Monday, June 6, 2016

Diseases, Deaths, and the Celebrity Effect

The world loves its celebrities, whether they be from sports, entertainment, or politics, or they're just famous for being famous. The celebrities rake in the money that many mere mortals are willing to pay so they can catch a glimpse of fame. Some of the celebrities embrace this adoration and use it to further causes they believe in, some mock it, and yet others try to live below the radar, avoiding the extra attention sent their way.

The attention focuses on, among other things, how celebrities live their lives, what they eat or don't eat, if they vaccinate or don't vaccinate, and what surgeries or procedures they may have had to keep their youthful look. But what fascinates is me the times when members of the public takes these celebrities as experts.  It's one thing to want to know what someone is wearing or how they decorate their home, but it's another to think that their celebrity makes them an expert on anything other than maybe being a celebrity. Is Gwyneth Paltrow really a nutrition and detox expert, or Jenny McCarthy an expert on vaccinations and autism?

And then there is the subject their health. When a celebrity announces a battle with an illness, their fans take notice and this drives awareness of conditions that may otherwise go unknown or misunderstood. Look at Angelina Jolie, and her decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries. She did this because she has a genetic mutation that greatly increases her risks of developing those cancers. This action and the publicity resulted in the Angelina effect, with many women with the same gene wondering if they should do the same thing - and experts appeared in all forms of media debating her approach.

Other celebrities who shared their battles with chronic diseases include:

Just last Friday, we lost another celebrity, a world-wide celebrity, to illness: Muhammed Ali. He, too, had Parkinson's disease, but his death was caused by septic shock. Patty Duke died in March from the same cause. (Disclaimer: I am content director for Sepsis Alliance, when sepsis or septic shock is listed as cause of death, it always attracts my attention.)

When celebrities or their families disclose illnesses or causes of death, this starts a conversation about them. How many people, particularly those in the age group who love Selena Gomez, had ever heard of lupus? How many people thought that HIV was still a problem in 2016? Before Michael J. Fox and Muhammed Ali announced they had Parkinson's disease, how many people realized it could affect people so young? And what about the educational benefits that came out from President Carter's announcement that he was undergoing immunotherapy for his cancer? 

I've read a few article comments and social media messages saying that the media shouldn't be writing about or playing up the illnesses after celebrities die, that they should be remembered for their roles in our society. But can't raising awareness of these illnesses be one of those roles? Is using that information taking advantage of the situation?

I believe that if celebrities or their families choose to disclose their health battles, then the idea was to help raise awareness - and that is a good thing. All diseases or conditions that affect our quality of life or that lead to an early death are important. But they don't all have the same amount of air time, of awareness. And if the news of one celebrity with one illness can change things, can help someone go for a diagnosis or maybe not feel so alone, then I think it's a good thing.

No comments: