"You are a rude, thoughtless little pig. You don't have the brains or the decency as a human being."

Unfortunately, most of us know who said this and to whom. It's the same man who, just last week, was the subject of a first-person, 5,000-word cover story in New York Magazine entitled "Good-bye, Public Life." Many have mocked him, citing the irony of purportedly "leaving" public life by putting his face on the front of New York Magazine.

Most reactions to Alec Baldwin's latest move have been filled with contempt and criticism, and his past behavior has led some to claim that New York City shouldn't "cry for Alec Baldwin."

He's most infamous for beating up paparazzi, both physically and verbally, usually using frighteningly homophobic slurs. It's certainly difficult to move past the phrases like "F-to-M tranny" and "awash with gay people" that dot Baldwin's farewell opus, but it isn't impossible to empathize with a man who has, along with his family, been exploited by the media for years.

There is no reason — other than to bring in money for lurid enterprises like TMZ — that we should have access to a recording of a father's conversation with his daughter. Our obsession with celebrities, particularly actors, stems from the fact that we see them right at home, in our TVs, 24/7. It's easy to forget that on camera, they play characters who merely look like them.

Baldwin and others like him are still people with private lives that deserve respect. They just happen to have chosen a career that, by its very nature, puts them in the public eye. A photo of them next to a mildly controversial-sounding article title brings in more clicks than real news. A shot of them with their new significant other, or out shopping, or on the way to the gym, means money for people like Harvey Levin.

Every time we click a "Hollywood gossip" link or pick up a tabloid at the checkout line at the supermarket, we contribute directly to the continuing exploitation of celebrities' private lives.

Some, like Baldwin, react violently. Others — Shia LaBeouf comes to mind — resort to acts of passive-aggressiveness, like showing up at a film festival wearing a paper bag— with two holes cut out for his eyes and the message: "I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE" scribbled in black marker — over his head.

Yet others, Miley Cyrus for example, act out a kind of perfectly controlled rebellion in response to the attention they receive, going just far enough to ruffle the feathers of those watching but not so far as to offend anyone for more than a few Internet-sanctioned seconds. Perhaps because she's still so young, Cyrus defends her headline-making lifestyle relentlessly; she doesn't seem jaded yet.

The truth in all of these cases, though, is that we've grown so accustomed to celebrities being something to marvel at – available for our entertainment 24 hours a day – that we forget to respect the fact that they are people, too.

We don't mind joking about the appearance of a woman who could be any of our grandmothers. It's easy to blame paparazzi or TV commentators, but we play into the exploitation by being interested.

When we realize celebrities really are just like us, the way we treat them changes. Everyone can gain a bit from empathy.

Marianela D'Aprile is a fourth year in architecture. She can be reached at mdaprile@utk.edu.