Yesterday the world lost a talented, warm, humble, funny, and wonderful man. Robin Williams was such an incredible person on all accounts. There have already been countless people who have written more poignant and beautiful tributes than I could have done myself. I won’t try to write about Robin’s career and legacy. It speaks for itself. I will say he has had a huge impact on me through the years, as I’m sure he has had on most people. I saw someone say they have never been so impacted by the death of someone they have never met, and I could not agree more.
Since he has been such a huge inspiration to the world, every media outlet is writing about him. Even the Los Angeles Times had his picture and story on the front page today, paying homage to a person we all loved and adored. However, some headlines are addressing the topic in a different way. Rather than focusing on the legacy Robin leaves behind, they are taking advantage of a terrible situation for publicity and attention.
Radar Online posted a picture of Robin at an AA meeting a couple months ago. I won’t post a link to the picture because it doesn’t deserve any more views. It is clearly taken by a patron of the meeting with a cell phone. It’s unclear if he even knew the picture was being taken, but he probably didn’t. I understand that the person taking the picture was probably excited to see someone they admired and respected, just like we all would be. However, it is still wrong. I’m mostly offended that Radar Online decided to post the picture.
This picture is a violation of Robin’s privacy, as well as the privacy of everyone else in the picture. It is still a violation of everything AA stands for. It is sickening to know that we live in a culture that values knowledge of a public figure’s personal life over respect for them as a human being.
Imagine living with depression, or addiction, or another mental illness while under a microscope. We live in a culture where paparazzi sit outside rehab facilities hoping to catch a celebrity checking in. They prey on public figures, hoping to catch them at their worst. Media outlets, like Radar Online, will buy pictures that are wrongfully taken in a place founded on trust and anonymity.
We require so little of our media today. No one holds them accountable for the impact their words and pictures can have on people. As a culture, we have decided that any and all stories can be printed under “free press” despite the negative impact it can, and does, have on people. The press prints fabricated (and downright untrue) stories every day. The press prints pictures of minors (without parental consent) every day. The press prints any and everything that will bring them attention, without consequence.
Radar Online should be ashamed. It was irresponsible, in poor taste, and inappropriate. They were hoping to get the most hits on their website as people dig for more proof that Robin was struggling in recent months, as if his death isn’t proof enough.
If you were struggling with depression/addiction/mental illness, imagine how hard it is to reach out for help. It’s nearly impossible, especially when dealing with something as debilitating as depression. In my experience, many people are hesitant to reach out for help because they don’t want to disappoint their loved ones. Now imagine that feeling magnified by a million because you are a public figure. Reaching out for help means your face will be on every magazine. The headlines will talk about your struggle in detail, and people you don’t even know will make assumptions about your battle. You get calls from your publicist, from friends, from family. Everyone knows. You wonder if it will impact your ability to work again. You wonder if it will impact your relationship with your family. You wonder if therapists, doctors, counselors, will sell what you said in private to the media. You wonder if you can trust anyone with your real feelings. It is not surprising that someone who is constantly surrounded by people can feel completely alone.
“Free press” is no longer a good thing if it’s used to tear people down. We have taken the humanness out of our public figures by treating them like a spectacle. We believe we are entitled to know the details of their lives. But these are real people. Real human beings with fears, hopes, families, and struggles.
I don’t know Robin’s story, but I do know depression is something many people deal with. It is something that cannot be handled alone. Maybe the media culture had nothing to do with what happened to Robin. Maybe it did. All I know is we should have more respect for him than this. His legacy, his body of work, his philanthropy, his family; those are things worth writing about.