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The true cost of celebrity inauthenticity

Our heroes damage more than just themselves when they warp reality

February 16, 2020

11:41 AM

16 February 2020

11:41 AM

First, Britney Spears was caught trying to pass off a ‘Food Network’ meal as her own cooking, then James Corden was caught on camera not driving the car on ‘Carpool Karaoke’, and now I find out ghostwriters are behind the acceptance speeches we just saw this awards season? Say it ain’t so!

After watching Brad Pitt’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards last week, I commented to my wife how funny he was all awards season long and she showed me a Vulture article that suggests that Pitt doesn’t write his speeches himself. The piece claims his ‘representatives contacted at least one outside speechwriting agency to consult about engaging their services’. Backstage at the Oscars, Pitt was asked to address the rumor directly and he downplayed matters, saying that he only asked for help with ‘some laughs’ from ‘very, very, funny friends’.

I accepted that explanation, but not before wondering about all the other actors who want help with a lot more than just a couple of jokes and are too ‘lazy’ — as one awards campaigner put it — to do the work themselves. After all, it’s not like Pitt deserved to be singled out. Sam Koppelman, a professional speechwriter who’s been hired by the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, told Vulture that the practice of hiring pro speechwriters is so ‘widespread among movie, music, and TV stars’, that he finds it ‘more astonishing’ when a nominee doesn’t hire outside help.


Common as the practice may be, I still find that revelation depressing. I mean, everyone already knows that actors pretend to be other people for a living, so why do they also have to pretend to be themselves? Am I asking too much to want celebrities to show us who they really are and tell us what they really think? Besides, it’s not like such behavior is limited to award show stages.

Talk show appearances are completely contrived, magazine interviews are carefully combed over by publicists before publication, and everyone knows Instagram posts don’t usually reflect real life. What’s more, many celebrities use social media to project unrealistic body images by using apps and software that hide flaws and blemishes. Khloe Kardashian, for instance, once described the Facetune app as ‘life-changing’, and ‘the only way to live’. As nauseating as that statement is, I at least give her credit for being transparent about the practice when so many other celebrities are not.

Which brings me to my point: celebrities color a world much larger than their own about what’s real and what’s not, and when they blur the lines between reality and fantasy, it affects the way the rest of us determine what’s possible in our own lives.

And it’s bigger than just trying not to project impossible-to-live-up-to expectations, though that’s important too. Celebs and other successful people have a real opportunity to use their unique life experiences to provide a road map for others to follow — showing what pitfalls to avoid and which opportunities to seize.

If putting my family on the back-burner, for example, is what’s required to climb to the top of certain corporate ladders, I’d love to know that before choosing a similar career path. If an elite nutritionalist and personal trainer working with me every morning (or just someone who’s really good at Photoshop) is what’s needed to have a stomach like that, I’d love to know that before spinning my wheels at the gym. And if hiring a team of speechwriters is what I have to do to sound like President Obama delivering his first State of the Union address, I’d like to know that, too.

Charles Willie, a friend and former classmate of Martin Luther King Jr., once warned: ‘By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. By exalting the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr., into a legendary tale that is annually told, we fail to recognize his humanity — his personal and public struggles — that are similar to yours and mine. By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise.’

That wisdom doesn’t only apply to historical figures. Modern day heroes and even celebrities are far more heroic when they show us their authentic selves, speak candidly from the heart about their triumphs, fears, and struggles alike, and give us genuine direction about what it really takes to succeed.

Daryl Austin is a writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, the Guardian, USA Today and Newsweek

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