The media has been in a frenzy since Us Weekly discovered Kristen Stewart cheated on boyfriend and former co-star Robert Pattinson with director Rupert Sanders. Stewart has released a public apology, in which she acknowledges the allegation and says, "I'm deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I've caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected.” Suffice it to say the public has not been appeased.
Let us clarify a few points. Infidelity is bad. Lying is bad. “Forgetting” to wash your dishes in the sink and leaving them for someone else is bad. These things are bad because, at their core, each represents a breach of faith, an obligation that was duly expected but not fulfilled. For that, Stewart owes an apology to her boyfriend, as she does to Sanders’ wife Liberty Ross. But she does not owe an apology to us.
The celebrity phenomenon has always been a peculiar thing. We find aspiring singers, actors, athletes and artists who bear the seeds of talent. We invest our money and attention in them so that their gifts can blossom and, in doing so, satisfy our needs to be entertained. When they make it big, we commend the fortitude with which they faced down the obstacles to greatness. Then, when they no longer quite fit the personas we’ve constructed for them, we threaten to withdraw our support until they fall in line. Celebrities issue carefully-worded apologies, the public feels righteously indignant, and the masquerade is preserved.
People are paid to fulfill professional obligations. Singers sing, actors act, yet that alone isn’t enough. By simple virtue of their visibility, we quietly assume celebrities must be moral heroes, paragons of decency, and when they turn out to be otherwise, we drag them through the mud in ways we would never do to ourselves. This is utterly unique to celebrities. No one cares if a scientist cheats on her husband. Policemen, those pillars of law and order, can sleep around the neighborhood and get only a disgusted shrug. The only reason why anyone paid attention to former astronaut Lisa Nowak was because of how utterly bizarre her case was.
Strip away the fame and fortune from Kristen Stewart, and what you have is a 22-year-old with a sex drive and the capacity for poor judgment, which summarily describes every adult on the face of the planet. The fact that she is a household name does not excuse her transgression. Neither does it make us privy to what is supposed to be a private discourse between those involved. We are not involved.
Does the public still demand an apology from Stewart? Fine, we have it, but then we have no reason not to demand the same from every father, sister, friend, or co-worker who has ever had the temerity to make a mistake. We have the right to disapprove, but not to forgive. That lies with Pattinson and Ross, and them alone.