“Celebrities are not people. They are group hallucinations.” — Brandon Cronenburg, from the movie ‘Antiviral’.
Courting and achieving fame is the epitome of a double-edged sword. Actors and musicians and models become walking projections for the envy, insecurity, desires, and dreams of the masses. They cease to be people. They emerge from the cocoon of obscurity as vessels for the vicarious pleasure of people they will never meet, distracting the collective from the existential crisis of their mundane existence.
There are few things our culture will devour faster than an icon who lets us down by falling from (the appearance of) grace. Somewhere, mixed in with our disappointment at their failure, is an iota of relief. Their weakness makes us feel just a little less unworthy. Their pain makes ours a little more bearable. And that schadenfreude is too much of a luxury for hordes of suffering individuals to resist, especially when they have already decided that that person isn’t actually a person.
While it’s true that the way our culture treats celebrities whose struggles with mental illness go public, is unconscionable, I believe it speaks less to our collective disdain for mental illness than to our dysmorphic celebrity obsession that bestows, simultaneously, a heaven and a hell on the object (not person — never a real person) of our affections.