Dimming the Spotlight


We shine the spotlight too brightly.

Illuminating, yes.  But we forget about the heat.  Standing under a spotlight is not comfortable.  And the make-up artists cringe as the sweat begins to pour from the face.  It's bold and makes a statement - the attention of the audience is captured.  But on-stage, the light blinds the eyes and the artist stares out blankly looking for where they know the audience is - waiting to be entertained.

Fame is a spotlight.  A strange phenomenon indeed.  I don't speak from experience of course, but from the experience of watching countless people ('stars' as we call them) who seem to have it all - throw it all away.  The self-sabotage is rife with cruel irony that doesn't make sense on first glance.

What got me thinking about this was that I finally got around to watching the Amy Winehouse documentary ('Amy') which chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most original and unique singer-songwriters of our generation.  It's a harrowing story told through home videos and personal testimonies from the people close to her.  It shows a young musical superstar clinging onto her passion for music and expressing herself in the only way she knows how (through her lyrics) while the spotlight of the world does its best to commoditize her talent and make her into a 'star'.  This conflict is resolved in the worst possible way as she dies of alcohol intoxication at the age of 27 leaving so much potential untapped.

The film, while not directly addressing it, speaks to the consequences of living in the public eye for your whole life.  Without doubt, Amy Winehouse was plagued by other demons which she numbed away through drugs and alcohol, but it's clear that fame was a crucial factor in her wallowing away.  When you become a public figure, my intuition is that you are forced to play a character every second of your life.  The rock-star character that you play on stage becomes your reality and because of the social pressure, you are then forced to play that character all the time, putting tremendous pressure on the real 'you' - the one that isn't on stage in front of thousands of people.

You never get to take off that mask.  Your on-stage persona must become your everyday get-up.

I wonder if that mask that we force our celebrities to wear is the reason why they lose themselves.  The spotlight that we shine into every aspect of their personal lives becomes one that suffocates their true selves.  It asks them to be the person that we want them to be.  It asks them to act and sing and dance for our pleasure and ours alone.  Because after all, that's what we want to see.  We want to live vicariously through these mega-famous people.  We want to be them.  We elect them to represent us.  We label ourselves with their logo, their merchandise, their lyrics.

That's scary.  That we dream of putting on the same mask that we force them to wear.

My gut says that if we really knew what it was like to wear a public-facing mask every day of our lives, we might reconsider.  And I think we know this intuitively.  I think that's why we have such a deep-seated capacity for respecting an artist who stays true to their artistry.  An artist who doesn't 'sell out'.  An artist who doesn't pander to an audience's preconceptions.  An artist who isn't always visible.  An artist who takes time off to themselves.

There just aren't enough of them out there.  And maybe if we were a bit more conscious about what fame can do to someone, we would dim the spotlight a little bit.  Expect a little bit less.  Forgive a little bit more.  Allow them to take off their masks every once in a while.

Because then when they choose to put the mask on, we can join them for the ride.

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Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash