Paul Walker’s Death and the Impossible Distortion of Celebrity
“I’m like a head trip to listen to, ‘cause I’m only giving you things you joke about with your friends inside your living room” – Eminem
My craziest experience of realizing that I lived in Los Angeles didn’t have anything to do with drugs, wild parties, or celebrity encounters. Well, OK, maybe that last one in an odd way. I was in a real estate office, making small talk about AT&T commercials, and said, in a comedic tone, “Oh yeah, those ones with Luke Wilson, that fat asshole.” The woman I was speaking to’s response to this was, “Oh, I know him. He’s a friend of mine.”
Oh, that’s right, I now live in the city where these people are actually living people, not just intangible concepts.
That’s the biggest lesson after over half a decade in this town, with a few of those years being spent in a grocery store with a heavily famous clientele: just how unreal celebrities are to most of us.
The opening quote from Eminem both nicely illustrates why he was so fun to listen to, and fits perfectly into my anecdote. We all sit around in our houses shit talking celebrities because it’s dumb fun, and because, goddamn it, it’s why they’re there! We live normal people lives and they get paid pornographic amounts of cash to basically play pretend! They’re not real, you certainly don’t run into them, and anyway, with all that money, can’t they handle a little ribbing?
Eminem said the things teenagers say while watching MTV in groups, but in a platform where the people mentioned could actually hear it. Sure, it’s kind of pathetic for an insanely talented underground-bred MC to be dissing white teenage girls, but holy jeez if it wasn’t a ton of fun! Imagine if celebrities could actually hear the things we said about them (the sign of the times Jimmy Kimmel segment ‘Mean Tweets’, where celebs read hateful tweets about them aloud, shows the blurring of lines in the social media age)!
That day I got a minute taste of saying those living room things in front of an audience where those people actually exist. I didn’t actually hate Luke Wilson, how could I, not knowing him, but hey, he’s on those annoying, played-every-five-minutes commercials, so I’ll get a nice social laugh by throwing a cheap shot. Oops.
When Paul Walker died recently, it almost felt like everyone was rushing as quickly as they could to get to their keyboards and type out some hilarious joke involving his part in the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise, and the fact that he was now deceased. Others bemoaned the flurry of online posts about him, saying how other people were much more deserving of the attention, and probably throwing in some jab about his mediocrity as an actor.
Before I get into this, let me say I’m fully aware of the ludicrous nature of celebrity in any medium, sports, music, movies, and definitely feel insulted by the amount of money we pay these people. While I love entertainment with a suffocating passion, I do realize the absurdity of the lifestyles created around and from it (and simultaneously, as we all may do a bit, drool over them in gawking shallow delight). I could just feel the douche vibes emanating from the computer screens if I tried to write a ‘Leave the Celebrities Alone’ post with all the desperate fervor of that wonderful ‘Leave Britney Alone’ viral video.
It does, however, say a lot about how wildly it distorts our visions of fellow human beings when a man’s tragic and accidental death is met with such casual, smirking nastiness by people who never knew him beyond what may have been shoved down their throats via the media.
‘Famous people are just normal people put on a pedestal’ is a grade school level revelation, and yet I feel like most people don’t fully grasp the severity of the truth of the statement. It’s something that my fame-obsessed ass couldn’t even do until I moved out here to the Mecca of narcissism.
Acting, writing, doing music, and modeling do all pale in comparison to doctors, scientists, fireman, and a thousand other noble pursuits, but they are definitely not easy things to succeed in, or even try at. Most likely because of the exorbitant amounts of money associated with them though, these pursuits are looked at as jokes, and anything that even mildly smells of failure is seen as a nuclear level disaster. Think of how much heat bad movies take. Sure, ‘Gigli’ might not have been a good film, but a lot of people still put in hard, honest work on it, and they were greeted with a response akin to them having summoned Hitler back with the purpose of finishing the mission.
Normal people look for work to make ends meet however they can all the time, but when an actor appears in a terrible movie, especially if they once were on top, it’s looked at as a beyond-appealing punching bag. So many people mock ‘Dancing with the Stars’ type shows, looking at it as a dumping ground for celebs desperate for airtime, but we all have to live, and when was the last time you gave a mom shit for working at a shitty department store so she can feed her kids?
The glitz and glamour, all so obviously a façade and yet all so digestibly, endlessly believable, distort things wildly. The ‘Fast and the Furious’ films, which I haven’t seen most of but hear are fantastic adrenaline action movies, are probably more work to make than anyone outside of the industry can fathom. The cast and crew all bust their ass to make what is essentially a beautiful distraction for us. But in the end, they’re still just car movies, there’s still poor people while all the actors got huge paychecks for said car movies, and Paul Walker is a good-looking female-baiting piece of meat who couldn’t act to save his life. Hey Paul, where were those fast and furious skills when you fast and furiously smashed that car? Oh well, guess we can’t look forward to your part in ‘She’s All That 2’, huh asshole? Get that pretty boy face off my news feed.
See? Look how easy that was, all because of his over-blown profession. I wonder had Paul been a plumber if his death would have spawned a lot of toilet-joke-based vehemence?
Of course not. As a dreamer who’s seen the cracks in the dream, I sometimes feel like this whole town would crumble and fall into the sea if people ever really accepted the fact it’s all an illusion out here. A chunk of years later, Los Angeles is still the only city that’s ever made me feel like a female has, getting the heart thumping subtly as I drive through its streets at night, the lifelong entertainment junkie finally at home in his Disney World. Every time I ring up a celebrity at work, I silently buzz. It’s too damn fun not to.
I know how powerful the myth is, how enjoyable it can be, how seductive, and attractive, and despicable, and emotional and glorious this whole fake system of pedestal placing is. I both want to destroy it and be a part of it, so I don’t know if I really have a finishing point here. I just feel like this recent example of Mr. Walker was the perfect magnifying glass for this fascinating effect.
Maybe we all need the illusion that there’s a bigger life out there, either as something to reach for or dismiss, the thing we daydream about or use as our litmus test of excess. I guess all this Los Angeles famecancer patient can say is; I hope to god when I die, I’ve reached the point where people I never knew will say horrible things about me on social media sites.
A guy can dream…