Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Celebrity-mistake-Overkill

JAN: Michael Phelps is back in the news with an interview about being caught smoking pot at a party.

Now, I think if he'd been caught taking steroids or some other performance enhancing drug, I'd be really upset by it. I'd be all over what a jerk he was, what a cheater. But I'm not particularly upset that he was smoking pot at a party, and I don't feel owed his apology. I figure he's a young kid, who like the rest of us, is bound to make a few mistakes along the way. He didn't hurt anyone else and he wasn't operating any heavy machinery.

Mostly I feel sorry for him -- that he always has to look over his shoulder for the creep at the party who is going to photograph whatever he does and exploit his celebrity.

So is this just me? or does anyone else think that this is celebrity-mistake-overkill? Is Phelps right when he tells Matt Lauer: "I've come to realize that people want to bring you up, but more people want to bring you down. And that's how our public is."

I, for one, find that I follow with great interest anything to do with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds perjury cases. I can't explain why, deep in my heart, I want them to go down.

HALLIE: I agree that the bigger you get as a celebrity the more pleasure the "public" takes in taking you down a peg or two. On a related note, at Left Coast Crime mystery conference I was on a panel as a critic and heard that question I've often I think it's my job to point out when some perennially bestselling author writes a less-than-stellar book. (I don't.)

As a PS, Rhys was a great Guest of Honor... and sang a song (YES!) when she received her GOH award. So, one day we all want to hear more about Rhys's checkered (or perhaps it should be star studded) past and hidden talents.

HANK: Rhys! What was the song?

JAN: Oh dear, I hope this doesn't mean Matt Lauer will be gunning for Rhys soon! (just kidding Rhys, you're safe as long as you decline the Kellogg's endorsement.)

ROBERTA: I definitely think we common folk expect too much from our celebrities. And we probably have mixed feelings about how well they're doing, compared to little old us. However, once a person signs on with sponsors for big endorsements, the standard of behavior expected does rise. And rightly so, in my opinion. If Michael Phelps didn't want people watching him, he could have faded into the woodwork after the Olympics. And as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, yikes, we all have skeletons in our history. What bothers me most is the people who are paid dearly for their name and presence who don't want to take on the rest of the burden.

Hallie, would love to hear more about that question about the best-selling writer with a clunker. Would you just not choose to review that one?

RO: I felt sorry for Phelps, too. Jeez, who cares? But I was more upset that Wheaties trashed the boxes of cereal (with his picture on them) instead of donating them to a food bank.

I like to think that I don't care about this stuff, but dang if I didn't want to know what the hell happened to Charlize Theron's father.

HANK: Well, Jan, because cheating and lying are not good. There's something that happens, with celebrities, and of course as we see every day now, with financial celebrities, that makes people somehow decide the rules don't apply to them.

That's what I think the problem is. Suddenly, celebrity means freedom from the constraints and self-control the rest of us use every day. And we hardly think about it, do we? I mean, have I thought--oh, you know, I'm just not going to pay my taxes, who'll ever find out? NO! I pay them. Those are the rules.

I'm FUMING over the AIG bonuses. (And everything else, of course. But that's a different blog.) And I do stories about people who have ripped off the system, and they say: how could you do that to me? And I say--*I* didn't do anything! You did!

<>JAN: Yes, Hank I think you're right, it's the cheating that makes me crazy, (Roger Clemens) not the youthful mistakes (Michael Phelps).

So I guess we all have the celebrity crimes we want to excuse and the ones we want to see punished. Tell us, if you could run the world, who should we leave alone and who should go down?


  1. Am I the only one who thinks that SI cover photo of Michael Phelps is bizarre?

    On Roberta's question... I generally don't review the big-big authors because they don't need the reviewer's ink. Good or bad, their works will hit the bestseller lists. And yes, I usually stop reading if I don't like a book and move on to try to find something to review that I do like...if there's time before my monthly deadline.

  2. Dude. I haven't had enough coffee to rule the world this morning. I admit I'm not one to watch Entertainment Tonight and I snarl when some pampered prince or princess of the Land of Celebrity misbehaves and only gets a slap on the wrist--especially if Regular Joe would get slapped down hard.

    I also believe if they sign an endorsement deal, they have a responsibility to their brand. Yeah. Phelps was young and stupid but I can't really blame Kellogg (except for dumping the boxes instead of putting them in a food bank). Their image is such that marijuana smoking is a big Just Say No!

    What really chaps my @$$ is hearing a celebrity whine, "But I didn't ask to be a role model!" Dude, get over yourself. You are. It comes with the territory. Grow up and be smart. Don't beat your girlfriend (or dog), don't do drugs, drive drunk, or any of the myriad other stupid celebrity tricks out there.

    *looks sheepish* Okay. Climbing off the soapbox and slinking away now....

  3. Since when has doing drugs become okay? It's wrong, it's illegal, it can harm oneself as well as do damage to those around him/her. And I agree with James, of course the endorsements are going to fall away. Do you want the image of your company associated with a drug user? It's only pot so it's okay. It's only meth so it's okay. It's only performance enhancing drugs so it's okay. It's not okay and doing drugs isn't a rite of youthful passage. It is a choice of right and wrong.

  4. Hey Silver James,
    I agree that Kellogg's is completely justified in pulling Phelp's endorsement. That's business. And I agree, role-model comes with the territory. I just personally can't get worked up about a young kid getting caught smoking pot.

    And Hallie, you have no idea how hard it was to find a photo of Michael Phelps that wasn't blatant BEEFCAKE.

    I thought beefcake might make it seem like I was unduly influenced in my easy stand. :)

  5. Hi PK,
    I'm not endorsing drug use, even pot smoking. But I've seen alcohol do so much more damage, especially to kids, and all that gets excused as youthful mistakes. I think pot smoking should be in the same boat. And I guess what interests me more than the celebrity offense, is our different reactions to it.
    I get insane when each new starlit announces she's pregnant and not yet married as if its terrific news, because I know it's influencing all the young girls out there who CAN'T afford single parenthood.

  6. Since they might be controversial, I need to claim the previous two comments as mine (Jan Brogan), I was inadvertently still in the Jungle Red blogger account!

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  8. It's his bathing suit that's weird. SO weird.

    Swimmers, is there something aerodynamic about the "falling off" look? Or what?

  9. Jan, I think we agree more than disagree on the issue. Smoking pot, drinking to excess, and pregnancy aren't "hip and cool" and as the mother of a daughter (though she's almost grown now), I cringe at the examples. That said, yes, it happens. Even with adults.

    I get more worked up about the poor kid who's life has been ruined because his 16 yo girlfriend "sex-texted" a nude photo of herself and when he got mad at her, he forwarded it to her family and friends. Now he's a convicted child pornographer and she's...well, I hope she's grounded for life and sent to the nunnery. (Do we still have nunneries?)

    And don't get me started on AIG or companies that take TARP money and then outsource their jobs to India like Chase and Citibank.

    Wow. Sorry. I either need more coffee or I've had too much. *slinks back into the shadows again* I promise to lurk now. LOL

  10. Hi Silver James,

    I completely agree:

    Those teenagers messaging naked photos of themselves to each other is the whole reason I wrote Teaser.

  11. I think that it's unfortunate the Phelps did not use better judgement. I think we are all, a bit naive if we think he didn't know he was a perceived as a role model. I mean, if you are on every TV network, have a gazillion interviews, magazine articles and product endorsement, you are news.
    He's not the first big name athlete to run afoul of the law and he won't be the last. BUT, I will say this for him. He did own up to it and didn't try to wiggle out of it.
    He needs to grow up and realize his image is a business. He makes a lot of money from his endorcements and has an obligation to his sponsors to stay clean.

  12. Caryn,
    You make a strong argument. I think its just that I have kids his age.... makes me soft.

    Also, I was such an incredibly stupid kid myself...

  13. I really wasn't too sure about thta song, but I knew I couldn't follow Lee Goldberg as a stand up comedian and I used to sing sort of cabaret-Saturday Nigh Live stuff when I was just out of college, (and I have sung with an opera chorus too so you're lucky you didn't get One Fine Day!)

  14. 22 years old is not a kid. When my daughter was 22, she had a child; my mother & father were parents at 22; at 22 I was a Marine sergeant responsible for lots of people and things; do you think that the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are all middle-aged? Brains are supposed to kick into working order before the age of 22, folks. People are allowed to operate a ton of heavy machinery that will go 100 mph, and is operated within a few feet of sidewalks--that's automobiles, folks, and most Americans have drivers' licenses at age 16. At age 18, we are allowed to decide who will be PRESIDENT.

    And that "poor kid" who forwarded naked pictures of his girl friend all over the planet? Lock him up and throw away the key. Get the girl some therapy--what was she thinking? What the filthy photo-forwarding jerk was thinking was "I can really hurt her."

    22 is not a kid. If you're a kid at 22, you are behind the curve.

    Now, the whole thing about everybody in the world having and using cameras every waking moment, well, that's another sad story.

    And, as angry as I am about the permissive tones of the comments here, at this moment, I really do love your site and your books. Just disagree deeply on this issue.