Leave Lindsay alone: celebrity, mental illness and hypocrisy

Amanda Bynes. Quick—what’s your first thought! Now, I’m assuming that a couple of you smartasses would say you thought of The Amanda Show, the Nickelodeon sketch comedy show that allowed the eponymous actor to play characters from the corrupt-as-shit Judge Trudy, stereotypical yokel Lula Mae, and Amanda’s #1 super fan Penelope Taynt (oh my god, am I the only one who just got that?). Maybe a few of you remember her as the cross-dressing soccer player from She’s the Man. Probably a couple of you thought of the uptight Jesus freak from Easy A. But, realistically, you probably thought of a picture on the cover of People Magazine surrounded by “troubled star,” “DUI,” and “arrested.”

In September 2014, Bynes made headlines again with her second and most recent DUI. That October, after tweeting that her father had repeatedly mentally and sexually abused her, she spent 20 days on a psychiatric hold. Newspapers and tabloids alike depicted her as a party girl who had gone off the deep end.

A month prior to Bynes’ second DUI, Robin Williams committed suicide in his California home. Described as “one of a kind” by President Obama and “the brightest star in our comedy galaxy” by comedian Billy Crystal, Williams was mourned by fans and colleagues worldwide. Following his suicide, his name was the fastest growing search term on Google for 2014. Many called him a national treasure. How could someone so talented, so beloved decide to take his own life?

While Williams left behind a wife, three children and a mob of adoring fans, his life had not been easy. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Williams was a cocaine addict as well as an alcoholic. While he was able to quit using cocaine following the death of John Belushi and the birth of his first son in 1982, Williams struggled with alcoholism for much of his life, doing stints in rehab in 2006 and mid-2014. Prior to his death, William’s widow said he was suffering from severe depression after being diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body Dementia.

Mental illness and substance abuse are serious problems in our societies. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 10 Americans are affected by depression, with 80% not receiving the care they need. Likewise, the National Institute on Drug Abuse believes that 17.7 million (6.8%) Americans are alcohol or substance dependent, with only 1% receiving proper treatment.

Having gone through a stint of depression and thankfully the healing process, it can feel embarrassing, if not suffocating, to go through something that feels so isolating. I was lucky enough to deal with my issues in the privacy of my own home, but the demands of celebrity make this issue more complicated. One would assume that the people these celebrities once entertained would come to their aid in their times of need, but in many cases, it’s merely schadenfreude.

I guess what I’m getting at is why do some struggling celebrities get thrown under the bus while others are put up on pedestals? At first, I thought maybe it was an issue of talent. Sure, I loved The Amanda Show and Lindsay Lohan’s The Parent Trap when I was growing up, but do they stand up to the comedy goliath that is Robin Williams? But then I thought, Jesus Christ, Jake, what are you, a sociopath? After all, should the level at which someone entertains us correlate to how much we sympathize with them during their times of hardship? No.

Then I considered this discrepancy might be a result of lifestyle. Robin Williams, for all of his problems, was a father and a husband. He was a family man who brought millions of people laughter. Compare that to what the general public thinks about regarding Bynes or Lohan (or Britney Spears or Courtney Love). Images of irresponsible, law-breaking washed-up party girls abound, bordered by shaved hair or crotch shots or drugs. While some of this stigma might come from Bynes and Lohan’s current troubles, this judgment continues to at least partially define Spears and Love as well. Compare that to Robert Downey Jr., who, despite being arrested multiple times for drug charges, DUI, and breaking and entering throughout the 1990’s, remains one of the most popular actors in Hollywood. Perhaps it’s sexism then?

While I wholeheartedly believe that it’s a contributing factor, I believe that the main reason for the different treatment between Bynes and Williams is death. Robin Williams could not have possibly imagined how massive the outpouring of empathy and support would be after his death. So is the constant coverage of Bynes and Lohan’s troubles a means of changing their ways before its too late? I think profits are more to blame, but also the fact that you can’t criticize the dead. Think of Michael Jackson: up until the day he died, many of us (non-fans) still thought of him as that singer with the catchy song that plays on repeat at Halloween stores and who may or may not have diddled some kids. After he died, he was paraded as the King of Pop, with little attention being paid to his past eccentricities.

Here’s what I’m getting at: I don’t know Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan personally. Maybe they’re jerks. Maybe these episodes have been cries for attention or self-entitlement. I don’t care. While we may laugh at or scold celebrities for these scandals, they’re humans too. Just because they lead more public lives doesn’t mean their lives any less sacred. It’s hypocritical to mourn Robin while also mocking Lindsay.

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