Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the very public meltdown of Amanda Bynes with friends and on Twitter. This got me thinking about female* celebrity meltdowns and how the changes in media have played a roll in what we see.
A friend once told me that aside from being an actress and a pin-up, she didn’t see anything about Marilyn Monroe that would make her worthy of movies and conversations almost fifty years after her death. To me Marilyn symbolized so many things, but in my mind she is the first celebrity, that I know of, who had a very public meltdown and battle with addiction. I’m sure there were others before her, but she is the one that sticks in my head. As cameras followed her life, the world was able to see that money and fame do not put someone beyond the reach of mental disease and addiction.
There have been many meltdowns and many battles with addiction since Marilyn Monroe. Britney Spears had the unfortunate luck of beginning her downward spiral shortly after the explosion of online tabloid media sites like PerezHilton.com and TMZ. The world watched on as Britney shaved her head, lost custody of her kids, and checked in and out of rehab. The night that she was taken from her home in an ambulance and placed on a 5150 psych hold, helicopters flew overhead tracking the ambulance. Police cars acted as a buffer between the ambulance and hordes of paparazzi following close behind in hopes of getting a picture. I remember sitting with my laptop that night and following everything that happened on the Perez Hilton website. Part of me felt bad for passively supporting this invasion of her privacy, but part of me just wanted to know she was okay. I related to the feeling of losing control over your life and acting out. I was sad that someone I admired was going through it, and I was sad that she had to do it while the entire world watched her every move.
Since then there has been a flurry of female celebrity meltdowns, and cameras have been there to catch every single moment. It makes it feel as though more celebrities are having meltdowns than ever before and that they are somehow much worse than celebrity meltdowns of previous generations. But it seems to me that we just have the ability to see them under a microscope in a way that we were never able to with the previous generations. Before Britney Spears there was Drew Barrymore, Whitney Houston, Courtney Love, and more. Yet each meltdown now since seems to be exponentially worse than the last.
The meltdown of Amanda Bynes has brought a new element to the celebrity meltdown mix: Twitter. Just as online tabloids added to the intensity of the Britney Spears breakdown, Twitter has made the Amanda Bynes meltdown appear infinitely worse than any previous celebrity. It’s likely that Britney Spears had some pretty crazy thoughts and said some pretty horrendous things during her meltdown. However, she didn’t have access to Twitter to share those thoughts with the world. So we watched from the outside, through the lens of the paparazzi. In the case of Amanda Bynes, the world really started to worry when the instability of her mind started to show through in her tweets. Most people were not paying attention to Amanda until the media picked up on her strange tweets. As her tweets became more erratic, the paparazzi worked that much harder to follow her every move and we started to learn more and more about her unusual behavior. We are now able to watch not only through the lens of the paparazzi, but also from Amanda’s perspective as she tweets about her daily life.
Our ongoing quest to know about every detail of the lives of celebrities has made us more aware of addiction and mental illness in the celebrity community. Are these afflictions worse than they were fifty years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. What is different from fifty years ago is our ability to peek into the lives of these celebrities using the constantly expanding media and technology that is tracking their every move.
*I chose to focus on female celebrities because those seem to be the ones that get the most media attention.
Image: Graeme Weatherston