What is the difference between Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez? Robert Downey Jr. and Clark Gable? Madonna and Billie Holiday?
The answer to that question is accessibility, and it’s ruining the definition of “celebrity.”
It used to be that famous people were far away. They lived in Los Angeles and New York City and Paris, and they stayed there, floating through some legendary life of flashbulbs and fur coats. They would occasionally stumble out of some Parisian nightclub with a young starlet, swearing at a few photographers, or get caught bursting out of a giant birthday cake for a president, but they would always jump into gigantic limousines or private planes and go back to their (reasonably) mysterious lives, forcing their fans to wonder what they were really like.
These days, celebrities have documented, filed and pushed every gosh-awful moment of their nighttime escapades through the powerfully boring medium of Twitter. Want to know what Justin Bieber thinks about various candies? He used to really love Sweet Tarts, but now he’s on more a Gummi Bears kick. Did major legislation just move through the Supreme Court? Better check what Madonna has to say about it, or the democratic process won’t be complete.
This problem — celebrities turning into real people — is more noticeable in sports than anywhere else. It used to be that professional basketball players were like gods. They were tall, silent and graceful, and everything we knew about them stayed on the court. Sure, Wilt Chamberlain might pen an autobiography after his career ended (in which he famously detailed, by the way, sleeping with more than 10,000 women, which would be remarkable if it were only a 10th of that amount), but it would be in the tangible, finite form of a printed book.
But now, bench-warming grunts like Chris Douglas-Roberts and Spencer Hawes have all the public forum they want to talk about Kanye’s latest album, or the validity of gun control legislation, or who Kim Kardashian is preying on next. Former Utah Jazz player C.J. Miles was laughably famous for his late-night tweets in which he appeared to be a little buzzed (and, given the late-late hours they were posted, probably explained why he stunk so much as a rotation player).
Now that celebrities seem to have rounded the bend from demigod status (e.g., Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart or Ted Williams) to Demi Lovato status (e.g., every former child star with an iPhone), we’re looking for famous people who appear to be more real than other famous people. That’s why everyone loved Jennifer Lawrence after her stairway-tripping, “like, ohmygosh”-speaking, American-child, Best Actress-accepting Oscar night, but we all rolled our eyes at Anne Hathaway and her insincere, rehearsed poise. We love Kevin Durant, because he loves his mama, but we loathe Carmelo Anthony, because he loves his Lala.
Why can’t celebrities go back to what they were: introverted, conflicted alcoholics with hundreds of anonymous children scattered across the state of California, and no access to a smartphone?