They say you should never meet your heroes, but perhaps you shouldn’t even listen to them.
I’ve always admired Rob Lowe (some of my friends would say that maybe I border on obsession, but they just don’t understand him like I do…). He has acted in some of the best television to come out of America this century, is permanently sun tanned, not a Republican and has a hairline I can only aspire to. In fact, anyone who looks that good (see below) in their 50s must be doing something right, surely?
And yet, last Friday while the street of Paris were in chaos and I was glued to my sofa, one eye on my laptop screen and the other on the TV, he went and tweeted this:
Reading it, you can almost imagine him saying it. That emphasis on the ‘NOW’ is very Chris Treager isn’t it? And you can still read it, displayed on his timeline for all of his 1.2 million Twitter followers to see. Last Friday I was still one of them, and I was surprised and disappointed. Because I liked Rob Lowe and he was supposed to be a decent human being and decent human beings don’t spout uninformed xenophobia and then defend themselves for it. But then I thought about it and I realised, I actually knew nothing of substance about the man at all. Why did I assume to know what he thought?
The thing about celebrity is that the consumer, that’s you, will always have your opinion of the famous coloured by their public persona. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, it has been around as long as there have been celebrities, but in the age of television, mass media, the internet and social networks it has been taken to new heights.
I first encountered Rob Lowe through, quite predictably, the West Wing (actually I may have seen Wayne’s World first, but I don’t that that counts). To me then, Lowe has always had some of the sheen of that particular show and his particular character within it, Sam Seaborn a White House staffer prone to soaring prose and bouts of social awkwardness. Come to think of it, as a socially awkward and politically obsessed teenager I probably wanted to be Sam Seaborn.
The West Wing is widely accepted as a somewhat unique cultural phenomenon. The sort of show that should have run for a few seasons on PBS, been well reviewed and then died a dignified death. Instead, in went and made politics, storytelling and the Democratic Party cool again. It made stars of its regular cast members and its creator, Aaron Sorkin (who incidentally, also turns out to be a bit of a jerk, despite writing some of the best TV scripts ever put to paper in the show’s first few seasons). It won awards and it tackled a wide range of topical social issues.
Can you tell I’m a fan?
The show has often be both praised and critisised for its liberal, some would say naive, some would say pushy, worldview. The ‘Left Wing’. The liberals usually win, they usually do so in style and while the show rarely paints conservatives as actually evil, it takes seven seasons until we get a major player from the other side of the aisle that viewers can actually like (Alan Alda’s fabulous Arnold Vinnick).
So, you can see where the problem might lie. In that kind of setting, surrounded by similarly flawed but well intentioned characters, Mr Lowe starts to get confused with Mr Seaborn.
In truth, Rob Lowe is a bit of a prat whose views on immigrations and asylum seekers seem to be that of a teenager who has just discovered that the world stretches a lot further than the boarders of his own hometown. But he’s also an excellent case study in just how easy it is to get wrapped up in the idea that what you see of an actor, a singer or a musician in the media is a reasonable representation of them in real life. This may seem obvious, after all actors are paid to act, not to be themselves, but it is something that is too easily forgotten. We all too easily build up public figures into perfect mirrors of our own views and aspirations, which makes it all the more depressing when they turn out to just be human after all.
So if you’re not going to meet your heroes, maybe you shouldn’t follow them on social media either…