News Sinead Moriarty

Saturday 23 August 2014

Is it fair to place burden of being a role model on celebrities?

Sinead Moriarty

Published 30/06/2014 | 02:30

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Madonna was a wild-child in her early days. PA
Madonna was a wild-child in her early days. PA

Can celebrities be good role models? Should they have to be? Former wild-child stars like the now mature and reflective Angelina Jolie and Madonna have raised awareness of important issues – Jolie by choosing to talk about her preventative double mastectomy and Madonna by adopting two children from Malawi.

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But while these grown-up celebrities are now 'doing good', the younger stars are finding it more difficult.

You can't help feeling sorry for all those young celebrities who found fame on the Disney Channel. They seem to get lumbered with having to carry that 'teeny-bopper' audience with them as they grow up. Even when the stars themselves are no longer teens and are trying to mature as entertainers, they are expected to remain teen idols.

It seems unfair to expect stars to tailor their work to a young audience for their entire careers. Their job, after all, is to entertain. Making a difference as role models is something they can do because they have the privilege and power to, but it's not something that should be required or expected of them, especially when most of them are still trying to figure out who they are.

Let's not forget, Angelina Jolie, now Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was once a completely wild child who took heroin and self-harmed.

Madonna, now earth mother, was considered a terrible role model when she first came on the scene. Her 'Sex' book caused consternation in this country, where it was originally banned (but secreted in by almost every heterosexual teenage boy and hidden under the mattress).

We are no strangers to our own wild rock stars turning into pillars of society. Look at Bob Geldof and Bono. They have campaigned tirelessly for Africa and, despite relentless criticism, haven't given up and continue to push for change.

Some people seem to like nothing better than to disparage them. We should be proud of the work they have achieved and the differences they have made to hunger and the spread of Aids in Africa.

It is impossible to deny that Geldof and Bono have been effective in directing money to dealing with AIDS.

For those who criticise them for partnering with certain politicians of dubious integrity (George W Bush for one) Bono has explained, 'either I work with George Bush or that woman dies of Aids and takes her children with her'.

Singers and actors got into their professions because they wanted to sing and act. They didn't sign up to be role models. That particular title gets dumped on them. Unfortunately for them, having their actions scrutinised is part of the package of fame.

I'm sure their large bank balances help to ease this discomfort, but for the younger stars, it must be difficult. Look at poor Britney Spears who had her nervous breakdown filmed live on air.

The media hounded her daily as she spiralled out of control.

They seemed to forget, or just not give a damn, that she had two small babies at home who will grow up and watch this sad period in their mother's life played out online. For those celebrities who wish to use their fame for good use there are certainly plenty of opportunities and they can make a difference.

People who are famous wield a lot of power. And with power comes the ability to change people, events, and history.

And many celebrities have used this power to good use – to combat bullying, to encourage young people to vote, to raise money after natural disasters, to stop domestic violence and to help the hungry, the poor and the oppressed.

But the burden of 'having' to be a role model can lay heavily on the shoulders of young stars. Unfortunately, they can't hide from it.

Recent estimates suggest that young people are spending about 50 hours a week on some kind of screen time – surfing the web, downloading videos, on Facebook, and following their favourite celebrities on Twitter. Katy Perry has over 53 million Twitter followers, Justin Bieber has over 52 million and Britney Spears over 37 million.

So, whether we like it or not, celebrities can influence our young people and the way they behave. It is up to us as parents to try to sway our children in the direction of the 'safer' and more worthy role models. But then again, what teenager ever listens to their parents?

Irish Independent

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