The Humanity of Fame and Murdering

Sunday, December 9, 2012 | 1 Comment(s)

I think this "being a writer" thing is starting to sink in because lately i've been thinking a lot about what it means to be human.  Also, i've been mulling over what it means to be famous.  And then, naturally, the overlap: what it means to be human and famous, or human then famous, or, in the rare case, famous then human.

And it is hard in this internet-infused, video-phone enabled, 24-hr news chatcycle, to remember that famous people are human beings.  Especially in a world where Lindsey Lohan exists.  But at the end of what each of these these movie stars and athletes and rock gods call a day, they all must close their eyes in a dark room, and let their demons wash over them.

What if i'm a fraud? What if i blow out my knee tomorrow? Do i have AIDS?  

but those are specialized demons.  Famous demons for famous sleepers.  These are the devils of humanity's creation, and I'm talking about the more basic. human. fears.

I will die.  All of this money is meaningless when i am gone. What is the cost of being away from the one's i love?  Why do people like me when i don't like myself?  "Does anyone love me?  Can I ever really love someone forever?  Am I lovable?  Do they just like me for my money, fame, power, humor, connections, free drinks, car, ___________?  

The last case i mentioned in my introduction -- going from famous to human -- is particularly intriguing to me because of the parameters that must be met for it to occur.  Not everyone can fall from fame.  Far from it.  In fact, once you reach a certain level of fame, a series of events is seamlessly put in motion to encourage and publicize your tragic fall from grace and eventual bottoming out. And then your gradual but heartwarming comeback via celebrity rehab show to formal dance competition.  Which is to say that America loves tearing down its idols almost as much as it loves voting for them by phone.

So once you are a, say, a Britney or a Lindsey or dare i ask for any flavor Kardashian, you can't ever be human again.  You, unlike our banking industry, are not too big to fail, but rather the perfect-sized big enough to fail spectacularly.  Because, as we have learned, even in jail, Paris, Lindsey, and even Martha Stewart are still more famous person that human being.  We feel no tragedy in their loss (ok, maybe martha got some white people on her side).  They deserve it.  At are weakest moments, Paris Hilton pouting her way into a jailhouse is even funny.  If the idea of you being locked behind bars is funny to any large group of people, you can be fairly certain that you will never again be human -- unless maybe when you are old and living in Montana and have become completely unmarketable.  Even ironically.  Even to hipsters.

So that means to go from famous to human, you must be only modestly famous.  Famous enough to get consistent adulation, but maybe not famous enough that everyone knows you on sight.

Writers are the perfect example.  How many of your favorite authors would you recognize if they were strolling the opposite direction in the mall?  The way i figure it, a writer of any renowned is only one homicide away from being human again for the rest of their lives.  And they will spend that personhood in a jail similar to famous-person jail except that no one cares and you never get out.

Which brings us naturally to the second requirement of going from famous to human; you have to do something pretty f'd up.  I mean, we can forgive a ton of stuff as a society.  And if you're one of those really famous people, we'll forgive (or at least forget) almost anything (see Ray Lewis and murder).  

So, if you find yourself a mid-range celebrity having sex with an underaged prostitute being recorded on HD video, you better hope that DVD sells mad copies, cause your only screwing yourself (regardless of how vigorously the videotape may despite that truth).

Sadly, such an occurrence (falling from fame to humanhood, not the underaged prostitute stuff) happened recently in the National Football League.  On Friday, Joshua Price-Brent was the starting nose tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, preparing for his game today against the Bengals in Cincinnati.  On Saturday, Price-Brent went out on the town with his current practice squad teammate and former college teammate at the University of Illinois, Jerry Brown Jr.

On Sunday morning, this morning, Joshua Price-Brent was in jail accused of asecond-degree felony: intoxicated manslaughter.  Saturday night, while speeding above the posted 45 mph, Price-Brent hit the curb on the side of the road, flipping the car and killing his passenger and friend Brown Jr.  When police arrived on the scene, Price-Brent was pulling his friend from the car which was catching on fire.

This weekend Price-Brent went from famous to human.  He is a pro-athlete turned man who will most likely go to jail for killing one of his best friends.

And it was this case that brought me to this existential place about "being human" in the first place.  This is not a blog about the wrongness of drunk driving.  I think that goes without saying.  But if you   can get past the drunk driving part of this, and just think about this man Justin, it is a more complicated story.  Justin grew up in California, played college in Illinois, and was drafted by the Cowboys after being declared academically ineligible his senior year.  While in college, he was convicted of drunk driving (in 2009) and sentenced to 2 months in jail, 2 years probation, and 200 hours of community service.  Which he served.

I am not even making a Pro-Justin argument here.  What I have been attempting to do, is put myself, my humanity, into the imagined experience of Justin over the past 3 days.  From pro athlete on the shoulders of the world, to the murder of a college friend in less than12 hrours.  In his first public statement he said, "I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life."  In reading the full statement, the emphasis is put squarely on the loss of a great person and friend in Brown Jr.  He speaks to Brown's family, friends, teammates.  He is only full of apology and remorse.  I am not insinuating my personal support for Price-Brent when i tell you that, as a psychologist, I was thoroughly convinced of his misery and the infinite sadness he feels in having negligently killed his good friend.

Once again, this is a story with no right and wrong.  Piling blame on Price-Brent feels cruel in the face of his taking both complete responsibility for what happened, and also, the totality of the responsibility of taking another human life.   And yet, it is also difficult to feel wholeheartedly empathetic for the man, especially in the face of his previous drunk driving conviction.

And somewhere between involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, we find the simple truth of our humanity.  Because, thankfully, I am not the judge or jury of Josh Price-Brent for his crimes against his friend, or the greater public at large.  I am just a white jew 2000 miles away feeling for a man who will, inevitably, go to bed tonight.  And when he closes his eye, his demons, like mine and yours, will come a calling.

And Josh Price-Brent will no longer have famous demons.  I can't even be sure that he will have same fears and questions that we all ask as humans. Price-Brent will be haunted by his past, the size and shape of which give me chills to speculate upon.  And it is my humanity, in that instant, that reaches out reflexively.  Because i saw what happened to Willy Lopez (and Willy Lomen for that matter), and I haven't been convinced since then that the reality of living with searing shame is any less terrifying.

A nurse in London ended her life from the shame of being pranked by Australian Radio DJ's pretending to be the Royals checking on Princess Kate.

And when Justin closes his eyes, he will invariably be haunted by the visage of his college friend, teammate, and self proclaimed "little brother".  And he will feel the pain of his incapacity to go back in time to Friday, when he was famous and Jerry was alive.   And in that moment of human anguish where he realizes that he is both the problem and the inability to fix that problem, my entire heart goes out to him.  For that pain, you need the salve of the world, and the only people we reserve that kind of compassion for, are famous.

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