Pop Culture

We Love Laughing at Celebrity Meltdowns as Much as We Hate Talking About Mental Health

Over the weekend, a prominent musical "genius" and a washed-up actress walked into a bar. Or, that's how everybody handled Kanye West and Lindsay Lohan's collective (yet ongoing) breakdowns. And as both outbursts were displayed for the world to see on their respective social media (or Chris Rock's) platforms, our society responded with ridicule to the fullest extent.

Whenever a celebrity acts or speaks in thoroughly off-kilter fashion, the tweets that end up going viral are almost always the ones in bad faith; pointing and laughing at stars for strange behavior—which could actually be indicative of their broader underlying problem. Maybe Lohan—most recently alleged to have attempted a kidnapping—and Ye—a proud supporter of a noted racist and sexist world leader—are just evil, bad rich people. Still, they’ve each weathered traumas, often wearing their pain on their sleeves through multiple public falls from grace.

People in crisis spiral for a long time before they splinter at rock bottom. But even if it’s out of our control to mend celebrities, we can at least learn from the high platform that they’ve tripped from, about the treatments they're certainly not receiving, and support breaking the stigma behind mental health. Instead of making unkind memes, we may conceivably prevent these blips and lapses in judgment from happening to others in the future; ordinary people, those who potentially would not be able to recover—personally, financially, mentally, emotionally—from flare-ups in their illnesses and addictions, and the judgment lapses produced by them. In reality, however, it seems we only have empathy toward these issues when a celebrity dies. There has to be another way.

I won't make this about gender, because we're all agonizingly exhausted by the current news cycle of misogyny and sexism, but something important to note is the general public considers one of these celebrities a genius, while they believe the other, who no longer offers us talent, is a has-been; a parasite; a failed actress. So while West's fans seem to often forgive his illogical rants about how there were only 800 slaves, and while he tweets ludicrous statements from his private jet back to Calabasas, Lohan barely has a fan base to lift her up in any capacity. Her ongoing lapses in judgment push her a bit further to the edge every time—and that’s the way we’ve treated her for more than a decade.

Lohan is the consummate example of the mid-2000s era of bashing women we deemed slutty, too tan, too into partying. It was the same period Britney Spears shaved her head and took an umbrella to a paparazzi's car, and the same era we actively ignored when paparazzi photographed Amy Winehouse and boyfriend Blake Civil-Fielder leaving their apartment, bloodied from a physical brawl. We didn't try to help these women or even speak of the broader implications of fame to their ongoing mental health or addiction problems. They were left alone, to fend for themselves, and in Winehouse's case, to die trying.
We need to laugh less at public breakdowns and instead try and figure out how to handle the discourse around them.
Last weekend, we all witnessed Lohan, walking the streets of Paris (where she'd traveled for Fashion Week) on an Instagram Live. We beheld her offer to help a Syrian family of refugees, then follow them down the street in an attempt to take a child from its parents, accusing them of trafficking their children. She speaks gibberish, to perhaps purposefully appear like she's speaking Arabic, and tells the family they're "ruining Arabic culture" by rejecting her. She aggressively states "don't fuck with Palestine" in an unusual accent no one can quite place. When she's not speaking with this accent, she's speaking normally, in her raspy, American voice we all adored a decade ago. When she gets punched by the mother, she cries out, claiming she is terrified. She had, within sheer minutes, become a danger to children, and thus, to herself. It should have become clear that this wasn't a "stunt"—as many have claimed on social media, diminishing this to Lohan just being evil—and potentially a sign of mental instability.
We were watching a person in need of serious help, and a person we've watched openly contest with her addictions and mental health for more than a decade. I don't believe she was operating in bad faith—and I'm a kidnap survivor. I believe she was acting out of a mental health crisis, or one exacerbated by substances. Even more bizarre, Lohan was seen walking the streets of Paris with friends like nothing had happened the day following the incident and even celebrated Mean Girls Day (October 3) with fans online yesterday, all the while continuing to profess she believed she did the right thing.
Over the last decade, we've collectively normalized that Lohan is someone who doesn't deserve our empathy, and unfortunately, it's not difficult to see why: Recently, she's spewed vitriol toward survivors, claiming #MeToo victims were weak for not coming forward (she later apologized), and demonstrated her support for Donald Trump (she’s more recently stated she has no feeling, no emotion about the POTUS).

But, for an actress who we all watched grow up, albeit, in the spotlight, we seldom process her problems as nothing more than headline fodder: Her abusive father sold private tapes of their conversations for money, her hard-partying "momager” and her ongoing financial troubles, her many run-ins with the law and numerous DUIs, her admitted alcohol and cocaine addictions, the bizarre relationship between her and ex-boyfriend Wilmer Valderrama (who was 24 when she was only 17), the lists media sites published of all her rumored sex partners, her multiple admittances to drug rehabilitation centers, her courtroom appearances, the infamous E-Trade commercial featuring a "milkaholic" baby named Lindsay, her prison stint, her Chateau Marmont banning, her three hit-and-run accusations. And, while many of her former cohorts in "bad behavior" grew up (Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Kelly Osbourne), Lohan always appeared stunted in her growth.

More recently, Lohan was in a plainly toxic relationship with her ex, Egor Tarabasov, who was documented grabbing her violently, and who Lohan did call police on (stating he strangled and "almost killed her"). And while no charges were filed, nobody in the media seemed to be concerned for her well-being. It certainly didn't summon any comprehensive discussion on violence against women—and this was well before she took to social media to unnecessarily claim Harvey Weinstein had never touched her, began defending Trump or attempted to kidnap Syrian children. Lohan herself stated that no one cared about her boyfriend's alleged abuse, self-aware that she's become such a mockery since her esteemed roles in the early 2000s that people shrugged her pain off, or maybe even blamed it on her past behaviors.

There's so much we don't and will never know about what the kind of trauma she's endured can do to a woman, or to anyone, but is it surprising she's gone off the deep end? While I rarely agree with Rose McGowan's aggressive sort of activism, she was right when she asked her followers to go easy on Lohan because "being a child actor turned sex symbol twists the brain in ways you can’t comprehend." They are both people who turned their trauma into entirely different things, Spears (bless her forever) remaining the golden standard of women getting their shit together after a mental health crisis.

I'm not a big fan of making excuses for people, and Lohan is part of a subsect of celebrities whom we feel it may just be too late to help. There may be too much trauma there to recover from, at least in the public eye. As someone who once tasted glory as a genuinely incredible actress in The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, and then became blacklisted from Hollywood for the bad behavior exhibited during her addictions, it's sad and unsurprising Lohan is where she's at now. We forget Lohan once was lauded as an up-and-coming actress, akin to Jennifer Lawrence's rise in recent years as America's Sweetheart.

Lohan was illuminating in her roles, and in the early 2000s, we expected her to go far. Like, Cate Blanchett far. It's crushing, and we need to laugh less at public breakdowns and instead try and figure out how to handle the discourse around them. I believe, in the moment, with whatever Lohan had taken, through whatever delusion she was dissociating into, she thought she was helping children or was reacting (though mentally unsoundly) to rejection. She needs help, and for the sake of those in fear of her behavior, I hope she receives it. Unfortunately, because she's become what society would label irrelevant, and is producing nothing new (save an MTV reality show in 2019 that may or may not happen) people rarely forgive her for her fuck ups. Not in the way they forgive West.

According to Twitter, West is falling deeper and deeper into the category of celebrities we feel it may be too late to fix. He parades around in his "Make America Great Again (MAGA)" hat, lauding Trump every chance he gets on stage and off, lecturing The Fader on his bizarre ideas and revisionist history, and often alluding to people's blindness when someone disagrees. He's more relevant than Lohan—and arguably more talented—so we know everyone will un-cancel "Ye" the second "Yandhi" releases on Black Friday. West speaks in streams of consciousness on social media, often tweeting incoherent, scattered ramblings that get him into hot, deep water with his fans. Just recently, he tweeted at Colin Kaepernick—an obvious denouncer of our current POTUS—with an offer to introduce him to Trump. He also stood on a table at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and randomly sounded off on Elon Musk, who has been partially dethroned at Tesla and could face fraud charges, telling the students to “leave that man the fuck alone.”
Rather than fixating on what problematic, mentally unstable celebs are guilty of saying, we need to talk about how to stop this from happening to future generations.
West is known for randomly disappearing from all social media platforms, but when he eventually comes back, his tone never changes. He tweets stick-figure drawings of his fully-aligned chakras exploding out of his body, and (one of the weirder tweets I've seen of his) a take-out box full of actual bugs (apparently) eaten in celebration of his father's cancer remission. He also regularly tweets misinformation, then retroactively tells the world that's what he meant the entire time—like when he tweeted last week that he wanted to abolish the 13th Amendment, then retweeted publications that thought, maybe, just maybe, this was all code for something he knows more about than he lets on.

But the rapper lives in Calabasas, California with the rest of the Kardashian clan in a bubble—probably far away from books and the news. He gets away with it all because he's a knighted-by-society genius. He’s also a brilliant performer, so all of this is just… sad. It’s sad to watch a once-beloved performer now take any and everything he can to TMZ, which is not exactly a beacon for celebrity safety. Instead, it’s the site where people go to sell out their celebrity friends. Yet there he was, excited to appear on TMZ in his MAGA hat alongside Candace Owen, to scream that slavery was a choice.

West, like Lohan, has called for support of Trump, and, like Lohan, has been called anti-woman, though I'd argue West takes the cake on that one. West has long supported frightening people—like in 2016 when he tweeted that Bill Cosby is innocent before he was sentenced to prison for rape last month. He also ranted last week on Twitter about being embarrassed by his previous embarrassment over his friendship with proven accused sex criminal, ASAP Bari, now that the case has been tossed out. He apologized for being too ashamed to go public with their friendship, and said he supports Bari, regardless of the assault. And then there is Ian Connor’s modeling work with Yeezy, despite his 21 rape accusations. Oh, and he is also recording and releasing an album that is apparently reserved for accused abuser—irresponsibly featuring Connor himself, 6ix9ine and the late XXXTentacion (both of whom have faced legal issues for either alleged sexual or domestic abuse). And apparently Rihanna is on the album too, which feels disrespectful given her own tumultuous history with ex Chris Brown.

In the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, he exhibits bizarre jealousy over his children, arguing with wife Kim Kardashian over a band-aid and claiming she does more for her children than for him. West, like Lohan, seems stunted—like something happened to him in the past and, while many other rappers grew up (Snoop, Wayne, Jay Z), he is still somehow mid-2000s Kanye. A grown man stuck on a childish loop.

West has had his fair share of scandals, though most would simply call them outrageous moments. He's consistently gone off-script, and on hours-long Twitter tangents, has rushed stages during award ceremonies, claimed the president didn't care about black people after Hurricane Katrina and on and on. He's not necessarily completely wrong about any of his statements. It's like his heart may be in the right place, but the way he expresses them always seems indicative of a more significant issue. Maybe when West started exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, we could have had a conversation, but—in the 2000s—that was out of the question. We were unequipped to talk about it then; in relation to West and Lohan.

Several months ago, West proclaimed he had Bipolar Disorder, and suddenly his behavior made sense to the online hoard. It was just what fans needed to forgive West's foray into Trump territory, as most fans believed his admiration of the POTUS was some bizarre type of genius performance art. Now we know West is dead serious in his convictions and political beliefs, and people are already scrutinizing the album he said would drop this last Saturday, that he's now waiting to record in Africa. Among other extreme statements made recently, West has stated he's moving back to Chicago to build schools and help the community, despite his wife adamantly staying in California, and has also claimed Chicago will be the first city with flying cars—thanks, no doubt, to him.
West is also, self-admittedly, off his medication. As someone who struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder, I know the work I have to do on myself can never end, and I'll be putting in the work for the rest of my life, lest I stop and end up hurt.

West is mentally ill, and Lohan—though we know less about the state of her mental health—has had an ongoing, severe addiction dilemma, and has been public about her addictions in the past. Rather than fixating on what problematic, mentally unstable celebs are guilty of saying, we need to talk about how to stop this from happening to future generations. Maybe if we treat affected celebrities properly, future generations won’t have as much trouble asking for help and will have the resources to seek it freely. The news cycle in the last week, since Lohan's Instagram Live and West's MAGA-inspired Saturday Night Live rant, has been one of ridicule and fixation on symptoms, rather than exploring the cause—the root of the problem at its basest.

We act like teenage boys when we witness a public and full-blown crisis—smiling or laughing because we're unsure of how to react. There may be no saving celebrities, but we can put effort into how we discuss these problems in the future.

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