Two weeks ago, Bam Margera, a former star of MTV’s “Jackass” and “Viva la Bam,” was in a Pennsylvania courtroom after an alleged physical altercation with his brother, Jess.
Margera turned himself in and, accompanied by his attorney, Michael van der Veen, pleaded not guilty and was released on $50,000 bail.
In an interview, attorney van der Veen discussed the complex intersection of celebrities and the law.
The unprecedented level of scrutiny with which we observe celebrities today often causes us to overlook the positive effect they may have while amplifying rumors of their alleged misdeeds. The rise of social media has contributed to this, fueling a rapid and often premature rush to judgment that can spread false accusations and incomplete information.
The rise of social media has contributed to this, fueling a rapid and often premature rush to judgment that can lead to the spread of false accusations and incomplete information.
In Margera’s case, a dangerous narrative quickly formed and spread within 48 hours after the alleged events.
After an alleged physical altercation with his brother, TMZ reported that Margera had reportedly fled the scene, a home owned by Margera.
Reports circulating on social media suggested that Margera had disappeared into a nearby wooded area. However, these reports were exaggerated and amplified to the point where people made inappropriate jokes, likening the situation to O.J. Simpson’s infamous white Bronco chase.
Yet, the reality was far less dramatic than the fiction that filled social media.
“People should know that this is very much a run-of-the mill case,” van der Veen said. “There are allegations of a Sunday morning family dispute that resulted in very minor criminal charges, of which my client is presumed innocent.”
Where our constant appetite for celebrity comes from is a longstanding open question. We have proven to have an insatiable appetite for the legal woes of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, Britney Spears, and even people such as Elizabeth Holmes, whose celebrity comes entirely as a byproduct of her downfall.
Van der Veen said: “In situations like this where there is a family dispute, with celebrities particularly … it’s our goal to allow the high-profile and celebrity people, for this phase of their lives, to be normal people.”
Yet, a simple request that a celebrity be afforded the grace of being treated like any other person in the same situation overwhelms us because of our flawed conceptual relationship with celebrity.
We consume celebrities in a literal sense. We pay to see and critique what they create and feel a sense of ownership because their existence is empowered by our consumption. The MTV “Jackass” franchise, we reason, would be a bunch of still-unknown skaters were it not for the attention given by the collective “us.”
In practical terms, the end result of our relationship with celebrities empowers the creation of alarming and sensationalistic articles.
Because these pieces are fundamentally clickbait, minimally vetted by publishers’ legal teams to ensure that they don’t cross the line too often to legally actionable defamatory content, they create a social media tire fire, the toxic fumes that harm us all.
But what is fair for celebrities, according to van der Veen, is to have “the court systems and Lady Justice herself handle them without their celebrity and their notoriety and treat them as equals with everybody else.”
Again and again, we lose the thread here. We watch, we judge, we stare at our small phone keyboard, and often say small things, forcing people who should be afforded the courtesy to deal with personal and legal issues in a more private way to do so under intense and unfair public scrutiny. We rationalize that it’s a necessary condition of their celebrity, yet we fail to realize that it’s one we created.