Altar of American Idols: Celebrity distractions from real issues

I’ve always been a huge Tolkien nerd. From 8 years old, when my mother handed me a copy of The Hobbit, I was lost in Middle Earth. I have all the books, I have all the movies (The Two Towers is the best, and I’ll fight you if you disagree!), and my Tumblr is full of Tolkien nonsense. I remember being about 12, and hearing Elijah Wood say his Nine Companions tattoo “hurt like a mother—–.” I was crestfallen at the idea of Frodo using profanity. (If you’ve heard any of my standup comedy, you’ll know I’ve grown out of that.)

Currently, Hollywood has me feeling just as emotional and connected to certain celebrities, and just as judgmental of their behavior. I cried over Phillip Seymour Hoffman on Sunday, just as I did over Amy Winehouse. In the wake of his the Golden Globes, everyone, myself included, seems to be torn over whether or not Woody Allen is a child molester, and how that affects the reception of his art.

The problem, though, is that we’re not content to simply observe the happenings of Hollywood. We feel compelled to pass judgment on the actions to our friends, our coworkers, classmates, and Facebook acquaintances. People argue over whether Hoffman’s death was “stupid” or “romantically tragic.” There are so many articles about Woody Allen I couldn’t print them all off before depleting my $25 printing stipend. 

Let me set some things straight for you: in 1992, Allen was accused of molesting then 7-year-old Dylan Farrow, the daughter he had adopted with Mia Farrow. He was never formally charged with molesting her because the evidence of sexual misconduct was inconsistent. The state psychiatrists sided with Allen, the judge with Farrow, and the prosecutor chose to let the case die. Allen would go on to marry Soon-Yi Previn and adopt two daughters with her. In her open letter to the New York Times, Dylan Farrow says that she was “silenced” by the all the praise Allen received for his films: essentially, Hollywood’s acceptance of Allen diminishes her experience as a survivor of sexual assault.

Immediately, any and all opinion forums are filled with did-he-or-didn’t-he debates that quickly become nasty. He’s innocent: Dylan was coached by Mia Farrow. Of course he’s guilty: while in his fifties he married Soon-Yi Previn, the 19-year-old adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and André Previn; ergo, he’s a pervert.  

Switch to Hoffman. He was found dead in his apartment on February 2nd, Super Bowl Sunday, from an apparent heroin overdose. The authorities noticed that there were close to 50 envelopes of heroin inside the apartment, most labeled with the brand Ace of Spades. Heroin is no longer the drug of the 80s and 90s, its destruction inspiring great novels like Trainspotting or the events of Orange is the New Black. Rather, as the War on Drugs systematically targets and eliminates prescription pain pill abuse, heroin sneaks back in to fill the empty spaces – both in the drug market and the dark parts of empty people. Hoffman reportedly spent much of the past 23 years in a cycle of addiction, rehab, relapse.

And of course, the media circus adds a new act. How “tragic” was Hoffman’s death? Was it, instead as Jared Padalecki said, “stupid and senseless?” Clearly, he was never very serious if a man with easy access to addiction help couldn’t kick the habit, or his access to help was matched only by his access to heroin. All of this distracts us from the fact that a man – not an actor, but a human being – is dead. 

Instead of talking about whether or not Woody Allen molested his daughter, we should be working to create a safe space for sexual assault survivors to tell their stories and receive emotional support. Instead of romanticizing the relationship of art and dysfunction through our latest tragic case, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, we should be revisiting our strategy in the War on Drugs. It just seems to me that, as a nation and global culture, we are far more concerned with the style of issues rather than the substance.

Don’t believe me? Then, why were there over 200,000 signatures on a White House petition to deport Justin Bieber and only 570 to investigate the toxic spill that poisoned West Virginia’s water supply? Maybe Jesco White should draw our attention to that problem.