Celebrities With Eating Disorders And Other Pop Culture Scapegoats

June 2, 2014

I recently read a nice article written by Ilona Burton over at The Independent. That is not to say it was flawless. In a way, she sort of almost wound up contradiction her own thesis. But, despite that, it was a refreshing criticism of those who condemn pro-ana sites as responsible for the eating disorder problem. And, even better still, she placed the whole discussion in the larger context of pop culture blaming generally.

The excellent Celebrities with Eating Disorders site astutely argues that this fad for blaming celebrities with eating disorders, or any other kind of celebrity or media figures, for our own ills or those of our loved ones, is a total cop-out. Those with eating disorders make their own decisions. Pro-ana sites and emaciated celebrities, whatever anyone thinks of them, are no more the cause of the problem than they are a symptom of it. Yet, for those who know their pop culture history, this kind of foolishness has long run rampant. At one time or another music or movies or comic books, and other pop culture media, have been accused as the corrupters of youth and corroders of society.

Such ridiculous attitudes go right back to ancient Athens, where none other than Plato fretted over the corrupting influence upon Athenian youth of theater and poetry. Throughout the ages the same theme appears over and over again. The explosion of 20th century mass communication media has though really thrown open the flood gates for this kind of pop culture blame-game.

The jaundiced eye of some social commentators regarded the swing music of the 1940s as a morally corrosive force, which ultimately would undermine the character of the soldiers necessary to carry out the war effort. (The same crazy swing dancing youth who, decades after the end of the war, would be celebrated as The Great Generation?) In the 40s and 50s comic books were accused of breeding an alleged epidemic of youth violence and juvenile delinquency. Television shows refused to show Elvis Presley’s swiveling hips, for fear of feeding the frenzied libidinal blackness of his music: it suggested things dark and immoral. Meanwhile teenage girls continued to swoon.

By the time we reach the 1960s it is the TV itself that becomes a purveyor of social decay, supposedly rotting the brains of the nation’s youth. And worst of all were the Beatles, whose music was accused of promoting free love and the use of psychedelic drugs. A backlash against what came to be called Beatlemania came to a head with mass bonfires to burn their records, subsequent to an impious remark by John Lennon. By the 70s, it was the raw physicality and sensuousness of disco music which was accused of tearing at the fabric of sexual mores and undermining common decency.

The 1980s-90s brought still more of the same: left-wing feminists decried pornography as creating rapists while right-wing moralists decried heavy metal music as creating Satanists. Rap music was accused of promoting criminality, raves were drug infested death traps and the recent World Wide Web was turning young people into anti-social, entranced computer-heads wasting away in their parents’ basements.

It’s the same old story, over and over again. Mass media and pop culture get blamed for it all: apathy and violence, conformism and deviancy. Who could be surprised than that it is now widely blamed for both anorexia and obesity? Nothing new under the sun and all that!

One doesn’t have to peer too closely behind the curtain of all this to see what’s going on: a resolute refusal to accept responsibility for our own choices and actions. Whether those choices and actions are part of an eating disorder or our own response to the eating disorder of a loved one, it’s easier, more comforting, to blame something else. After all, the alternative would be to have to face that our own choices and actions, or those of our loved ones, can be disturbing, despairing and even destructive. It is so much more comforting to conjure up dragons. At the end of the day, though, no amount of self denial removes the challenges which remain before us.

Each one of us is uniquely responsible for what we do, with our own lives, and in response to the choices of our loved ones. Turning others into our punching bags or scapegoats may provide some momentary relief from the burden of personal responsibility. It ultimately solves nothing, though. The celebrities of stage, screen and runway, are easy targets, but that can’t (even if they wanted to) make anyone choose how to live.

It is up to us to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, including our interaction with and care for our loved ones. To blame popular culture is conjure dragons of the mind, in need of magical feats. If someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder better to squarely face reality than escape in to the magical thinking of blaming the media.

A mythical dragon though is merely a straw man. Yes, it is a comforting means for unleashing our rage and deflecting our anger, disappointment and fear. It does nothing though to help us come to grips with real problems – and real solutions.

Keep tabs on us for all the scoop on all manner of controversies over Celebrities with Eating Disorders . Mickey Jhonny is a reliable source of thought provoking and stimulating writing on popular culture. If you’re a fan of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, his piece ripping off the cover of its dirty little secret is an absolute must read.

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