Opinion: Celebrities are people too


Illustration by Mckenna Greenleaf Faulk

Gabriella Killett

Upon the recent tragedy of the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, 13, in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles County, I’ve been meditating upon the fact that this news came out of nowhere. In fact, one of the most unreliable, tabloid-esque news media sources, TMZ, first reported the news.

Just like anyone else on an early Sunday afternoon, I was at lunch going in and out of watching the NFL Pro Bowl when Twitter first blew up. To be honest, I didn’t believe it. As a journalism major and someone who has been trained in what fake news looks like, I thought this report on Bryant’s death would be just as valid as the Eddie Murphy rumor that reported his death years ago. In fact, I didn’t trust any article reporting Bryant and his daughter’s deaths that noted TMZ as a source. Only when I saw that the Los Angeles Times reported the news with “officials” as a source did I truly believe it. Even then, it seemed so unrealistic. People die. Gods and legends don’t. That is the problem I’m highlighting here.

The idolatry surrounding celebrities dehumanizes them. It makes us as “lay people,” so to speak, subjects that are responsible for praising those who have the same physical characteristics and attributes as we do — not to mention the fact that in doing so, we are feeding the multi-trillion dollar worldwide empire that is fame.

Additionally, by feeding the empire, we are losing our own humanity. Whoever reported his death via TMZ, how dare you release such news when officials didn’t even have a chance to let the loved ones of those who died upon impact know of their deaths?

Imagine being Vanessa Bryant. You’re scrolling through Twitter, and a TMZ article is what lets you know that your husband and child are dead. The most tragic news of your life has just come via a tabloid.

I am disappointed. I am appalled, and I am ashamed as a journalist that such reporting was allowed to hit the press, not to mention ABC’s “news” that mentioned that all 4 of Kobe’s daughters were dead as well. Imagine being his daughters’ best friend or first cousin or auntie or uncle. You live miles away. You’re reading something that ruins your life, and it’s not even true.

We need to do better, as journalists and as people. Stop thinking that celebrities are gods and that they are immune to suffering. Stop thinking that their loved ones aren’t behind an iPhone just as much as we are.

I am not writing to say that I am a perfect journalist, and I am definitely not to say that I am a perfect human, but what I can say is that I value my humanity over my future career, and I value others’ humanity over their fame. While we can’t control the tragedy that is Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s deaths, for example, we can control our reactions. Before you hit submit or before you take on the tragedy as your own, consider who else is behind their phone. Consider if Kobe Bryant was your husband, brother, son, or father. Consider Gianna as your niece, daughter, or sister. How would you care to hear such a tragedy?