TV & Movies

Anne T. Donahue on Manchester & Expecting Too Much from Celebs

There are moments when things are bad and only time can heal them. And at the end of the day, you’re the only person whose actions you can control

Post Manchester, Anne Donahue wonders if we're expecting too much from Ariana Grande (inline image)

It’s been a terrible week. After a terrorist attack an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on Monday, 22 people are dead—many of them children and teens—and more than 50 injured. Understandably, Grande has cancelled the rest of her European tour and returned to America, and has reportedly offered to pay for the funerals of those killed in the bombing.

And yet it hasn’t been enough.

On top of the Daily Mail’s terrible take on the singerat least one other idiot has taken to Twitter to claim Grande should be doing more in the wake of this tragedy. And to that I call bullshit.

We expect a lot from famous people. We expect them to act the way we want, to stay true to the brand we’ve assigned them, and to stick to the behaviours we’ve gotten used to. We also expect them to be reasonable; to shy away from apathy and the apolitical and to do enough homework so that they won’t say something incriminating or straight-up stupid on Twitter. The relationship between celebrities and the rest of us is rich in expectations and disappointments, peaks and valleys, RTs and angry @-replies. But we also don’t know them, nor can we really understand what it’s like to *be* them. And that’s on an everyday basis; now imagine being the artist whose concert was chosen to be ground zero for a terrorist attack.

The fact that Ariana Grande tweeted anything at all is astounding, let alone something just hours after the incident. Then, to see other big names reaching out—from Taylor Swift to Nicki Minaj to Harry Styles to Cher —was comforting; acts of solidarity following an attack explicitly meant to spark the opposite.

But that should be enough.

Celebrities can’t fix the world, they just make living in it a little more fun. Their work can give us an escape or provide a different way  of articulating what we’re thinking and feeling, but an artist is not our Messiah. They can’t save us or fix us or make us whole. They can inspire us to work hard in our own right or to feel less alone, but their job is to entertain—which is the only job they’ve signed up for. And while losing our shit after assigning expectations following a global catastrophe may provide an outlet for our own frustrations and anger, it’s also on us to remember that no celebrity will mend a toxic political or social climate that’s been centuries in the making. Celebrities are people too, and likely as traumatized and limited as the rest of us.

In the case of Manchester, the attack directly targeted those psyched to lose themselves for an evening—young people who found their own voices in a singer who has always been herself. It targeted girls and kids and the queer community, scarring everyone who watched or listened or read the news by proving that sometimes the bleak reality of our world can transcend the joy within it. It made pop concerts another place to be afraid of, tying music (a universal escape) to terror. All in less than half a minute.

So how can we expect a celebrity to fix that? And at what point can we give a famous person leave to take a second and decompress? To assume that Ariana Grande isn’t traumatized by what happened on Monday is to assume she lacks empathy and a basic understanding of the way human beings work—which we know isn’t true since she’s been able to connect to and articulate the feelings of so many with her music. And to assume a celebrity’s tweet will make everything feel better is equally as obtuse. There are moments when things are bad and only time can heal them, so while a famous may not be saying what you want to hear, at the end of the day, you’re the only person whose actions you can control. You’ve got to be enough. Even more: you could be the voice someone else is desperately waiting to hear from.

It’s generous for Grande to (reportedly) contribute to victims’ families and wonderful that her contemporaries are chiming in, but we can also do our part. We can donate money, circulate phone numbers and contact info, or refuse to surrender hope by educating ourselves and the people around us. Because what’s being said is usually always more important than who is saying it.

More from Anne:
Ivanka Got Booed and Anne T. Donahue Is Here for It
Anne T. Donahue on Jian Ghomeshi & the Currency of Outcry
Anne T. Donahue on the Pepsi Implosion: Where’s Kendall’s Apology?