False fame vs. true celebrity here in America- Paul Walker

paul-walker-uk-premiere-fast-and-furious-6-01 For the last week, I have been dwelling on the association of the public person and private, as this relates to celebrities. One week after a shocking car accident, I am still focusing on what makes certain celebrities different then others; as well as what qualifies as a celebrity in America, as we bequeath our attention to people whom might not be worthy of the time and focus we give them. All of this comes in the wake of Paul Walker’s demise – and what focus we actually give people here in the United States.

In America, we are use to less from our “celebrities” (and yes, I use that word very liberally in this – to include people whom are famous for being train wrecks and rich, more than actual talent) then we probably should. I challenge you to find a week where the news is not reporting on some story about the obnoxiousness of one celebrity or another. Following the “if it bleeds, it leads” methodology, we only hear about the vapid, the superficial, and the terrible, in order to make us feel better about our lives.

Example 1: Reality Television. It entertains us on the most base level, keeping our eyes glued to the glowing screen as we watch one of the many insipid programs that do not have a clear beginning and end, nor any substantive value. They show catfights between rich and over privileged housewives, sisters and their mothers, whom discuss the most superficial of things while complaining about one another, the poor and uneducated trying to make their adolescent daughter a star, or celebrating the struggles of single motherhood for those whom are only midway through their teen years. It keeps us talking about nothing, but elevate these mundane quasi-celebrities to an absurd level of fame.

The “Famous for Nothing” will continue as these are cheap and easy entertainment, but – like fast food – lack any kind of substance other than keeping our minds occupied on the events and discussing them with others. It makes us feel better about our lives to see a rich housewife in tears due to some created insult, or a catfight that inevitably ensues, or sisters not talking over some sort of feud because of what one said, or even feeling better for not being 16 and pregnant at the same time sympathizing with this girl whom made poor choices. While none of these are terrible, it is superficial, and leads to our next example…

Example 2: Train wreck Celebrities. In the time of Old Hollywood, never would it be reported that a star was caught drunk driving. There was a multitude of reasons why; studios would never want it to be known that one of their biggest money makers was a philanderer, or a drunk, and the talent in question usually had a strong core of people around them willing to keep things like that secret. Stars such as Dick Van Dyke and Graham Chapman struggled for decades with Alcoholism, effecting their work (Most notably, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail) before speaking out about their alcoholism after they had given up the drink. The combination of having a strong studio backing/relationship and a core of people around you that care, and try to get the best for you helps limit the damage in society.

MLWM_Call-to-Action_315x208-jpgHowever, in the modern world of camera phones, Instagram, Facebook, the twenty-four hour news cycle, the posse for going out, and invincibility creates a chaos system for which we cannot get enough. How many Disney stars go from cute as children to monsters once they are on their own? Combine this with the end of the world mentality to every incident, and endless pundit opinions on every incident, and we will see that the smallest things become the biggest news. Miley Cyrus is deemed inappropriate for her performance on an awards program – not because she was too Madonna-esque (to harken back to a previous generation – please see “like a virgin”) but because everyone still remembers her as her Disney Character. Lindsey Lohan is in a similar, albeit much more serious boat. Everyone remembers her as the sweet girl who Disney brought unto this world (From the Parent Trap and Herbie: Fully Loaded) but – where is her support when she started drinking as a teen? The rumors about drug abuse are rampant – yet no one from her friends and family have been able to step in and help.

Mind you, I know these are 2 extreme cases, however on nearly a daily basis we are inundated with these stories (The non-story, and the daily update of a star going to prison/rehab for indiscretions – Please, do not get me started on Wesley Snipes and Lauryn Hill doing more jail time for tax evasion, then Vince Neal or Donte Stallworth for each taking a life) that have no effect on our lives other than to look at them from a distance and feel better about ourselves. To say that my daughter would know better than what Miley chose to do onstage, or my kids might have failed science – but it could be worse, at least they aren’t in rehab like Lindsay Lohan, or unbalanced like the Spears’ sisters. This pushes me directly into…

Example #3: The over sensationalized Media/Tabloids. All of us have seen them, terrible photos, snapped and sold by paparazzi, accompanying headlines telling us whom is a bad mother, who is too fat, too thin, getting divorces, or dead broke. While most of these sensationalized stories are not true, the few enough that are give us pleasure as we wait in the checkout line. And on occasion, I know people whom have picked up and purchased these tabloids. The stories, while having sensational eye-catching titles, are often very thin and for the most part, are close to fiction with obscured informants and sources that may or may not have any part of the story at all.

So why do we look at these to begin with? Because it makes us feel better about ourselves; it makes our problems seem small in comparison. It makes us feel better when we are unemployed to think that Arnold Schwarzenegger is back doing action films in his late 60’s because of divorce, baby mama drama, gambling debts, etc as well as associate that “we are in the same boat”. That after working out at the gym, stopping by the grocery store to get a salad, we can look at celebrities and think “well, at least I am not as fat as her” or “I cannot believe how terrible she looks”. It boosts our esteem by tearing down those whom we idolize, that we watch on tv, and in films and feel superior, even in a small way.

None of these are healthy, nor are they endemic of true Hollywood tragedy.

We often describe celebrities as stars – however, when you look at some of the “stars” mentioned in this piece, it is more like looking and searching for shooting stars. People whom burn brightly, and fade quickly; to paraphrase

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another tragic talent we lost well before his time, many of those listed above (career-wise) and below (in life) find it better to burn out then to fade away. That’s the problem with shooting stars; you blink and then they are gone. But a true star – their impact burns brightly even after they are gone; long after their star has faded, their fingerprints are still on us in one way or another.

In recent years, Hollywood has lost talented people before their time. Cory Monteith most recently; before him, Brittany Murphy, Amy Winehouse and of course Heath Ledger – all of which either accidentally over dosed or had drugs or alcohol in their system at the time of death. While these are sad, as many millions of fans can attest to, they are not shocking after the fact as the details of their drug use comes to light. Hence why it is so shocking as we come to terms with the passing of Paul Walker.

The first movie I remember Paul Walker from was “She’s All That” – and it took years for me to get past the douchebaggery (yes, I know this is not a word) in which he made his character (arguably – the standard-bearer for other

Back in 2010, I was sick, on the couch with the flu and had just awoken from a nap to a show on – I believe – the Discovery channel. It was called “Shark Men” and it took me the better part of 2 episodes to recognize that the one of the men in this crew that was tracking and tagging sharks was Paul Walker. Unlike the host of many other reality shows, he was not a fish out of water; in fact his love of the ocean and of sharks was apparent. He spoke of how he would have been doing this work if he had not pursued acting; and he was genuine and knowledgeable of what needed to be done, his place on the boat and what jobs he needed to do. teens-as-douche characters for films like “10 things I hate about you” and other, similar films) and enjoy his wide-eyed innocence (in Pleasantville) and the QB willing to win at all costs (In Varsity Blues). While his film credits are long, and you might not recognize him in certain productions (flags of our fathers) he is best known for his work as Brian O’Connor in The Fast and the Furious franchise. But – this is not what I remember best about him.

I was flat blown away. Stunned. In fact, for a week solid, I talked about how I saw Paul Walker on this TV show, and he was nothing like the guy from the Fast and the Furious – a pseudo meathead whom understood cars, and little else. Here was a man well versed in biology, and able to articulate complex measures to the masses without talking down. A man with a quiet, hidden nature, whom ran a charity – Reach Out Worldwide – to assist victims of natural disasters, both domestically and around the globe.

Unlike many other celebrity endorsed charities, he was doing this to do good in people’s lives. They do not send money or supplies, but people – boots on the ground to impact people’s lives directly, in the best way they can. Reach Out Worldwide was on the ground for the Haitian earthquake relief, the Chilean earthquake, the Indonesian tsunami, Alabama tornados, and most recently, the Philippines typhoon.

It is rare that we mourn a star that is taken before his or her time that was not the victim of his or her own undoing. Similar to when Natalie Wood passed, Paul Walker’s passing feels like a double tragedy; young, handsome, the victim of accident and circumstance. The world is a poorer place, not because we lost supreme talent in a Heath Ledger sense, but because we are less one more genuine person – someone that was never tabloid fodder, never associated with drugs or alcohol abuse; that downplayed his fame and instead tried to use it to not only do what he loved, but to do what was right. My only wish – in this holiday season – is for many, many more Paul Walkers in this world, because if we had more people like him, this world would be a far richer place.