“I looked up Rihanna’s red carpet outfits for inspiration, and I loved all of them because her style is my style.”
Alexis Carter was a Baltimore high school student just looking for a unique prom outfit. Or, you know, unique enough. Inspired by a green jumpsuit sported by the singer back in 2010, Carter went through the trouble of getting the thing recreated in black, plunging neckline, bat-wing-esque detailing and all. And so, she had her prom, posted some pictures on social media, and had a perfectly fine evening.
Until the next morning, when Rihanna herself had gotten a hold of the photograph (oh, hashtags, how useful you are!) and offered her 35.4 million Twitter followers a side-by-side comparison of her original outfit and Carter’s ambitious approximation, accompanied by a sad-face emoticon. As if that wasn’t enough, Rihanna came up with a follow-up post of Carter compared to a Wu Tang logo. The thing became (ridiculously enough) an Internet sensation, with #PromBat taking over the feeds. Carter was understandably devastated. Imitation used to be the highest form of flattery. Apparently now it’s an opportunity for cyber-bullying.
And while this is a personal public relations nightmare, where Rihanna looks like a heartless, arrogant bitch, is it that surprising? Celebrities are just people—not necessarily nice people or good people—just famous people. Assuming otherwise is simply a matter of projection, where you take the personal meaning you’ve somehow derived from their art, be it a song or a film or whatever, and paired it with the hope that the source of such significance comes from, I don’t know, a pleasant human being. But more often than not, there is a vast chasm between art and artist, where your expectations for the person you’ve idolized do not match up, social media having served to further expose the disparity. This is why there is a media frenzy when things like the Solange/ Jay Z elevator brawl come to light… because despite our unwavering reverence for these people when they’re hitting all the right notes, we love to know when there’s trouble in paradise, when the curtain is pulled back to reveal normal people with normal human emotions—be it anger, sadness, fear, or just, in Rihanna’s case, sophomoric malice.
We put these people up on pedestals, sacrificing our own sense of self with the slight knowledge that we have the power to mercilessly rip them down. That’s how the paradigm works: The celebrities get to keep the fame and the money, but we allow ourselves the ability to rip them to shreds at a moment’s notice. It’s not, however, intended to work the other way around. We don’t put these people on pedestals with the anticipation that they will then kick us from their lofty perch. But Rihanna can be a horrible person. That’s her right as a walking, breathing member of this planet. She’d be wise, though, to keep it separate from her celebrity.
Burn your idols, before the idols burn you.