There has been a lot said and written about the impact of celebrities on societies and the people within those societies. They are often thought of as representatives of their culture and associated with activities that are deeply ingrained in human society, like storytelling (actors), music (singers and musicians), and social hierarchies and negotiations (politicians).
With the arrival of the Internet and the now near ubiquitous use of social media in particular, celebrities continue to feel nearly mythic in how large they loom in society while simultaneously feeling more accessible and realistic. These dual, contrasting ways of perceiving celebrities creates a kind of double standard in how other people respond to their actions.
This has led to some paradoxical issues in society, particularly with the way we view celebrity transgressions. Often, even if they break a law or do something morally questionable, they’re not held accountable in the same way that a non-famous person is. The transgression is either ignored, or it is given immense weight and the person becomes a permanent villain.
But why are some celebrities judged more harshly than other celebrities for the same actions?
One important concept to take into account when discussing everyday people’s “relationships” with celebrities is that of “parasocial relationships.” This phrase describes the one-sided relationship that fans have with their favorite celebrity, in which fans feel on some level that the celebrity is their personal friend, or that they identify with them.
This feeling in enhanced when the celebrity mentions details of their lives during interviews or on social media, allowing the fans to feel a little more like they know the “real” person behind the public image. The person becomes their friend, and it is far easier to forgive a friend.
Because they’re so deeply embedded in our culture, a big part of celebrities’ careers depends on how they’re perceived by the public. This is why, if a celebrity has built a reputation and professional image around being wholesome, the consequences of damaging that image by being unwholesome in some way are much more severe.
If they’ve broken the law, the legal response may be the same as for anyone else, or even more lenient compared to a non-famous person, but the social response to their “betrayal” is much more unforgiving. Their actions run counter to the “relationship” their fans have built with them in their minds, and so they are more likely to view them less favorably or avoid their work in the future.
Even if their actions have run counter to their public persona or were illegal in some way, some celebrities are still able to overcome the backlash they may face. This often comes down to their personal charm and force of personality that enables them to continue appealing to fans regardless of their actions.
Charisma and strong social skills can encourage people to forgive a lot and convince them to overlook the bad in favor of the good that the “relationship” they had with them beforehand brought. In this case, the parasocial relationship they’ve built up with the public works in their favor, especially if they never pretended to be a perfect or “pure” person in the first place.
There may be other factors at play as well. For example, some celebrities are forgiven by the media, and the media’s reaction to the event shapes the future. If the celebrity is still placed in front of you on a daily basis and placed in a positive light, it becomes easier to forget about their past.
Good looks may also play a role, as well as favoritism if the individual is often compared to another celebrity you dislike. This is especially common in politics, where partisanship makes people forgive the transgressions on “their side” because they already view the other side so negatively.
Why This Matters?
Whether or not one views celebrities more favorably than others makes only a small difference in most people’s lives. But it teaches us a lot about ourselves – what we normalize, what we accept, and why we think the way they do. For that reason, it helps to stop and think about what forms our opinions about celebrities, and what we may need to know about ourselves to improve our own views of worth.