If celebrities are meant to be a more glamorous version of us, if what we get out of celebrity is a sense of escape and wonder, then Sweeney broke the rules by revealing that actually, if you don’t come from money, life isn’t just about the luxury of choice. Celebrities are still governed by the rules that govern all of us, and while it would be absurd to call Sweeney “struggling,” her financial limitations seem to resemble a lot of people’s crises, just on a larger scale.
Then there’s the family dimension. What’s the right way to hold a celebrity accountable for something that they didn’t do? And what exactly is Sweeney being held accountable for? Having family members who subscribe to Blue Lives Matter beliefs? Close kin who may have been supporters of Donald Trump? Who exactly is shocked that a white celebrity may have people they love who have unsavory or racist views? Certainly not Black people.
In the wake of the 2016 election, the actor Michael Shannon told reporters that if your family voted for Trump, “Fuck ’em. You’re an orphan now. Don’t go home. Don’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Don’t talk to them at all.” Shannon’s declaration was an attempt at an absolutist moral stance. In reality, it’s a black-and-white code that is impossible to maintain.
Complicating matters further is that Sweeney stars in Euphoria, a show that has particularly excelled in cultivating a fanbase that overidentifies with its characters, where its audience has built untenable parasocial relationships with its actors. It’s not hard to imagine these relationships extending to politics, where fans expect the actors to be more progressive than they actually are. Sweeney is in the news for not meeting this expectation, but she is far from the only Euphoria cast member caught in this web — Hunter Schafer drew heavy criticism for liking a controversial post a few days ago — but she is the most high profile.
As a consequence of the birthday photo controversy, Sweeney has seen an uptick in support from the right. Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren tweeted that Sweeney should “never bow or apologize to the mob,” while multiple right-leaning outlets also pounced on the story. Over the span of a few days, Sweeney has been turned into a site of clashing narratives even though she herself has said very little by way of political views.
Sweeney may well reveal her political allegiances one day, and people may not like them! But for now, all her controversies prove is that she’s caught on the wrong side of the expectations of performing celebrity. ●