Is Cyberbullying Okay When Celebrities Are The Ones Being Bullied?
Watching Lil’ Mama’s comeback as Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in VH1’s TLC biopic was pretty amazing. I was mesmerized by how fully she became Left Eye – mannerisms, facial expressions, style. She did it and she did it well. As gleeful as I was to watch her transformation, I also felt very strange.
Watching the Twittersphere overflow with high praise of her performance on Twitter brought me back to 2009 when the scathing comments about Lil’ Mama first started. Her one silly mistake of casually sauntering on stage during Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ VMA performance shifted Lil’ Mama’s career into neutral despite her successful stint as a judge on America’s Best Dance Crew and her popular song, “Lip Gloss.” We came for her. Hard. We insulted her talents as a rapper. We attacked her facial features. And we laughed loud and hard. We, in essence, bullied her with no remorse. We ostracized her for years but then sang her praises when she killed the role of “Left Eye.” How fickle a crowd.
I started to wonder why it is acceptable. Why are celebrities considered fair game for bullying but not our children in our communities? What makes my 18-year-old cousin who is suffering from bullying in her high school so different from the young Lil’ Mama who made a trivial mistake but was pummeled with cruelty for years since?
Underneath, We’re All The Same
Wealth and fame, though major assets to many of us, only play a supporting role when it comes to the human experience playing out. If every poverty-stricken soul and every rich son-of-a-gun were given the same amount of money and wealth, the only things that would remain unchanged would be their emotions. We all laugh with joy. We all sink into depression. We all have fears. We all have doubts. We all have faith – in something or someone even if it’s not organized religion. We all have specific anger triggers. All of our feelings have been overwhelmingly hurt at some point in life.
If we can understand that – that underneath the materialism and publicity, we all go through the same things – why does there seem to be such a great gulf that divides our small-town bullied children, teenagers and adults from our bullied big screen celebrities?
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…
When Willow Smith underwent her transformation from child to now pre-teen, the Internet exploded. She was called everything from a w***e to a lesbian. Will and Jada Smith were called out for the parenting skills. All the while, the child had not committed any crimes, had not suffered a public nervous breakdown, and had not been filmed performing lewd acts. She was targeted simply because of her style choices and her age.
Laying it out this way allowed me to see how unequivocally ridiculous we can be as a community of opinionated social media users. The Internet provides an awesome space of free thought and expression, but is every opinion worth sharing? If it’s wrong for another 12-year-old to cyberbully a 12-year-old child whom they see every day in school, why is it okay for us as free thinking adults of reasonable intellect and compassion to berate a child we don’t even know personally?
The Clap Back
It is indeed a Catch-22 for many stars. Their indiscretions are public. They are berated publicly but they cannot defend themselves in the way that everyday people can. More than one celebrity has been shamed for arguing with people they don’t know on social networks; People who sometimes have devoted whole pages to bashing these celebrities. This is not unlike the cyberbullying we fight among our school-aged children. Horrible (and often untrue) information is circulated via the Internet, information that though it might be deleted is never really gone forever. We frown upon that at our level but revel in it when celebrities are the brunt of the joke. And if they fight back? They’re told that they shouldn’t have responded. For, how dare you defend yourself against the everyday people who were just having a bit of fun with you?
There is a difference between voicing your difference of opinion with a celebrity’s choices and persecuting them with malicious content that will never completely be deleted from cyberspace. And at the end of the day, is it really worth it to laugh at someone else’s expense, to attack them, never knowing if your tweet or comment was the last thing to drive them over the edge?
Jada Pinkett-Smith brought said it best in a Facebook status posted earlier this year:
“…Are these young people not allowed to be young, make mistakes, grow, and eventually transform a million times before our eyes? Are we asking them to defy the laws of nature because of who they are? Why can’t we congratulate them for the capacity to work through their challenges on a world stage and still deliver products that keep them on top. We all know how hard it is to keep our head above water, even in the privacy of our own homes let alone on the world stage. Imagine yourself, at their age, with the spotlights, challenges and responsibilities. Most of us would have fallen to the waste side before we could even get to a crashed Ferrari, a controversial romance, several heart breaks, or an Oscar nomination at NINE. We WISH we could have had the capacity to accomplish HALF of what they have accomplished along with ALL these challenges they face. But…maybe THAT’S the problem…we WISH we could have or even…we WISH we could.”
La Truly is a writer, college professor and natural hair and holistic lifestyle enthusiast. She mixes her interest in social and cultural issues with her life experiences to encourage thought, discussion and change among young women. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly.