I’m a big fan of Kanye West, and when he was hospitalised only a few weeks ago I was incredibly worried and immediately taken aback. Even as someone following his career very closely, I had written off his most recent rants about Trump, Beyoncé, and Jay Z as ‘Kanye being Kanye’. It was as though I had forgotten his humanity and the recent events that would have exacerbated his already well-publicised mental health issues – the recent armed robbery of his wife Kim Kardashian-West, and the death of his mother, the anniversary of which fell seven days prior to the now infamous rant.
This erratic behaviour, even by Kanye’s standard, was overlooked by people who were simply happy to denounce him as a fallen star, with even his most loyal fans booing and throwing their Yeezys at him while he stood on stage. Think-pieces were penned and in the span of a few hours there were Tweets, Facebook statuses, and rants posted wherever an opinion could be broadcast.
It’s now almost a month since then, and I am embarrassed to admit, but his hospitalisation was still a huge shock to me. However, upon reading Ryan Bassil’s recent article, things began to click. Bassil wrote about his concern for the media’s treatment of West, drawing comparisons between him and Amy Winehouse, from their treatment by the press and the public. It left a sour taste in my mouth, but only for the uncomfortable truths he brought to the surface.
We all mourn Winehouse’s untimely death and chastise the way she was treated by her father, her fans, and the press, all while removing our personal responsibility from the situation. We tell ourselves that we now know better, conversation around mental health is no longer stigmatised, and treating celebrities like robots turning tricks for entertainment value is not okay. But despite all of this, our ’20-20 hindsight’ is skewed and we risk repeating the same mistakes.
Amy Winehouse’s life was sensationalised, scandalised, and constantly speculated over. Paparazzi hounded her, media outlets penned damning articles about her and in the few weeks before her death, her own fans booed her at a concert. This all happened despite her known struggle with depression, bulimia, and substance abuse. A lot of the same could be said for West.
2016 sparked the beginning of a true disdain for social media amongst celebrities, even amongst those who once celebrated Twitter and Instagram for how close it brought them to their fans.
Justin Bieber’s relationship with the media and his fans has suffered under the immense criticism he’s been at the brunt of, going as far as refusing to take photos with screaming Beliebers and most recently saying he thinks “hell is Instagram.” If you’re not one to keep up to date with Biebs, here’s the story: He deleted his Instagram account a few months ago after photos with his alleged girlfriend at the time, Sofia Richie, caused his fans go into meltdown and leave vicious comments by the thousands on each post. He was confused, lamenting on a latter post, “if you guys are really fans you wouldn’t be so mean to people that I like.” People reacted to Bieber’s response by laughing at the ‘rich, spoilt brat’ who can’t seem to handle fame but I don’t find his disillusionment funny in the slightest.
R&B singer Kehlani attempted suicide after a post on Instagram by PARTYNEXTDOOR, which suggested she may have been cheating on her boyfriend at the time, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. She was subjected to a horrifying barrage of slut-shaming and abuse before returning to social media to confirm that her and Irving had split prior to her reconciliation with her ex, PARTYNEXTDOOR. Still the pressure led her to make a devastating decision.
Fandom existed well before the internet, but if someone had a crush on Paul McCartney in 1965, they didn’t have the means to instantly send threatening or abusive messages to him and whomever he may have dated. Beatlemania in that sense at least, was quite tame.
In 2014, Robert Pattinson pleaded with his fans to cease from sending vile, contemptuous racist tweets at FKA twigs. Twilighters didn’t see her fit enough to be his girlfriend and that was how they chose to respond.
It’s glaringly obvious that it’s no longer just the media who needs to take stock and realise their impact on the people they write about. Fans must take heed and demonstrate a level of humanity towards celebrities unless we want to continue watching them cower at the flash of a camera or a filthy comment underneath a Tweet. It’s bizarre that so many people desperately cling on to their assumed ‘freedom of speech’ to demonise and hurt their idols.
As I quickly scan my memory for any Tweets I’ve made that make me guilty of the same thing, I wonder how many of us are quick to put aside our culpability – an educated Kanye hater and an angry One Directioner’s intentions might be different but the outcome is always the same.
It’s hard to separate criticism of one’s work and of one’s self in this hyper flatulent state of the world. Being in the public eye for many superstars is an inescapable life-long trial, and the pressure of this is enough to make anyone crumble, so why are we surprised when they do? Art is there to be critiqued – whether that is movies, music, or reality TV – but putting this on par with constant, unheeded personal attacks feels like a glimpse into an unnerving dystopian future.
If we learned our lesson at the price of Amy Winehouse’s life, then why do we still laugh at Amanda Bynes? Why is Britney’s breakdown in 2007 a meme? Why are we ridiculing Kid Cudi’s Tweets and only realising they were a little ‘off’ only after he checked into rehab? Is Kanye ‘just being Kanye’ even when he is having a breakdown onstage?
Social media, mental health, and celebrity all need untangling and it’s time we take responsibility for our part in the mess.
Kish Lal is a contributor for ACCLAIM. She’s a lady on the streets and lacks impulse control in the tweets. Don’t @ her – @futuristickish