Far away, on an African savanna somewhere there is a lion stalking its prey. On the edge of a massive herd of animals, the lion chooses the weakest and strikes. The rest of the herd will not flee. Instead, they stand around and watch. The herd goes about their business because they know that the lion is no longer hungry. One member has been sacrificed for the safety of the herd.
A few years ago Barbara Ehrenreich published the book Blood Rites. It’s mostly about the evolution of humans and their unnatural attraction to violence. Ehrenreich offers some excellent observations about how we as a species have behaved for thousands of years. For so long, in fact, that most of our behavior is completely unconscious – we, too, often behave like a mindless herd of animals.
Have you ever been stuck in traffic for hours only to slowly pass by a tragic automobile accident? Did you look? Of course, you did. We all do. It’s one of the behaviors that is so deeply embedded in our unconsciousness that it’s impossible to control. And, whether we know it or not, we all feel a little safer because a victim has been sacrificed to the highway gods.
I can’t help but think of this darker aspect of ourselves when I see celebrities being torn to shreds by former fans and the media. Though I’m no apologist for what usually becomes a wrecked life, they are, after all, people, too. In recent history: Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears, and Michael Jackson; from the past: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, and Princess Diana. They were (and are) all victims of their fame. Aren’t we all somehow culpable in the insanity? As Don Henley once said, “People love it when you lose, they love dirty laundry.” What I can’t understand is why this is so pervasive in American. Maybe it’s like this everywhere.
I grew up listening to Michael Jackson – he was a new kind of superstar. Now, he appears to be completely insane and if we are to believe the reports, a pedophile. Are people on the edge naturally creative and attracted to fame and fortune or does fame and fortune do this to people? I guess that it is probably a bit of both. Maybe if we didn’t kick people when they are down the formerly famous would at least escape with their lives and perhaps even some dignity.
I remember hearing an interview with Julia Roberts a few years ago. She said that the energy of so many people directed at you is palpable and that she was very aware of a large crowd’s ability to affect her mood and feelings. Imagine living in a world where so many people were just waiting for you to fail or even die. I guess the gods are still hungry. We are all too happy to toss last week’s stars to the hungry gods so that we can continue grazing with the herd.
“We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five. She can tell you bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye. Its interesting when people die – give us dirty laundry.” – Don Henley