This was not a good week for major stars and intoxicants. It kicked off with megastar Reese Witherspoon driving down an Atlanta highway on Friday morning, along with husband Jim Toth. Toth was weaving between lanes, so the police pulled him over. That’s when things got messy. As the officers interviewed Toth, Witherspoon intervened. “Do you know my name?” she asked. When the officers demurred, she said, “You’re about to find out who I am … You are going to be on national news.”
She was right. She was arrested along with her husband. She was booked for disorderly conduct. Later, she released a statement:
“Out of respect for the ongoing legal situation, I cannot comment on everything that is being reported right now. But I do want to say I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said. It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that was no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am. I have nothing but respect for the police and I am very sorry for my behavior.”
She wasn’t the only celebrity sorry for her behavior. The same day, sportscaster Al Michaels learned to believe in miracles after being pulled over for U-turning away from a sobriety checkpoint in Los Angeles. He was taken to the police station, where he clocked in at a respectable .08 percent blood alcohol level, right at the legal limit. The police booked him on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Younger but no smarter, Justin Bieber got himself into hot water as well. While touring in Sweden – just a few days after his infamous run-in with the Anne Frank House, where he signed a guestbook by hoping that Anne would have been a “Belieber” – Bieber’s tour bus was searched after authorities got a whiff of pot wafting from the party van. Unidentified drugs and a stun gun were found, according to the Associated Press. No one was arrested. Bieber then tweeted, “Some of the rumors about me … where do people even get this stuff. whatever … back to the music.” Bieber’s pet monkey is still hanging out in Germany, since nobody has claimed it after its seizure by German authorities.
What is wrong with the people in Hollywood?
The short answer is that nobody tells them no. Celebrity does odd things to people of all stripes; it’s no surprise to find exceedingly high rates of bad behavior among both politicians and Hollywood icons. Nobody gets ahead in Hollywood by telling stars what they don’t want to hear. No one has ever gotten famous by taking away a singer’s cocaine, an actor’s alcohol, or a director’s hookers. But there are a good number of Hollywood folks who have done quite well after procuring any or all of the above for more powerful people.
We like to say that we’re a forgiving society. That’s true. But it’s even truer that we are selectively forgiving: we forgive people who are rich, famous, and talented. We throw people who are poor, anonymous, and untalented in prison. That’s not fair, obviously. But more importantly, it’s not good for the upper echelon stars, who are expected to party their butts off, and are excused when they do so.
That’s not to say that everyone in Hollywood is a druggie, alcoholic, or sex maniac. The vast majority of stars in Hollywood are actually relatively stable folk. But the significant minority who are not is widely disproportionate to that percentage in the rest of the population. We enable the collapse of our celebrities by enabling them. Everyone in America turned on a Michael Jackson song when he died of a drug overdose after a lifetime of immaturity and behavior ranging from the oddball to the borderline criminal. He would have been a lot better off if America had helped him protect himself by providing consequences to that behavior decades ago.
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