The Falling Down Syndrome

fallingdownBy: Grainne Rhuad

Another celebrity caught in a compromising position. You can always tell by the feeding frenzy. Like starved lions in a gladiator’s ring, the moment someone hits the sand it is on and doesn’t stop until bones gleam in the sun.

 But these latest rounds of falls from grace have me thinking about the bigger picture of our society at large. The things we are jumping on people for mostly have to do with them falling down under acute pressure.

Remember Michael Douglas in that movie Falling Down.(1993). A simple man whose day goes horribly wrong, we find out later it wasn’t just one or two things but several things that caused his absolute collapse.

 Recently people of all walks of life have been experiencing extreme falling down situations. Some of them garner media attention like Nidal Malik Hasan, the Psychologist at Fort Hood that went on a shooting spree. Or Tiger Woods, White America’s favorite Black Man, Mr. Clean who could do no wrong. Other’s get attention only on local levels. Like the man who recently drove a car through the Methadone clinic lab in our area. Most people escape reporting altogether, maybe their neighbors just call the police on them because they are yelling more at their kids, or maybe their spouses are up at night worried because they are on walkabout after behaving strangely.

The fact of the matter is the nation is in what I like to call Falling Down Mode or FDM. A lot of us are either experiencing it or right there on the edge. So of course like any other important life situation we want to see our big screen, sports, talk show heroes act it out for us.

 A big portion of the population that feeds on these types of televised events are those who are themselves on the edge. We are a culture who has learned to live vicariously. This is good and bad. Sometimes it stops people from stepping over. Just taking a look at  Michael Richards yell Nigger at an audience releases pent up emotions people have been having, they may be emotions about hecklers, bullies, black people, being judged, whatever the case, it sometimes works to keep the viewer from acting something out themselves.

 It can also work the opposite way, encouraging more people to behave wildly. Whenever there is a televised coverage of high school shooting, high school shootings and violence in general increase. When postal workers were getting a bad rep for knocking off their co-workers, other high stress jobs reported problems with employees making threats and sometimes acting on them.

 Another problem with our FDM is as we begin to have problems we at the same time expect everyone else to be better than us.

This problem is painfully clear in the Fort Hood shootings. A therapist who spent his entire career taking in and processing the most heinous of issues from war crimes to family problems and had no outlet himself for these issues, being a military psychologist and bound not just by standard practice regulations but also military ones, somehow was expected to stay mentally healthy all on his own. This doesn’t seem realistic. It is the equivalent of eating a big mac at every meal for a year and expecting your heart not to explode.

Add to that he certainly had his own problems, we all do, and his heritage put him at a level of constant vigilant stress. We are not nice to Middle Eastern or even Middle-Easterish looking people in our country. It is incredibly possible he was constantly being watched and asked to justify himself.

 But this problem is clear too in our celebrity echelons, as we saw this week with Tiger Woods, who was  from a very early age a focused athlete. That in itself takes a lot out of you, however when you become a brand you are no longer playing a game, you are working, who likes the pressure and let down of something you love and are good at becoming a 9-5er?

Andre Agassi spoke to this issue in his autobiography Open (Knoff, 2009) He, like so many athletes fell prey to their heart’s desire becoming work. He attributed drug abuse, relationship problems and injuries which continued to add to the cycle of this. When one stops to think about it, how do you think you would fare in similar circumstances, pushed to do something that no longer gave you joy, in real physical pain –because athleticism comes with that price, and not able to ever be off your guard, a lot of the times even in your own home?

For the rest of us we can walk into a pub and order up a pint, play some darts and get rowdy and flirtatious with the barkeep. We can also walk into a counselor’s office and unburden ourselves safe in the knowledge that probably nobody saw you come in or cares and your secrets will not leave the room. We can also mess up big and small and atone for it without the world speculating on our every move and purchase.

The situation is not helped out by other celebrities, people like Dwayne Johnson who remarked yesterday in an interview that people need to face that if they are in the public eye they are a role model and should behave accordingly.

Great, thanks Mr. Johnson, I’m in the public eye, so I guess my big role-model platform is going to be turn off the news and get a life. I am seriously flawed and I am fine with that.  Try to realize that athletes, actors, musicians, writers, politicians, armed service men and women, astronauts are all just people trying to do a job. You don’t follow your local burger flipper home to see what shenanigans he is getting into do you?

Things fall apart, people experience hardships, and we fall, all of us. It is a clinical fact that we and our families recover better when we separate reality from fantasy.

 Let’s stop making emotional trauma our noveau side show attraction and start working on our own issues which are myriad. Taking pot shots at Tiger Woods, being outraged at Major Hasan is going to get us no closer to being healthy ourselves. It is in short making us feel like we are better at someone else’s expense and that is a self-righteous delusion.

12 Comments on “The Falling Down Syndrome”

  1. Thoughtful post, as usual. The cult of celebrity is nothing new, the pressures of life in a fish bowl a constant in recorded human history but it doesn’t explain the public interest and the “new worthiness” of the personal lives of public people …. I don’t want to know …. my heroes have always been people I know, not people I observe. I want nothing from a celebrity other than performance …. I don’t care about Robert Downey Jr beyond his work the same for Tiger or Bill Clinton.

    I hate when kids “admire” athletes or entertainers … I always tell them that it is not talent that should be admired but character .. and that is something that you can never really know if you don’t “know” or observe someone in real time ….

    Life is complex and relationships fragile, but life cannot be lived vicariously, if it is to be “lived” at all … and 24/7 “news” is so invasive that it distorts our values and our view of ourselves as a part of any whole …. While it is all interesting, what is the point … turn off the computer and television, forget cyber-friends (?) and live in a moment that you can actually feel …

  2. The problem here, as with so many things, is that the American public needs constant entertainment.

    I suggested a ‘text message’ to Tiger to an online-friend the other day:

    “Hey! Tiger! It’s Astra! Say – would you mind deleting your home-life from the news? I’d consider it a big favor. You’re getting in the way of real issues.”

    Oh, in a perfect world….

    –Astra

  3. I know The Rock *Dwayne Johnson aint running his mouth about Tiger Woods being in hot water by cheating because he cheated on his own wife. He’s got the nerve talking about people need to act accordingly because they are public figures. He needs to start with himself. Taking the 20 year old he cheats on his wife with to a public beach while telling everyone you still miss your wife and aren’t dating anyone isn’t the best example of acting accordingly. Damn at least Tiger admitted he cheated. Take a lesson Rocky. That is acting accordingly.

  4. Why obsess about the private life of some one just because they happen to be richer and more famous than yourself? At the end of the day they are every bit as much a sentient monkey as every other member of the species homo sapien on the face of this planet – they have animal urges and act on them just like the rest of us! Giving a sentient monkey money and fame doesn’t make him any less of an animal, you know…

  5. The obsession is America’s acute appetite for voyeurism. It wants sex on the screen. It wants sex in its ads. It wants sex in its literature, and it’s wanted in the news. It’s beginning to sound to me like America is sexually frustrated, which could be one more of the bowling pins that cause us all to fall down.

    On another level, i blame the fun police. You absolutely must not let it be known you’re having fun or the politically correct will find a way to stifle it. Since one of our primary motivations in life is enjoying ourselves, this can become a bit of a stickler, especially when we find out our fun wasn’t acceptable on the public judgment scale of one to ten.

    Now, i’m sure the fun balloon poppers are already thinking up defenses against my statement, but consider this. This last summer, a registered nurse criticized my daughter for allowing her year old son to explore the grassy areas of one of our campgrounds, and for his supervised play at the silt water edge of the Knik River. She said my daughter was exposing her son to unnecessary medical risks. This boy is curious and energetic. Both my daughter and i are in agreement that his best defense is to build his immunities and ability to cope with the environment now, by showing him how much fun he can have in it. Of course, we don’t dare show this nurse the many photos we have of ourselves and offspring, buried to the neck with sand, splattered from head to toe with mud, or tossing ripe cranberries at each other. I’m sure if it was learned we were having that much fun, there would be a mandate struck against it, along with our right to assemble for annual moose dropping wars.

  6. Wow that is major balloon popage. I am probably a very bad mommy indeed according to those standards…I even let them eat the yucky dirt and run naked, who cares? What is the world coming to? I agree immunities are an important thing to build.

    But back to topic, I am concerned mostly that these demigods we call “celebrities” are being treated like scapegoats, and I know I’m not the only one, Matt and Trey did a South Park episode on killing Brittany Spears for the greater good.

    As our country is impoloding people seem to be taking a couple of different roads, one is the Scarlett O’Hara route “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” and another is to attack those who are displaying what we most fear about ourselves. Of course those in the public eye are going to get it the worst, they are the most visable and accesable. It would be highly irregular to drag you adulterous school pricipal into the street and start interviewing him, his family and his childhood crush.

    Like it or not we have evolved into a voyeristic society. The Sociologist in me loves this, I have been doing this for years, but people aren’t bothering anymore to draw any conclusions, make any meanings about society at large. People are just reaching blindly for the nearest stone, and that is the type of crowd that put that carpenter’s son on the cross in that one story. (even if you believe it’s fiction, it’s a good metaphorical story).

  7. I think infidelity is in a category all its own. What seems to enrage people most (and I admit it, me too) is how many celebrities treat marriage like an inconvenience. If you cheat once and show you’re sincerely sorry for your transgressions, the public can forgive and move on. But some of these celebrities carry on affairs for years…why? Why even get married then? Maybe the reason we come down so hard on celebrities for cheating is because we need to believe that the people we admire can have some integrity (and face it, most people do admire celebrities). As for Dwayne Johnson’s comments, can he be any more of a hypocrite? Someone in the media seriously needs to put him in his place. The celebrities that have the guts to speak up and admit their faults have more of my respect than someone like Mr. Johnson, who instead took the road of lies and deceit to try to conceal his own marital infidelities. For him to speak on Tiger’s situation is simply laughable.

  8. Just to be clear, the question put Dwayne Johnson was should celebrities be treated and be behaving like role models. His entire answer had to do with his daughter looking up to him blahbitty blah blah. I paraphrased to save everyone the puke mouth.
    However it was not a direct question about Tiger Woods, (although coming the day after it seems like we all could fill in the intent line…still I didn’t want to be libelous.

  9. I wish we (the Human race) could make a concerted effort to stop idolizing people in the public eye. How about we look at them as our fellow human beings. How about taking off our rose colored glasses and just say Hi when we see them (not stalk them!) and leave it at that. Why the need to chase a celeb down for a picture or a scrible of pen ink? Sometimes I think that celebs loose who they really are as people and get disoriented in thier live and thier sense of thier true self. It is the frenzy of attention that is given to them that sets this course. Not many celebs are ballanced in thier lives to manage this pressure and expectation they are submursed in. I’m afraid we are all guilty of creating this environment. We can all do our part and not contribute to it. Like littering. We can choose not to litter and we can choose to pick up someones litter to make our world healthier and more pleasant to live in.

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