Look. I love Grey’s Anatomy. Like, I really, really love it. I’ve been with the surgeons of Seattle Grace/Seattle Grace Mercy West/Grey Sloan Memorial hospital to the ends of the earth and through each ridiculous name change, and I will be with them til the bitter end when the Space Needle collapses on them or the hospital finally explodes.
Being such a huge fan of this show has opened me up to a fear I never knew existed; the uncertainty of having white faves, especially in the era of social media.
I’ve been a fan of white celebrities before; I watch television and movies and consume various entertainment products, so it’s pretty much a given. Charmed was my first big TV show obsession, but by the time that show was over, and even when I really got into it during the syndicated reruns, social networks were not nearly as prominent and pervasive as they are now, especially regarding famous people. Yeah, 2008 was only 8 years ago, but there wasn’t as big a microscope on celebrities and there weren’t people out there actively waiting for someone to mess up so they could screenshot them and hold onto the receipts.
I guess it’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood to watch what you say because you never know who’s listening. But Twitter is even more damning because tweets are intentional; they can’t be played off as an accident (I mean they can, but it’s never convincing). And even if a celeb doesn’t make their mistake via Twitter, you can bet you’ll see their remarks in full there, along with 500 thinkpieces and maybe even a nice infographic about the surrounding context. The internet is amazing and terrible like that.
The problem with getting so sucked into Grey’s Anatomy, and pretty much any other show, is that the internet is making me care about these actors as people. I follow them on Twitter, then I follow them on Instagram, then maybe they post their snapcode and I follow them there. I’m so invested in the lives of people I don’t even know. I know so much about them and about their lives and they become more fleshed out and real instead of a sexy doctor inappropriately flirting from across the operating table. And, as creepy as those sentences were to write, they’re true, for me and millions of other people. We’re so used to being so ingrained in the lives of people we don’t know, it’s not even weird anymore. And this level of closeness conflates real life with online life, which makes the blunders celebrities make seem that much more intense or terrible or hilarious, depending on what it is.
That’s why having white faves is so scary for me. These vanillas could slip up and say something racist at any moment. White people can be, and usually are, painfully unaware of racism and it often shows. From aggressive outbursts spewed by countless old white dude actors from the 80’s to thoughtless tweets that have Buzzfeed articles calling them out minutes later, the spectrum of celebrity racism is wide and deep.
Take Patricia Arquette calling on people of color and gays to help women achieve equality, not considering for a second why what she said wasn’t ok, and apparently forgetting or not even thinking about the fact that there’s women of color and queer women and, hell, sometimes even queer women of color. Was it as flagrant as Kelly Osbourne implying that only Latinos are maids? Maybe, maybe not. But these sentiments are cut from the same cloth; both women making use of people of color as a stepping stone for their own message. Just a few weeks ago, Justin Timberlake was on some kumbaya “we’re all the same, race doesn’t exist” nonsense, releasing a few tweets that proved he didn’t understand the criticism leveled against him, (which is to say nothing of him leaving Janet high and dry in 2004). Were his tweets on par with Chelsea Handler’s infamous grape soda tweet? Who’s to say, but both comments are the result of a similar kind of ignorance plenty of white celebs have about race.
You could argue that they simply need to be taught and learn why what they said was wrong, or you might say they should already know what they did or said wasn’t ok and is unforgivable. But regardless of what your reaction is, the fact that your fave could say or even think something like that is like a punch to the gut. Do they really not see why what they did/said wasn’t ok? Do they care? How long have they thought like this? Oh god, have they always been this way and I’m only just now noticing?
It sucks. It’s like finding out you and your friend have complete opposite views about McDreamy.
I don’t think this is akin to holding celebrities to a higher standard; I have the same expectations for everyone to not be a racist. It’s just that the faults of celebrities are so public, so the scrutiny they face when they say anything off kilter is magnified. And the one-way street of admiring celebrities is just that. There’s no reciprocation, there’s no way for you to pick their brain and ask why, why did you call your dick a white supremacist, John Mayer?
It’s the knowledge of the upcoming pithy and impersonal two sentence non-apology apology crafted by their publicist. It’s the unattainability of a discussion about what went wrong, or any sense of closure. This person was your friend in your head, and now they said something that attacks you and you can’t even talk to them about it. It’s the betrayal of a fictional sense of trust you had, because, yeah, you totally trusted them and you thought everything was cool. And now that you know they think so little of you and people like you, or hold such vile views, how can you enjoy their show or their movie or their music anymore?
I realize this may come off as selfish, maybe even callous; after a celebrity says something offensive, why would the first thing I’m worried about be how I’m going to continue to enjoy their content? And, admittedly, yeah, it’s a bit selfish. The usual first responses to bigotry are outrage, frustration, and the like. Disappointment, especially regarding one’s own personal entertainment, doesn’t rank high on the list. But after the dust settles and their empty apology is displayed as every entertainment magazine’s pinned tweet for a few hours, you’re still left with a burning reminder that your fave said something racist, most likely feels no remorse about it, and will probably continue their career like normal. And what do you do then? Do you get over it, too? Can you? Can you watch their movie or listen to their song without being reminded that in the back of your vanilla fave’s mind, they harbor such beliefs?
Keeping it all in the medical family, let me take you back to the dark, dark days of Facebook pokes and BlackBerrys; 2007, when Grey’s was on its mere third season and the doctors hadn’t yet begun to drop like flies. After much public scrutiny, Isaiah Washington, who played Dr. Preston Burke, was fired for using homophobic slurs against T.R. Knight. It was a pretty big deal and his career took a huge blow in the years afterwards. He was punished, duly I believe, and now many pop culture purveyors still remember him for the scandal. But, this is my blog, and we’re talking about me. In 2007, I was getting ready for 9th grade and I still had a flip phone. I didn’t have Twitter, or Instagram, or any other platform that gave me intimate access to celebrities like I do today. And while it’s still upsetting to me that Dr. Burke would do such a thing, I don’t have a closeness with him like I do other celebrities I’m a fan of now. What he said was terrible, yes, but it didn’t have a huge impact on me because I didn’t “know” him like I now know some of his former castmates.
Sometimes “Sorry” by Justin Bieber comes on the radio and I start singing along and suddenly all I can hear is a baby-voiced Biebs making his infamous “run nigger” joke and I get angry his song is even allowed to play.
I couldn’t enjoy season 21 of Dancing with the Stars (please don’t judge my poor television choices) because I couldn’t understand how they could allow Paula Deen, noted racist, y’all, on the show.
After Moby thought it was a good idea to take to Twitter and reveal his thoughts that anything relating to black women was “hood”, I could no longer…uh, ok, I don’t know anything about Moby, I barely even know who the dude is.
These people are far from faves of mine, but their aforementioned racist reveals happened recently and in a time where they was covered extensively and the information was easily accessible. Even the limited exposure I got of these still makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t even like them. I can’t imagine getting the same feeling for someone I actually admire, which is why I get so nervous investing my time and energy into white celebs. Justin Timberlake, Justin Timblerlake, who sustains his career on the neck of Black culture, doesn’t understand that race does in fact exist, and that we aren’t all the same. If JT can profit from Black music and simultaneously try to silence us while preaching some #AllLivesMatter BS on Twitter, who’s to say other white faves won’t follow suit?
And before you guys with egg Twitter avis call reverse racism, let me put your poorly misguided and self-victimizing little minds at ease; I’m not saying I think all white people are racist *eyeroll emoji*. But just knowing in the back of my mind that these kinds of random, unprompted spurts of racism could come from someone I like is concerning. It’s not like I sit in a dark room, clutching my knees to my chest, waiting for the day one of my melanin-deficient faves goes off on a racist Twitter rant. But the “what-if’s” do cross my mind time to time.
My point is, with social media so prevalent, the microscope celebrities have on them is way zoomed in; their every move, every mistake recorded and saved. And that’s what these incidents of racist tweets or outbursts are chalked up to — mistakes. Offensive tweets purposely released unto the Internet with express intent to be publicly consumed are “mistakes.” Negligent blunders that reveal underlying subtle yet problematic thoughts are “mistakes” too. And once the “mistake” is haphazardly bandaged with a flimsy, scripted justification and swept under the rug, it’s over. We’re onto the next thing in a flash and details of the mistake quickly dissolve from our memory. As Olivia Pope would say:
But it’s scary to me to cover up and move on from a thing like that. And it’s worrisome to me to think that someone I like could end up needing a cleanup crew like that. And while I have faith that my precious vanillas would never step out of line like that, there’s always that dull buzz in the back of my mind knowing that they could.