Astroworld: How our devotion to celebrities can kill

Image provided by NPR. Top: Astroworld entrance.

On November 5th, excited concert goers went to the AstroWorld festival in Houston, Texas. A giant white statue of Travis Scott lay at the entrance whilst eager people flooded the entrance gates. Though the night began with adrenaline and excitement, it ended with reports of multiple deaths, including that of a 9-year-old, and potentially fatal injuries. In the following days, on social media, unconfirmed rumors spread about people being injected with drugs, a stampede, and negligence on Scott’s part. Online, videos of concertgoers begging AstroWorld staff to stop the concert and help dying fans circulated. Social media users analyzed the situation, trying to understand whether or not Travis knew what was happening, and attempting to decide who to blame. The public was furious.

The facts of the Astroworld tragedy have been covered by many news outlets: ten deaths and hundreds injured, the fear, the pain, vivid descriptions of being suffocated, concertgoers’ last moments flashing before their eyes. However, Astroworld has also revealed deeper, terrifying truths about celebrity-fan relationships that haven’t been fully examined. Fundamentally, the relationship between a fan and a celebrity they have never met, such as Scott, who profits off of the fans’ adoration, is parasocial. The fan devotes themself to Scott, who doesn’t give much back. It’s a one-sided relationship, raising questions about how healthy this sort of idolization is. As a society, we’re moving towards a world where it’s normal to fawn over people we don’t even know and go to extreme lengths to satisfy them; at Astroworld, inspired by many of Travis’s past tweets which incited violence and encouraged fans to sneak in, many “Ragers”—as Scott’s fanbase is known—went to the lengths of illegally destroying barricades, thus hurting others. For Scott’s approval, they broke the social contract that people are supposed to have at concerts, prioritizing their own enjoyment and fulfillment in parasocial relationships over other people’s lives and the larger fandom. Astroworld begs the question: Where is our humanity?

Post-Astroworld, some social media users took to the Internet not to comment on the situation but to post pictures of themselves having fun at the concert. Against the background of pulsating, colorful lights and chattering crowds, concertgoers posed, smiling. Some captioned their photos “houston we have a problem,” disregarding the events that had unfolded, whereas others used captions such as “it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries” and “way too sexy for untrained medics,” trying to acknowledge the situation but failing to do so respectfully. It’s concerning that we’ve become so desensitized to violence and suffering that we’re willing to ignore it even when it happens offscreen, in front of our faces, and instead post pictures in ignorant bliss. To some of us, a loss of a life is just that, one insignificant death, no longer something to be mourned. We’ve become so good at separating the reality we want, where tragedy doesn’t exist, from what it really is. “This stuff happens” is a phrase I’ve heard too many times in the past few months. It doesn’t just “happen.” It’s not normal to go to a concert only to never return home. It’s not normal to just die.

As a society, we regularly expect so much from our idols and are disappointed when they don’t live up to our expectations. We forget that they are human beings. The only difference between them and us is that their faults are magnified and publicized as a result of their fame whereas ours wreak havoc within the small bubble of our personal lives. This is not to excuse Scott’s poor planning. AstroWorld is still his and his team’s fault. But it’s still important to raise questions about why we want celebrities to be perfect. Yes, they are hallmarks of the 21st century. Their legacies are infinite. They set unattainable standards that many try desperately yet fail to reach. They fuel insecurity, causing more harm than good. At the end of the day, people like Scott act in their own-self interest, which can be seen through his many infuriating attempts to protect himself, from having his lawyers claim he wasn’t able to see the horrifying events that took place because of bright lighting and swelling noise to his lack of a ‘Sorry’ in his apology video. Yet, from a legal standpoint, all of these things make sense. Saying he saw anything would destroy his career. An apology is equivalent to an admission of guilt. Scott just wants to move on, not for his fans but for himself. It’s time we stop worshiping him and other such celebrities. As seen with Astroworld, this sort of devotion can kill.

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