Get Behind Me Satan: Our Pathological Need to Vilify Everyone
Aaron Eckhart has some of the worst lines in The Dark Knight. Whether he’s Harvey Dent or Two-Face, his true power is an uncanny ability to overstate the obvious. But Eckhart does stumble upon one valid point, and lucky for him, it’s the thesis of the entire Batman franchise: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
In the context of a superhero blockbuster, it’s a little on the nose. But, in the context of music, celebrity and real life, it’s surprisingly applicable -- and a little profound. It’s not that everyone is inevitably destined to smear their faces in acid and become sociopaths -- not everyone, at least. It’s that the longer you stick around, the more likely it is people will attempt to portray you as a bad guy or, failing that: as some sort of weirdo.
Jack White isn’t a villain. Jack White is a 39-year-old musician from Detroit who has provided us with generation-defining music while, admittedly, often resembling a Tim Burton character. Yes, he’s a little eccentric. That’s a hallmark characteristic of a rock star – and, if you ask me, far preferable to the alternative. Sure, sometimes he occasionally gets caught at a Cubs game looking like every puppy he’s ever owned was just murdered by the right fielder. But I challenge you to look stoked every single second at a baseball game – and a Cubs game at that.
The online backlash from White’s meme-generating moment – while relatively playful – was so swift and ubiquitous that he had to throw out the first pitch at a Tigers game less than a week later (to Santa Claus) just to prove he wasn’t a communist.
But earlier this month, White’s integrity was publically questioned when the University of Oklahoma school paper published his contract to perform at a show on campus along with his tour rider, which is depicted as a list of diva-like demands. Chief among them were a recipe for homemade guacamole and the fact that “we don’t want to see bananas anywhere in the building." While the paper's intent was clearly to get a laugh and a few pageviews at the expense of White (who still played the show), it’s obvious the eager student behind the story hadn’t seen many tour riders before. They aren’t all that different from White’s – especially for someone on his level – and, although the guacamole recipe is a bit much (White said it’s a running gag by his tour manager), the rider doesn’t cater specifically to just White's whims. The anti-banana policy is reportedly for an allergy among someone in White's band or any of the dozens of workers who spend all day setting up at the venue.
Still, all of this is only symptomatic of a larger epidemic: our society’s ever-growing need to build celebrities up only to tear them back down. It’s nothing new and it’s not even exclusive to celebrities. Ask anyone who has ever written a story for a music website if all (or any) of the comments were encouraging. If people aren’t constantly trying to prove everyone else wrong (making themselves ostensibly look smarter in the process), they’re constantly trying to make everyone else at least look stupid.
Maybe we feel a Darwinian pull to watch others fail so that we might succeed.
Maybe it’s written deep in the fabric of our genetic code. Maybe we feel a Darwinian pull to watch others fail so that we might succeed. Or maybe we’re all just jerks. But what's most likely is that our increased access to everything that happens everywhere along with a never-ending news cycle has led to a runaway high school effect: a mean-spirited rumor mill with a few seasonal formals (the Grammys, Oscars and, to a lesser extent, the Spike Guys Choice Awards).
That's not to say people don't do things wrong or that we should look the other way when they do. But it seems like every day requires a new bad guy -- and if one doesn't immediately present itself (nevermind ISIS or African warlords or actual villains), we're all eager to pile on someone like Jack White for requesting a pound of aged salami in his dressing room or Tom DeLonge for being crazy or Kanye West for being Kanye West.
At this point, however, it's all but impossible to change any of this. People will find ways to turn on each other regardless of the situation (we're all just a stalled elevator away from descending into Lord of the Flies self-destruction) and celebrities are the best targets because, well, everyone knows them. But, for them, every move they make is a delicate balancing act between keeping their image spotless and being human.
Because, while there really is no such thing as bad press, bad reporting definitely exists. And as long as everyone is so eager to blindly lap up negativity and point fingers, it won't be going anywhere.