Dear Celebs: Critique Has Value, and Being Famous Doesn't Change That

Being vulnerable is not a weakness

Olivia Munn

(Photo: Getty)

Evolutionarily speaking, no one could have ever predicted social media and the myriad ways it would change our lives, for better and—oh, hell yeah—for worse. And while Twitter can be a cesspool of unwarranted vitriol and hate (seriously Jack, please get on that!), it has also become a space for legit criticism and discussion. But this week, celebs seemed to decide it was time to fight back against that.

Lizzo vs. Pitchfork happened when the singer tweeted out on Sunday: “PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DON’T MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED,” after they reviewed her new album Cuz I Love You (which is fire, but that doesn’t mean critics shouldn’t be able to point out what they perceive as its shortcomings). Her original tweet has since been deleted, and she followed her initial musing up with a self-aware quip about not airing her anger on the interwebs.

Next up were Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, who took to Twitter as well, after on-air personality Morgan Stewart called out the Canadian pop star on E!’s Nightly Pop for lipsyncing his cameo during Grande’s Coachella performance. What followed the Biebs’s essay to Stewart on Twitter—where he admitted this was his first performance in two years and asked for people to stop “tearing each other apart”—was truly atrocious. Grande jumped into the fray, retweeting and adding her own thoughts, and then both of their respective fan-bases went after Stewart, and any other journo who dared to challenge the two twenty-something famouses. Can we agree that stan culture can be terrifying?

But the criticism clapback that is getting the most clicks this week goes to Olivia Munn’s attempt at taking down the two women behind GoFugYourself.com, a red-carpet fashion commentary blog that has been online for nearly 10 years. While Munn tried to compare their colourful (and often hilarious!) sartorial insights to the culture of body shaming, she landed herself in some very hot water—and justifiably so. Munn, who has not commented on her essay since its release on Thursday, likely assumed that she would be applauded for her faux feminist musings, but quite the opposite happened.

In a statement to USA Today, GFY founders Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan said they “absolutely respect Olivia Munn’s right to her opinion—even if we disagree, as we do here. Red carpet fashion is a big business and an art form like any other, and as such, there is room to critique it. Having said that, we wish her nothing but the best and look forward to her next project.”

Among the many women also adding their voices and insights to the scrum, writers Amy Odell and Anne Helen Peterson had their say, as did Toronto-based chef and outspoken feminist Jen Agg.

So what’s with what The Ringer so aptly titled The Great Celebrity War on Criticism? First, it’s perhaps important to look at criticism vs. cruelty. Criticism can be constructive, hence the phrase “constructive criticism.” It’s essentially evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature. Cruelty, on the other hand, is attacking in order to afflict pain, i.e. commenting on someone’s physical attributes or making baseless claims against them. And we can all agree we’ve had enough of that.

But, what often happens when we—imperfect humans—face criticism is we get our backs up in an attempt to hide our shame. And Bieber is likely a little ashamed of his Coachella performance, which explains why he felt the need to qualify that he hadn’t performed in two years. Shame, vulnerabilty and courage researcher Dr. Brené Brown calls this a “vulnerability hangover.” Instead of taking that shame and using it to examine his own work (because, let’s not forget: singing on stage in front of millions of fans is actually his J-O-B), he got defensive. But the Biebs is young and will hopefully learn to deal in time.

Unfortunately for Munn, she is an industry vet who took offense to clothing criticism and tried to turn it into a bigger movement, co-opting the current wave of feminism (which she has been a voice in) to make a point that doesn’t have much standing. Her essay is a masterclass in trying to push back against criticism. But Brown, a New York Times bestselling author five times over and a research professor at the University of Houston, explains that pushing against those criticisms actually goes against our nature. She puts it like this in her just-released Netflix special: “To deal with vitriol and negativity, there’s the ‘I don’t give a shit about anything’ mentality. But we are hardwired to care what other people think.”

And we should care, because criticism—when it comes from a legit critic, whether that be a music critic, like the Pitchfork team, or fashion critic like the GFY ladies—can help us be better people. “You have to be specific about who’s opinions of you matter,” Brown says in The Call to Courage, the first non-comedy talk special to air on the streaming service. “Don’t give a shit about what some people think.” Essentially, she believes we should solicit feedback from people that care about us succeeding.

Which is really good advice. And what’s amazing about Brown’s show, is that she is by her own admission an introvert who hasn’t always walked the talk. It took negative comments from her first viral Ted Talk for Brown to have a CTJ (aka, a come-to-Jesus) moment. After seeing really atrocious comments about herself online, Brown went into her vulnerability hangover with a spoonful of peanut butter and Downton Abbey on repeat. While doing post-binge Downton research, she came across a quote from American President Theodore Roosevelt that she says changed her life—and it’s something more of us can learn from.

Roosevelt is quoted as saying in 1910, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

If we are putting ourselves and our work out there, like Munn, Bieber, Lizzo and even Brown, we need to expect failure and criticism. And that criticism may be warranted from time to time. Now we just need to learn how to take the appropriate bits of that criticism, learn to use what we can to improve, and let the rest of the bullshit fall away.


The Problem With Ariana Grande and Jim Carrey’s Twitter Convo About Depression
Why Does the Media Have a Problem With Hailey Bieber Using Justin’s Name?
There’s a Big Problem With the New Rolling Stone Cover