A Farewell to Celebrity Culture

The science fiction and fantasy community has seen a lot of turmoil in the past year over the abusive behaviours of those in its higher echelons, including the collapse of ChiZine last fall and the more recent outing of serial abusers like popular authors Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, and others. The conversation also includes those who provide cover for abusers, knowingly or otherwise.

Humans are social creatures. We need other people to survive physically and to thrive psychologically, so it’s only natural to want to protect your circle of family and friends. However, predators count on the protection of their circle to find, groom, and abuse victims and then to shield themselves from accountability afterwards. When creepers are beloved celebrities, their protective circles expand, as does their access to potential victims.

It’s time to destroy celebrity culture. The fact that a given person is well known doesn’t make them any less human, and humans are psychologically flawed and morally frail creatures. Give them money and fame, and those flaws become magnified; egos get bigger and stakes get higher. Fucking up — or being perceived as having fucked up — becomes increasingly threatening to the self, and the need to defend one’s own actions becomes critical. This, too, is natural. But it can be destructive.

“Outrage Culture” is the Result of Enforced Silence

One of the reasons we’re seeing so much come out now is simply the fact that so many abusers have been protected for so long, and victims are tired of being silenced. The mass outrage being expressed is the outlet for centuries of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and many other forms of enforced inferiority enacted on the many by the powerful few.

It’s no secret that a culture that accepts or condones abuse thereby promotes abuse. But celebrity culture long ago became a cult, and far too many of us have been willing to drink the poisoned Kool-aid and pronounce it refreshing.

We need to stop seeing celebrities as glorious others. They are mere humans prone to moral failure; they may be abusers, they may be victims, and they may be both. We need to understand that. But our own frailties often prevent us from doing so.

We typically want to distance ourselves from pain, both our own and that of others. Ego demands that we see ourselves as good people, so we pretend that abusers are monsters, evil humanoid aliens who merely look like us but are not in fact us. That thing they did was terrible — we could never do that. Victim-blaming serves a similar purpose. The victim must have done something terrible to deserve what they got — we could never do that, either. 

These mental acrobatics allow us to live in our own little LaLa Land full of sugar and spice and everything nice. We could never do anything wrong because we’re not monsters, and nothing bad could ever happen to us because we are good and innocent. But that dream world exists nowhere but in our minds.

A New Justice

Cognitive dissonance is painful, but we have to embrace it to create a more just society for everyone. Both abusers and their victims are just like us — in many cases they are us — and we need to see and accept them for who they are before we, as a society, can help them. Granted, some abusers may be beyond helping, and this is when we need to circle our social wagons to protect the victims and prevent further abuse, not to protect abusers and allow them to continue abusing.

By becoming a more empathetic society, we will be both willing and able to respond faster when stories of abuse surface. By holding ourselves and our loved ones to account, we can achieve justice for those harmed while also providing help and support to those who have done wrong to prevent further harm. Punitive and retaliatory justice may seem more satisfying in the heat of the moment, but they won’t address the cause of this misery. Our social nature has caused us to turn blind eyes to abuse, and it is our social nature that must be reoriented to face it. Only then can we break the cycle.

By adopting a more restorative justice, we can address the needs of the abused and the abuser so that both may become healthy, productive members of society. Not everyone can be helped, but that’s no excuse for not trying, especially when it is more than abundantly clear that our current methods have failed miserably.

That said, no one should ever be required to forgive. Demanding forgiveness for yourself or others is itself an abusive practice designed to silence victims and quash further efforts to seek justice. Demanding forgiveness makes the victim responsible for resolving the crime against them and lifts the burden of atonement from the abuser. Telling a victim that they have to forgive is tantamount to telling them to “just get over it.”

If we really want to stop abuse, we have to face it every time it happens, no matter where it comes from. First, however, we have to recognize our own flaws and failings. The more we need to defend our own mistakes, the more we will need to defend the mistakes of others as a way to keep our own failings hidden, especially from ourselves. No one can change who will not acknowledge their own flaws.

Fame and fortune must not provide anyone immunity from justice, and poverty and lowly status should not make anyone a target for injustice. Smash all the pedestals. There should be no more celebrity, only humanity.

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