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
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
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
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!
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
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
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 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
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
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.