We make a lot of assumptions when we write about celebrities. We assume, in a lot of cases, that celebrities don’t see what we write, because so manyother people are writing about them too. We assume that they can easily drown out all those voices. We assume that fame provides them with a sense of immunity, that they’re “used to it” and therefore free of the feelings that a normal person would understandably feel about anything that’s said of them. And, of course, we assume that celebrities have agreed to some social contract in which they give up their right to privacy — that, in exchange for our money and our attention, we get full access to everything they ever do, even in private.
Of course, none of these assumptions are necessarily true. Celebrities do see what people write about them, though certainly not all of it. They aren’tfree of human emotions. And, broadly speaking, they’ve made no agreement in which they’ve sacrificed their own privacy for the sake of getting famous.
That being said, we still write about celebrities, and that’s OK. They are public figures and what they do in public is fair game. It’s fun to write about them. It’s part of our culture. It’s part of being a fan. And we should keep doing it.
But I like to give myself a few guidelines, for my own sake, since I write and joke about celebrities often, and I figured I’d share them here:
Rules for Writing About Celebrities, or as I like to call them, people:
1. Generally speaking, don’t make any joke you wouldn’t make about a friend directly to their face. Which is to say, it’s OK to have fun and be personal and sometimes tough, but not invasively personal or antagonistically tough.
2. But also, don’t be afraid to respectfully call people’s shit out.Sometimes people do shitty things and it’s OK to point out those shitty things, as long as what you’re pointing out is actually the shitty thing and not some entirely unrelated personal detail. Disagreeing with a celebrity and calling them fat are two different things. This should be obvious.
3. Talk about what’s public. Yes, celebrities ask us for our attention, and therefore open themselves up to our examination, but part of that agreement is that their public work is what’s up for scrutiny and comment. Unless their private lives are understandably part of their public work — like the Kardashians, or a celebrity who writes or sings about the personal — it’s irrelevant.
4. Don’t speculate. Write and joke about what you know, and leave what you don’t out of it. Generally speaking, there’s no private detail that you have a right to know, especially not a person’s sexuality, no matter how impactful you think their sexuality might be. (Celebrities, like all real people, go through the same motions of self discovery as everyone else. Maybe that celebrity you think is gay is really gay. But maybe they don’t know it themselves yet. It’s not your job to come out for them.)
5. Consider whether you would say the same thing or make the same joke if the celebrity were a different gender or race or sexuality. Are all of the jokes you make about celebrity appearances only about women? Maybe don’t do that.
6. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want said about you. The golden rule of all writing. Maybe you think their life is public and yours isn’t, but people are still people. If it would hurt you, it’ll hurt them.
7. DON’T BE A DICK. It’s OK not to like someone. It’s OK to make jokes. It’s OK to talk about people who ask to be talked about. Just don’t be a dick about it. It’s literally that simple.