At Large

Celebrity meltdowns

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A media scholar once tried to analyze the public’s lasting fascination with celebrities. Most people, he said, live largely uneventful lives and find entertainment, if not thrill, from following those individuals who live in the constant glare of media attention. Many times the glare is literal: chased by paparazzi down the street or as they emerge from trendy restaurants or stride down the red carpet blinded with electronic flashes and hounded by impertinent questions.

These days, with every cell phone also a camera, the hunt is even more relentless, with ordinary people transformed into celebrity poachers, ever ready to record a celebrity’s every misstep or spat, bad hair day or inappropriate behavior—uploaded into social media and sent caroming around the world.

We reserve the greatest fascination, however, for celebrity meltdowns. We revel and dissect every misfortune that befalls the hapless famous person who finds him/herself in a crisis. It hardly matters what caused the celebrity’s downfall—a crime, a nervous breakdown, marital woes or misbehavior—all that matters is that ordinary folk are given the chance to tsk-tsk and pat themselves on the back for living smaller lives.

There is a moral to these stories. Celebrities may be more beautiful, more moneyed, more famous, more talented. But their every move and mistake is writ large simply because their lives and personas are bigger. We all make mistakes and err on the side of folly. But we have the luxury of stumbling in anonymity. Good thing we are not celebrities; at least when we fall, we can pick ourselves up with hardly anybody noticing. A celebrity is hounded until he or she melts into ignominy, or by some miracle achieves a rare second act.

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The dispute between actress/TV host Kris Aquino and star basketball player James Yap may be summed up as a “he said/she said” story. Except that there is a third party involved: their son Bimby. And even then, both father and mother have no qualms taking turns reporting and interpreting the five-year-old’s utterances and motives.

There is one point, though, that I feel must be explored further. And that is Yap’s contention that what triggered Bimby’s initial outburst and Kris’ lashing out was nothing but a joke. As Yap tells it, he was trying to get the boy to kiss him goodbye but when Bimby refused, he went to Kris’ side and jokingly threatened: “Okay, if you don’t want to kiss me, then I’ll just kiss your Mama.”

From Yap’s point of view, both Bimby and Kris “overreacted,” with Kris protesting that she was getting hurt as Yap’s hand grasped her arm, while Bimby ran crying and rushing to his mother. This certainly sounds like a scene from a telenovela, until you consider that Yap is a professional basketball player who stands over six feet tall, towering over his petite ex-wife.

Any woman confronted by male physical power can tell you that proximity alone can feel like a threat, even if no words are said or force is applied. Overreaction? I can sympathize.

But I guess both Kris and James can acknowledge that the one getting hurt the most in this back-and-forth between them is the boy. Perhaps a little distance and quiet—both physical and emotional—are what Bimby needs most at this time. It was welcome news to me when Kris announced on TV that she and Bimby are undergoing counseling. As for abandoning her career, I don’t know if that would best serve her present emotional state, or the financial future of her sons.

But the best way we can help this sundered family is really to leave them alone, which is why this is the last word I have to say on the matter. An accident on the road may draw our attention, but sometimes the most polite and kindest reaction would simply be to look away.

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Any parent can tell you that the one sure way to push your child toward an action—or person—you don’t approve of is to show the child your displeasure.

Nothing can provoke your son or daughter into rushing into the arms of an inappropriate love object faster than your disapproval. It’s a story as old as time. The more the parents sound off on how much they dislike a suitor or a girlfriend, the more attractive that suitor or girlfriend becomes.

More so when you make your disapproval public, during election season when the offending character happens to be running for national office.

So good luck, Mr. and Mrs. Ongpauco, in prying your daughter Heart from the side of Chiz Escudero. You have stated your reasons for disliking the senator, whose marriage has been (civilly) annulled, and Mrs. Ongpauco has even employed emotional blackmail in chiding Heart for causing her father’s failing health.

But one undisputed fact is that Heart, an actress who earns her own not-inconsiderable income, is all of 28 years old, even if, as her parents claim, she remains immature and incapable of making sound decisions. If I were Heart, that contention alone would be enough to drive me rushing pell-mell out of the parental orbit. Nothing can provoke hasty, heedless decisions faster than a parent’s low opinion of your maturity and ability to decide for yourself.

For all we know (and we really know very little), the senator may in fact be all that Heart’s parents paint him to be. But the matter of his disrespect, his boastfulness, his “using” Heart, is something he and she must settle between themselves.

As a parent, I have bit my tongue more times than I care to remember. And it isn’t because I don’t love my children or care about their welfare. It’s because I know winning a debate now will matter little if I drive my child away, perhaps forever.

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