Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. Jussie Smollett. Michael Jackson. Probably not three names one would normally string together, yet they have been flooding recent headlines and provoked my own thoughts about the toxicity of celebrity. Of course, the current occupant in the White House offers its own cautionary tale about the collateral damage of celebrity, but he’s not worth my brain cells.
Alexandra Ocasio Cortez has been dominating my Google news and Facebook feed ever since she landed on the National Mall. I want to be excited about this fresh faced woman of color repping her Bronx roots in the hallowed halls of our Nation’s capital, but I can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm. I dumped my cup of Kool Aid down the drain. Perhaps it’s my Aquarian nature. . .we’re not much for jumping on the bandwagon. Or maybe it’s that she demands so much attention. It seems for her that being a politician is like being a celebrity and that gives me pause. I respect her ability to tow and articulate the progressive line on equality and justice. But is anyone else nervous about the way we have put her on a pedestal without merit?
This culture of needing to be seen and adored has proven insidious. Jussie Smollett’s actions sent me into a mini-rage. To fabricate a racist and homophobic hate crime at a time when real hate has been stirred up all around us was to set the movement back. All I could think was that people of color and the LBGTQ community don’t need this right now. The struggle is hard enough. Then I took a step back and thought about what in the air that we breathe would possess someone to go this far for attention and money? Has celebrity become so important that it has the capacity to impact one’s judgement so dramatically?
Better yet, is this culture of celebrity toxic enough to alter our collective discernment?
Which brings me to Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson’s art and stardom span generations, cross borders and continue to live long after his death. I just visited an exposition here in Paris called Michael Jackson: On the Wall, an artistic tribute to his iconic status and the enduring legacy of his music. It was nostalgic and inspiring. I walked away feeling the feels of a true Gen Xer. Now Leaving Neverland, the documentary about his alleged sexual abuse of two boys, is in our faces, forcing us to confront our collective complicity in his acts. I’ve been surprised by how quiet my Facebook feed has been on this matter, but like myself, I sense that my Gen X peers are grappling with how to reconcile our hero worship of a potential monster.
There is a part of me that still wants to believe that the allegations are not true.
So where do we go from here? It may be time to sober up and question on whom we are shining our light and why? Is it for their excellence? Is it because we see something in them that we wish was in ourselves?
Whatever the reason, I’d much rather see my former first lady at the UN, fighting on behalf of abused children at our border, then on the Grammys.
I’m just sayin’.