Millionaires and billionaires should have moral responsibilities.
I can’t believe this is a topic that comes up for debate. Hoarding an incredible amount of money does not exonerate one from social responsibility. And joining the echelons of the rich and beautiful shouldn’t herald the end of individual thought. We give beautiful people so many allowances in daily life, but those allowances come nowhere near the moral leeway we afford the rich and famous.
More often than not, when a celebrity expresses individual thought, he or she is censored or castigated and made to look like a monster. It happened when a select few spoke out against Chris Brown and his violence and anger issues. Usher commented on how Chris Brown should have shown remorse instead of riding a jet ski, after beating Rihanna, biting her on the face and neck, and leaving her for dead on the street. Usher was criticized for his comments and quickly issued an official apology. How rude to speak negatively about Chris Brown’s ‘private life’:
The celebrities surrounding Chris Brown have done nothing to indicate how monstrous and pathological his behavior is. Yet again, celebrities, along with our “justice system,” have reinforced the idea that if you are rich and famous you are above the law. ABC didn’t press charges against Chris Brown after he threw a chair into a mirror after an interview. This year, a spokesman for the Grammys had this to say about Chris Brown: “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.”
I am a believer in rehabilitation and personal forgiveness. If Chris Brown had changed his behavior, expressed remorse, and became a spokesperson for anger management and victims of domestic violence, I hope he would be forgiven. But Chris Brown has done none of those things. After beating Rihanna, biting her on the face and neck, and leaving her for dead on the street, he received probation and community service, the equivalent of a legal slap on the wrist, and took no steps to work on himself as a person.
Celebrities demonstrate the same kind of callous, manipulative self-censorship they displayed after Chris Brown beat Rihanna when confronting drug and alcohol addiction. They did it after the death of Marilyn Monroe. They’re doing it right now in the aftermath of Whitney Houston’s death as a result of alcohol and pill use. They are presenting her as an icon and a role model, and utterly failing to mention the destructive habits that contributed to the decline of her career and her health.
Whitney Houston was a drug addict. She was arrested multiple times for crack cocaine use and possession of illegal substances. She is not a role model. Yet celebrities have remained surprisingly silent about this fact. This silence speaks volumes.
The message celebrities are sending in their response (or lack thereof) to drug addiction is that people who kill themselves with drug abuse and egocentrism are to be valued and immortalized. You can be forgiven for you volatile behavior, poor parenting, and illegal behavior if you are “an artist.” What a terrible message to send young people who look up to you.
So why the silence? Is the fact that Americans value self-destructive celebrities evidence that we value success, fame, and beauty over almost all moral qualities? Do fame and money have morally transformative properties? Are people who are attracted to certain careers (acting, politics) more likely to demonstrate sociopathic tendencies and believe in moral relativism? All of these ideas receive some support in scientific literature.
But I’m still surprised by the pervasiveness of this silence. I find it odd that celebrities can pose in Playboy, be addicted to drugs, and demonstrate total disregard for others and still claim they are empowering women or acting as humanitarians or role models.
Every time I come across the rare celebrity running against the flock of the beautiful sheeple, it warms my heart. Not enough attention is paid to people like Robert Downey Jr. for the effort they put into getting clean, turning their lives around, and building successful, productive careers out of the wreckage that drug abuse can wreak on a life. I don’t find Taylor Swift particularly talented, but I started paying attention to her after she went on record saying that celebrities and musicians shouldn’t complain about having their picture taken by the paparazzi. She views such minor inconveniences to be part of the package of being a billionaire (since the “billionaire” package includes more than enough positives–power, voice, money, adoration–to outweigh the negatives).
It looks like the messages that need to be sent about real life are never going to come from celebrities, so the onus of responsibility will fall on us (normal adults) to teach children media literacy and set positive examples for what appropriate behavior is. Young people need to learn about the fallibility of humans and they need to understand how utterly destructive negative habits can be, even on “the voice of a generation.”
More importantly, we have to talk about the truth. And today, one truth is the fact that Whitney Houston was a beautiful singer and a drug addict.
What are your thoughts on why celebrities seem incapable of criticizing other celebrities for their moral failings?