Why Glorifying Artists is Just as Toxic As Criticism
Putting those you admire on a pedestal, glorification, worship, idolatry…Whatever you want to call it, people have been doing it to others for ages. People tend to either fear and resent those who they view as better than them in some way, or place them on a pedestal without the person’s consent. There’s a sentiment of “You’re in the public eye now due to your accomplishments, so you’re no longer human” that is expressed strongly in today’s fandom cultures, and the rise of social media has made it even worse.
The idea of these far away, perfect human-like (but not quite human, or they’d be imperfect) beings who are somehow better and more divine than you is an idea that has been around since ancient times. People have worshiped gods and heroes, and pretty much everything they could. In general, people feel like they need something to worship, something to believe in, a savior to find comfort in the hard times of life, a light in the darkness. There’s nothing inherently wrong or harmful about that need, and it’s been something all humans across the world have needed. It’s part of being human.
However, it becomes a problem when people use other real people to fulfill this role.
The fact of the matter is, people you admire are human beings too. It’s all too easy to say “No, I’m trash, they should be worshipped because of their amazing looks/talents/whatever” because it lets you separate them from you thereby letting you idolize them, and giving you an excuse for not having achieved the same amount of success. “They’re just naturally better than me, so it’s okay.” I think that most people have felt that way at some point in their life, if not all (including the people you admire).
My point is not to shame people for having those thoughts, or desiring to idolize someone, but to make people aware that when these thoughts become words and actions, they are inherently harmful against the very people they admire. Not only do you then dehumanize the person by worshipping them, but they feel the pressure to not ever show that they are in fact human out of abject fear of failing in your eyes.
When someone looks at you with all of their hope and belief in you shining in their eyes, how do you show them that you aren’t the image they have of you in their head? How do you show them that you’re not perfect? Not even just that you’re “not perfect”, but like everyone else, you have your ugly sides. You get tired, upset, selfish, angry, lazy…You make mistakes, you feel pain, you feel boredom, or simply don’t want to be at work that day. Just the same way you’ve felt you didn’t want to go to school or work, the people you admire have felt that. Just the same way you’ve felt ugly when you look in the mirror, the people you admire have felt that. They doubt their work, they worry, and in many cases, as I mentioned, they may be struggling with many personal issues.
But because fandoms have often created this environment where the people they admire are perfect gods who can do anything, those very people feel as if they are not allowed to be human. There are many different perspectives of who this “god” or savior actually is in each fan’s mind, along with how they want this savior to act or work in order to entertain the fan. The fan then relies on the artist, their savior, to provide specific positive feelings for them every time they engage in their work.
These fans place those expectations upon the artist’s shoulders and many crucify the artist for failing to meet them. Wanting to avoid that awful end, many artists become anxious and attempt to maintain the same perfect image or same quality of work they became famous for. They attempt to do this no matter what they are personally going through, no matter how much their life changes, or their own feelings change about their own work. They literally sacrifice their health in order to meet fan expectations and those of the general public. While it’s usually kept secret at first, there becomes a point where the artist can no longer hide the problems resulting from living like this, but keeps going anyway. And fans praise that as well.
Saying things like, “You’re so hard working and inspirational! What a legend!” even as the artist overworks themselves past their limits does seem like the right thing to do as a supportive fan. But in reality, it is glorifying and encouraging an unhealthy, unsustainable lifestyle while pushing that very same pedestal they’re killing themselves not to fall off of to even greater heights. It is teaching society as a whole that it is “okay” to put health second to achievements, and ensuring the artist will never feel it’s acceptable to take a break because they might be seen as less, somehow, considering all they struggled through publicly already (and were praised for it).
If you’re praised for pushing your body past it’s limits, then surely a break will disappoint everyone, right?
No artist who cares about their work truly wants to let down the fans who gave them love, nor do they wish to suffer their wrath, so artists continue working under this anxiety and pressure. They usually find unhealthy coping methods, or otherwise just suffer the negative side effects until they mentally or physically cannot anymore.
Leading to those tragic headlines you see all the time.