Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) -- After a day spent being trailed by a photographer who taunted him, mocked his clothes and hurled insults about his family, actor Jonah Hill had had enough. "Suck my d***, you f****t," he said to the guy, very likely giving the paparazzo exactly what he wanted: a reaction and a profanity-and-slur laced one at that. The entire episode was caught on tape and eventually aired by gossip site TMZ.
Hill soon after made the rounds with an apology for using the anti-gay term, telling radio host Howard Stern on Tuesday that he is heartbroken he used such a "disgusting and hurtful" term.
On "The Tonight Show," he told host Jimmy Fallon that "the word I chose was grotesque."
But while Hill is left apologizing -- and surely, there is reason for him to do so -- the responsibility was not his alone.
After all, the entire episode was a set up, encouraged by a culture obsessed with celebrities and even more obsessed with celebrities behaving badly and a gossip media that rewards those who capture it. The paparazzi have been trained to push buttons, and they've gotten quite good at it.
Unlike some stars who, it might be suspected, exhibit bad behavior to court certain attention -- Alec Baldwin could be one -- Hill's response seemed genuinely reactionary, born out of pure emotion and frustration. As such, it is not likely to reflect what he really believes.
Hill has been outspoken supporter of gay rights. Last year, he told E! News that "I have tons of gay friends, gay family members." Before the Winter Olympics in Russia, he spoke out against Moscow's anti-gay laws.
So why, then, was his breaking point reaction a slur?
It probably had far less to do with genuine homophobic beliefs than with power and a feeling of loss of it so profound that it inspired a response rooted in the same crude immaturity as that exhibited by his provoker.
The photographer, as seen in the video, was antagonistic, his behavior akin to the taunts of a playground bully, and in a way few adults exhibit, or experience, after childhood. And so, in finally responding after refusing to engage, Hill used language the man would understand and words that he, and indeed many, might never say as an adult, especially an adult in 2014.
He had a temper tantrum-like reaction, calling on words he might have used at a time he was most inclined to have such outbursts and tantrums, when such words were not OK but you were less aware of what they meant.
It's key to remember that celebrities are forced to endure harassment all the time now and bear the burden of the consequences, too.
In 2009, Jude Law allegedly hit a female celebrity photographer after her camera flash went off in his face, although he claims it was untrue.
Hugh Grant once threw a tub of baked beans at a cameraman.
Nicole Richie had restraining orders issued against two photographers who sat outside her house all day, but not until after she doused them with water for trailing her.
While celebrities certainly are not perfect, the ones caught on camera, and the ones largely condemned, are inevitably not the ones holding it.
To make Hill's comments reflective of how he feels about gays and lesbians unfairly turns the responsibility entirely on him when the real blame is in the culture that rewards those who provoke this behavior and choose to interpret it in the worst way possible.
By suggesting these comments indicate that Hill is homophobic, aren't we, in effect, saying that we believe that's what he meant because what else would he mean?
In the end, Hill has behaved after his outburst in the most appropriate way possible, expressing believable remorse, explaining the motivations for the attack but also noting there was no excuse for what he said.
"If someone says something that hurt you or angers you, use me as an example of what not to do," he told Fallon. "Don't respond with hatred or anger, because you are just adding more ugliness to the world."
Perhaps the celebrity media would be wise to do the same.
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