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Sunday, 17 February 2013

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Should celebrities be role models?

Celebrities as role models has become a very serious topic of discussion in this age, especially with the onset of the television into a majority of households. In the Sri Lankan context, notwithstanding the famous soap advertisements that featured prominent female stars which long preceded it, it was in the early eighties that the Rupavahini was established to beam TV signals across the country.

A popular film star advertises a branded ice-cream

Much water has since flown under the bridge of communication and entertainment, and today it seems as though ‘role models’ are popping up everywhere, making it all the more confusing to youngsters.

Now that the television has become just another parallel source of entertainment and information along with the Internet, one can say there is a perennial supply of ‘role models’ from every corner of the globe to every nook and corner on the face of the earth.

Times were when the role model to any child was his/her mum or dad, an uncle or aunt or a grandparent. There were no external distractions such as the spate of entertainment shows, projecting artistes more than themes or messages.

Even before your toddler learns to pick up the first few values from you, he/she is already into the world of famous cricketers who, when they are not wielding the bat or ball, are invariably urging your little one to shun that glass of milk and go for that cola, just like everyone else around him/her in school seem to be doing. Your toddler has already begun to doubt your wisdom. How can you say that, when Sanath’s sixes are the result of his binges with those drinks? Well, before you know it, the child has learnt the first ropes of soft disobedience, thanks to celebrities.

It is hard to avoid news of celebrity antics, whether or not one is interested in them. Celebrities are generally thrust into the public eye because of a particular talent, but once they are in the public eye, every aspect of their behaviour is under scrutiny. With so much exposure to celebrities, the public could well be influenced by their behaviour (or misbehaviour).

Media influence

According to the social learning theory, humans learn about the world by observing the behaviour of others. By watching the effects of certain behaviour and examining personal responses, people decide on their own values about behaviour. Logically, people are likely to imitate the behaviour which they associate with success, or successful people.

A British study found that celebrities are seen as being “higher status or more successful others” which means that people are more likely to mimic their overall behaviour pattern.

Sometimes, this responsibility is brought to the celebrity’s attention explicitly. The Australian Football League tells each intake of players that they are role models. They also support the training of indigenous athletes to become role models for indigenous young people. However, celebrities themselves are not always eager to accept role model status.

Shah Rukh Khan, for example, in a TV interview, talking about the public spat he had with the security guard in the Wankhade Stadium, said he did not want to become a youth icon or a role model as he was primarily an actor and his job was to act!

Viewpoints

There’s simply no escaping the mass marketing of today’s celebrities. This is especially true for the Generation Y (those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s). This generation is more tuned into the media simply because so much media is available to them. Therefore, young people are most likely to be observing celebrity behaviour, and at a time in their lives when they are still forming their values.

A few years ago, an investigation was conducted to find the effect celebrity athletes have on the consumer behaviour of Generation Y members. The results showed that athletes can have a particularly strong influence on young people in terms of their desired career or their studies, and how they see themselves. They also found that teenagers looked up to celebrity athletes for what’s “cool” in products and brands.

The coach has become a role model to the children

Most research seems to focus on celebrity influence on young people, but results from another study showed that older generations were also interested in celebrity gossip because it made it easier to “form social networks” with others.

Though celebrities are examples of success in a specific role, they may not be the best choice for instilling moral values. Many celebrities openly pursue the very traits that many parents hope to keep their children free of: greed, selfishness and sex appeal above all other attributes.

Adults who spend their lives being lacquered with make-up and presented before cameras should be suspect to parents who want to instil authenticity and sincerity in their children.

The question is, Should the celebrities not understand the onus on them to behave in a socially responsible manner? There are three viewpoints on this issue. One group maintains that it is the high profile that one gets from power, fame, money and influence which causes the celebrities to behave badly. It is not fair to view them as role models. We are being too harsh on our celebrities who are, after all, human beings first. Celebrities are not the elected representatives of the people.

The second viewpoint goes like this: Celebrities may not have been elected by the people, but they have made themselves what they are. Socially responsible behaviour should be expected of them since thousands of people idolise them.

The third viewpoint is that hero worshipping and idolising stars are practices of yore. Youth today have their heads firmly secured and know exactly what they want! A grade 10 student told me, “More than the film stars, we look up to real heroes as our idols. Film stars are only entertaining and that, too, for a while. We are aware of the fact that their reel and real life are two separate issues.”

The icons of the 20th century were less of names and more of success models such as power, fame and money. Be it in politics, religion or the entertainment industry, the black and white distinction between the good, the bad and the ugly are changing into a deep black shade of grey; and today’s youth are fully aware of the choices that lie in front of them. People become celebrities because they have some talents or maybe they’re just attractive and have good connections, but they wouldn’t become idols.

Big impact

A smart young woman working as a management trainee in our company has an interesting point to tell us. She says, “I love to listen to music, go to movies, and read the latest issues of magazines. However, I admire people such as my parents, grandparents, brave men and women and teachers who made a big impact on my life. People I knew and trusted helped shape my goals and decisions.

“I still hold pretty much the same opinion. Some of my role models hold “celebrity” status, but that isn’t why they are my role models. People become celebrities because they can sing, dance, act, or maybe they’re just attractive and have good connections.

They don’t always become famous because of their values, morals, or contribution to society. It’s true that their careers put them in the public eye constantly, but they’re still learning as they go, like all teenagers. We all make mistakes growing up - it’s just that their mistakes are on display in the gossip columns.

“I grew up in the Britney Spears generation, and I have yet to make her mistakes. In fact, perhaps, some celebrities show us what not to do.”

Here is a young woman who is intelligent enough to see reality. But, what about others? I believe that it is our inability or lack of concern in questioning the qualifications of people to be celebrated. This, in turn, represents an increasingly deadly phenomenon, as it is self-evident of a society.

As our lives become more and more difficult to comprehend, we become so accustomed to retreating into our illusions that we forget we have created them ourselves. We treat them as if they were real and in so doing, we make them real. Image supersedes reality. Synthetic celebrities become the personification of our hollow dreams.

 

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