Two of the latest and juiciest involve Michael Richards (late of Seinfeld, and not a whole lot else) and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
Richards was being heckled during a nightclub performance, and inexplicably yelled racial epithets, repeatedly, to the heckler. Videos of this incident were soon all over the Internet, along with reports that he had, on a previous occasion, spewed anti-Semitic invective, as well.
In Vick’s case, his team was vigorously booed, following its fourth straight loss. Vick used both hands to flip dual birds, after he heard an “especially insulting” comment from a male fan. Vick was fined $10,000 by the NFL, and the league also mandated that he donate $5,000 to a local charity.
In the wake of his faux pas, Richards has been seeking absolution from many sources, as well as meeting with the club heckler. Naturally, Gloria Allred is on the scene to extract some sort of emotional distress settlement from Richards. Debbie Schlussel has already pointed out the absurdity of Richards attempting to do penance before such world class race hustlers and bigots as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but any port in a storm, I suppose.
Two questions occur from all of this: Why do celebs melt down, and why do we care?
For Vick, as an athlete who has been pampered probably since he was 10 years old, failure is not a common experience, nor is being booed. While emotions run high, and athletes are certainly pumped up during and immediately after a game, and these factors could exacerbate the situation, I would argue that self-control is something Vick has not had to engage very often. Unfortunately, when put to the test, he failed.
For Richards, he was never actually funny on Seinfeld. Rather, he was quirky, in a manner that only works for TV sitcoms. Exaggerated body language and vocal tics were his main shtick, and absent a quick cut to another scene, this sort of business gets old very fast. Moreover, as the years rush by, and the Seinfeld connection becomes fainter, there is all the more reason that he will be found out. Evidently, he was. A real comic could have come up with something better in the face of hecklers than a racial epithet, but then, Richards is apparently not a real comic.
As to why we care, now it gets interesting.
We care because for some reason, we expect more from these people. Why do we expect more? Perhaps it is because in most cases, these people have been rewarded with special gifts, or at least unusual success, that is dependent on our acceptance and patronage of them. Meltdowns are an indication of their ingratitude. Can’t they just suck it up for a few minutes, and then explode in private in their dressing room?
More than that, the meltdowns are an unwanted reminder, à la Hans Christian Andersen’s child who exposes the folly of The Emperor’s New Clothes, that once you strip away certain externals, these people are just like us, after all. In fact, they’re probably worse, when you come down to it, since WE would be able to handle success far better than they can.
So why are they in the limelight, while we languish here in the real world?
Let them suffer. Yes! Let them suffer for what they have taken from us. It could have been me. It SHOULD have been me. I coulda been a contenda.
Thus, we care about these meltdowns because we look forward to them. Envy with a schadenfreude chaser. Hot stuff!