of strangers’ lives says a lot more about us than we’re willing to admit.