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If the personal is political, how do celebs get away with impunity?

  • Published at 11:45 pm March 31st, 2021
Michael Jackson is joined by his father Joe Jackson and lawyer Mark Geragos as they leave the courthouse after the pop star's arraignment on child molestation charges in California on 2004 AFP

The rich and powerful need to be held accountable, just like the rest of us

“The personal is political” is something we have heard all of our lives. But how much of it do we actually internalize and how does it manifest in our choices? Maybe some of us do own up to it and process it and try to uphold these theories. But does the same apply when it comes to those we look up to, even celebrate for their life and work, even when their personal choices are questionable? 

Where does one draw the line on what is “acceptable” behaviour? And can we really pick and choose which parts of our idol’s lives we associate with and which ones we don’t?

As an example, let’s take Michael Jackson -- an artiste who is a legend of our times; idolized, worshipped even. Yet, when it comes to his personal life, he is the star of all that is, let’s just call it “questionable.” While the number of (child) abuse cases against him are aplenty, although unproven in court, there are fans who stand by him and are unwilling to even discuss accusations made against him. 

The fact that his talent is unmatched cannot be denied. However, should we continue to shy away from the discussion that our favourite celebrities are, at the end of the day, mere humans, with similar doses of good and bad traits, and need to be held accountable for the misdeeds they partake in?

The same is true for House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey; Bill Cosby, accused by 60 women of rape, and the biggest football player of our times, Diego Maradona, of whom a video footage was leaked of him hitting his former fiancé. It’s safe to conclude that this list is endless and that it is an endless list of men. With positions of power. Who have for far too long gotten away with anything and everything, without being held accountable. 

The fact that this creates a culture of impunity, and idolizing of the person’s behaviour -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- is indeed problematic. 

While there are also fans who think that the personal can be separated from the professional, and they can indeed look up to the celebrity’s professional endeavours without being involved in the person’s personal matters, the fact remains that the personal is really political and it showcases a person’s views in life, and the ethos by which they live.

Were they talented? Probably more than I can comprehend. But the question is, should they have been celebrated, when they were alive, or even after they passed away, while we were aware of all the misconducts and misdeeds they were involved in? That is a question I don’t have the answer to. But the problem does not only reside in the fact that these celebrated men were celebrated for their perfections along with their very visible imperfections. The fact was that they continued to abuse/harass/beat/rape women without being held accountable, without in most cases even apologizing or accepting their deeds. 

And these are the personalities we idolize, and who we want to follow. We put a Maradona on such a high pedestal, as if nothing can touch him, as if no amount of wrongdoing can bring him down. 

And the truth of the matter is, that nothing did. And we continued to hide away their wrongdoings. It did not matter who they raped/abused/harassed because he was a Spacey, a Jackson, a Maradona. And so, we ignored all that they did in their personal lives, and celebrated them.  

Megalomania is a term that comes to my mind when I think of these so-called celebrities, whose positions of power reach such an extreme that they are exempt from any form of policing, that they become demi-gods, no gods even. And we start replicating their behaviour, in both our personal and professional lives, as if being like them will lead us to attain that position whereby we are unaffected by everything around us.

I ask again, are we going to keep turning a blind eye and remain oblivious to all that comes with power? Are we going to accept everything under the name of artistic independence? 

As a society, how long are we going to not address this culture of impunity? If the personal is political, and we know it is, then it’s time to also hold celebrities accountable, including our leaders, politicians, academicians, media personalities every time they abuse their power, at home, in workplaces, in the streets. 

They need to be held accountable, when they think it’s OK to dictate women to stay at home, to not go out at night. They need to be held accountable when they ask their supervisees to have coffee with them, or ride back home with them. They need to be held accountable for each and every sexist remark that they make, even if it is amidst a close group of friends. Because such jokes are simply a peek at how we are in our personal spaces. And the personal is very much political.

Syeda Samara Mortada is the Regional Movement Builder at SheDecides, Asia, Coordinator at Bonhishikha and a core member of Feminists Across Generations coalition in Bangladesh.

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