Being a celebrity opens one’s life up to public scrutiny, warranted or not. The truth is, we love our celebrity culture. Gossip magazines and websites thrive on it. Whether it’s TMZ, Gawker, The Smoking Gun, or BuzzFeed, we as a culture can’t get enough celebrity gossip. Much like the adage “if it bleeds, it leads”—if a celebrity shits in the woods—the media go berserk. Sometimes deservedly so, other times not.
Here is my list of four celebrities that the media need to leave alone, but won’t.
#1 Mark Zuckerberg:
I’m tired of the world beating up on Mark Zuckerberg. I’ve said this before, and I will say again. He is not evil, and despite opinions to the contrary, he is not a close personal friend of Satan.
It’s easy to hate on Zuckerberg. He’s young, and rich. He’s built an empire that has made him extremely successful and he did so all without a college degree. With success comes its pitfalls, including those who frown upon the success of others simply because they themselves are not.
Zuckerberg gave us Facebook. He created the world’s most successful social network helping us connect with friends and family in addition to helping us forge new friendships along the way. Even as Facebook celebrates its ninth birthday, Zuckerberg continues to offer it without charging users financially. (Data collection is another discussion entirely.) That may not seem like much of a consolation, but for all the flack Zuckerberg gets about ongoing privacy concerns (something that his sister knows all too well, unfortunately) and for all the users whining about sudden unwanted changes, the masses act entitled. As I’ve advocated before, if you don’t like it, leave. Understandably, many have, myself included. My decision to quit last year however was based heavily on my perceived value from the site and growing concerns over privacy. At no point did the thought enter my mind that Zuckerberg himself was, as some have coined him, an “evil genius.”
His motives are unfairly questioned at every turn. When Facebook went public and investors lost money many felt conned by an inflated IPO and placed blame squarely on Zuckerberg. When he donated a $100 million to Newark Public schools in 2010 critics dismissed it as nothing more than a cleverly timed PR stunt to soften his image ahead of the release of The Social Network. Now, after penning an op-ed in the Washington Post Wednesday announcing the launch of a new political group, Fwd.us (pronounced “forward us”) aimed at promoting new immigration policy, detractors are already voicing concerns that his efforts are redundant arguing the tech lobby is well represented within Washington especially given many members of FWD.us are involved in other tech lobbies and have been for years. They say his presence merely crowds. I disagree. How many of those people have Zuckerberg’s notoriety and/or influence? Some, perhaps, but his presence only helps bring about change and awareness to an understandably divisive issue. Prior to Zuckerberg, how many of them were showing a passionate concern for immigration reform? A seasoned politician he is not, but he is a big voice in an even bigger industry and just maybe if it’s done right people will listen. So instead of once again shooting him down, can we all just pause and consider once again that maybe his motives here are genuine?
#2 Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan is the celebrity that the media loves to hate. Her behavior makes her an extremely easy target, which she herself admits. Whether it’s drunk driving, theft, skipping out on her bill or, making a mockery of the justice system, Lohan seems to have done it all. She’s not just a celebrity – she is a celebrity on a downward spiral, a train wreck, and nothing satiates the public’s hunger pangs for gossip more than that.
Part of me believes that if the media left her alone for five minutes she might actually flourish. Naive? Perhaps. Then again, maybe not. What would happen if the well-being of the individual was placed ahead of the need to spin a story out of their latest meltdown? There are plenty of celebrities out there whom the paparazzi can chase and the media can take jabs at who aren’t simultaneously trying to reorder their life. Attempting to do it as Letterman did Tuesday night overstepped the boundaries. Letterman’s show, or any variety of late-night for that matter, is not meant to be hard-hitting journalism. Lohan was there to keep it light, fun, and promote a movie, which she was mostly able to do despite Letterman’s insistence on discussing her troubled past. If she truly believes that this latest stint in rehab – set to begin May 2 – will be the beginning of her road to recovery, this should be welcomed news. If she wants to keep her thoughts on that to herself and not talk about it, that’s her right.
To her credit, Lohan was calm, cool and collected during her 15-minute interview with Letterman showing a great sense of humor throughout. At times however, she was visibly uncomfortable and even teared up after Letterman praised her for having, “enough spine, enough sense of [herself], and enough poise” to come on the show despite all the jokes he’s made at her expense. Lohan alluded to a walk-on gag that saw her entering the stage with tags still on her dress and being chastised by Letterman, but the bit she said, didn’t get cleared in enough time.
This isn’t the first time that Lohan has demonstrated a sense of humor regarding her life either. She's lampooned herself on Saturday Night Live and most recently appeared as a guest star on Charlie Sheen’s FX series, Anger Management. Sheen, no stranger to public ridicule himself, has proven to be an ally and friend to Lohan offering her mentorship and guidance (to the extent he can) and jumping to her defense with recurring regularity, most recently during a chat with Leno Wednesday night amid rumors Lohan’s behavior on the set of Anger Management was disruptive and that she was once again caught red-handed with jewelry that wasn’t hers.
“It’s true but it’s not true. Nothing further your honor. She borrowed some stuff and then was told they would take it out of her paycheck, and she said fine and that’s all it was,” Sheen told Leno.
“I have a kinship with somebody who clearly needs a mentor, whether she wants one or not,” Sheen told TMZ last month. “She can continue to hang out with her dress-shredding club buddies, or turn to me for some advice from a guy who’s been down the road as well as every other side trail on the journey.
“If she listens, she’ll win,” Sheen said. “If she doesn’t, that’s on her.”
In fairness to Sheen, he’s demonstrated what a difference a year can make and if Sheen can do it, Lohan is certainly capable. The media just needs to leave her alone. Hopefully she’ll get that opportunity in rehab.
#3 Jay Leno
Full disclaimer: I am firmly with Team Coco. I don’t agree with what Jay Leno did to Conan O’Brien at all. Perhaps the fact that his hand is now forced and he is passing off the baton to Jimmy Fallon in 2014 is merely the result of karmic debt that’s finally being paid. That being said, we need to cut Jay Leno a break. Life moves on and his legacy should not be based entirely on his handling of this particular situation. It happened, it’s done, and O’Brien is arguably achieving more success now than if the status quo remained.
Leno is 62, Fallon, 38. Yet, The Tonight Show remains at the top of the ratings despite claims by NBC brass that their selection of Fallon as Leno’s successor was driven by a desire to engage more directly with their audience by bringing what Variety called, “a generational shift in tone and content” to the show, namely through social media which Fallon uses avidly. But in the end, none of that is Leno’s fault. The landscape changed, just as it did when he inherited the show from Carson in 1992. Yes, Carson walked away on his own terms and Leno doesn’t have that luxury, but the show remains a late-night juggernaut because of Leno, not in spite of him. While his reign as host of The Tonight Show may be over, the network should at least help him make as graceful an exit as possible after 20 years at the helm. (Yes, I said it.) I genuinely believe Leno deserves to be remembered for more than his late-night war with O’Brien over the fate of Tonight. Consider his charity work, or that he took a 50% voluntary pay cut ensuring fewer layoffs of his staff when NBC slashed the show’s budget. He doesn’t need the money, and he famously doesn’t spend a dime of his paychecks from NBC, but that’s hardly the point. That’s still his money to do with as he sees fit, and he chose to be selfless.
#4 Barack Obama
I realize this one is an extremely tough sell, (that’s why he’s last).
As Leader of the Free World, there are politics both big and small at play with every decision he makes. We should absolutely pay attention to him. I would not have put him on this list at all were it not for his public relations nightmare related to his recent comments about California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris. Those calling Obama’s remarks sexist are stretching it. His remarks should be viewed as the afterthought that they were—not the centerpiece and foundation for his overall opinion of her as a person and the things she’s achieved—which he also noted. We’ve all seen the dangers of what happens when politicians get too comfortable at fundraisers, but even so, equating his remarks with sexism? That’s little too far. He apologized, she accepted. Let’s move on.
Some are also criticizing Obama’s latest push for gun control legislation claiming he’s exploiting the families of Newtown which is completely misguided. His critics argue gun control legislation has nothing to do with the families of the Newtown tragedy when in fact they were the last straw helping push this debate to the forefront of our country’s legislative agenda. Telling a story, crafting a narrative, helping people understand what shapes the rationale behind why we think the way we do—that’s context. Not exploitation. The families of Newtown are no doubt relieved and simultaneously thankful to know that in the midst of their grief something good will come from it, and they’re assured those they loved didn’t die in vain. The same same can be said for the victims of the Aurora Colorado shooting and the countless other acts of gun violence that have plagued our nation and catapulted this legislation into the national spotlight.
We live in a culture so driven by celebrity gossip that it can kill. The public’s insatiable thirst seems never to be quenched, but please, go pick on other more deserving people and leave these four alone.
Who else deserves to be on this list? Leave your thoughts.