2014 Symposium: Do celebrities have a responsibility to be positive role models for young Americans?

Myrtle Beach: It’s no secret that there is a problem in our society with “image.” Most Americans are interested, if not obsessed, with celebrities in general or at least a select few. In our digital age it’s very easy for us to stay up to date on the latest drama with Justin Bieber or see Lindsey Lohan’s latest mug shot. As a society we are obsessed! The problem with this obsession is that not only do adults have access to this, but our children have access as well. Our young, impressionable youth are able to stay up to date on the latest celebrity sex tapes. Ultimately, parents should be responsible. But in this digital age the youth of this country are constantly bombarded with celebrities.

Most celebrities didn’t “ask” to become famous, and yes, they are regular people who just happen to be followed constantly by paparazzi. However, as a famous person you are well aware that your image is distributed worldwide to adults and youth alike. Celebrities are fully aware that they are role models; whether they asked for it or not. With that said they have a responsibility. Just as our government representatives are responsible for their actions, celebrities should be accountable as well. I know everyone makes mistakes, but they still know right from wrong. Miley Cyrus was well aware that young girls look up to her because of her role as Hannah Montana. As such, these same girls saw her performance with Robin Thicke; a total disgrace. What message does this send? Unfortunately she didn’t break any laws, but as a person who knows herself to be a role model she should have known better. It’s not a written law but it’s her responsibility to be a positive role model.

I applaud the celebrities that are positive role models and use their fame to better society. Take a look at Angelina Jolie; she has made mistakes in the past, and yes her love life still stays in the spotlight, but she is an ambassador to many countries. She uses her status to educate and raise awareness. Also recently Emma Watson, known as Hermione Granger on Harry Potter, was named a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She has also been very open about her education and finishing college. These celebrities are aware of their role in society and have taken it seriously. They are making headlines for the “good” they do, not their DUI’s.

Is there a way to enforce this responsibility? No. Is there a way to hold celebrities accountable? No. Is this an issue that shouldn’t even be an issue? Yes. Celebrities are people, and as I said they know right from wrong. They are well aware they are in the spotlight. They are well aware that the youth of this nation and the world have access to their every move. As people they know their actions have an impact. This is not rocket science; if you are a role model, you have a responsibility to be a positive one. Simple as that.

Raleigh: American culture is obsessed with celebrities. Some of them such as certain athletes, singers, entertainers, and actors have true talents; others become celebrities for no discernable reason. Moreover, with the explosion of social media celebrities seem to be everywhere and practically not a moment of their lives remains private. Not only we are bombarded with paparazzi’s pictures of celebrities, but they themselves constantly post every minutia of their lives on such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The stories such as about rapper Chris Brown viciously assaulting famous singer Rihanna, Miley Cyrus’s tasteless and vulgar antics, Justin Bieber’s problematic behavior, Amanda Bynes’s mental meltdown and similar are constantly around us. Even if a person does not follow social media, a simple trip to the grocery store exposes one, including children, to the magazines with big pictures and headlines describing the latest celebrity’s faux pas. As such, celebrities might have big influence on young impressionable minds of American youth.

Do celebrities have to account for an effect they have on their fans? The website http://www.debate.org has asked this same question and the responses were such: 39 percent response was, “Yes, celebrities should be role models for people,” and 61 percent of people replied negatively. Most of celebrities argue that it is not their role to educate, influence, or otherwise affect their fans because their primary role is different (reality star, singer, dancer, entertainer, athlete, etc.). As such, they should not be held accountable for the actions of their fans just because the celebrities in question are in a public eye and some of their fans might follow their acts. As a parent, I happen to agree with this view.

First of all, I realize that my teenager is exposed to probably more celebrity news than I am comfortable with just because he is much more technology savvy. Then again, I trust that over the years I have instilled enough sense into him to uphold decent behavior norms and understand that whatever he sees on the net is not always cool. It’s not cool to be drunk, on drugs, naked in public, behave aggressively towards others or do some similarly embarrassing stuff. As such, parents can use celebrities as counter role models or positive role models, depending on the case.

After all, the biggest influences children have in their lives are those that come from their parents and their immediate environment. Those are controllable things and children largely learn from what they see and experience every day. Celebrities are not supposed to become major influences in any child’s life who receives enough attention in his/her family. As such, it is a task of parents, family, and community to teach a child right from wrong and not a remote celebrity’s ones.

Asheville: Human beings are unique in their capacity for adaptation. In any number of circumstances, they are able to adapt their cultural practices to fit with their surroundings. Few other animals can find themselves at home in so many different biomes. This adaptation is possible because we model the behavior we see.

While this tendency toward collective, social learning enables us to survive in diverse environments, it has the effect of magnifying the behavior of those who exist in the most publicity. Celebrities, whether we like it or not, serve as role models, both for children and adults. Tremendous media attention is paid to their every move and comment. They live their lives under a magnifying glass, where every misstep and poorly chosen word is dissected in a 24/7 news echo chamber. Their position in publicly visible spots magnifies the impact of their behavior, their tastes, and their pronouncements.

Frequently, people do not choose to be in the spotlight. Actors, athletes, and musicians have talents in their fields of entertainment, but often are very poor role models, particularly for young people. Their careful specialization in the field of their choosing has nothing to do with whether or not they are good people. In fact, their sudden wealth and prominence may produce behaviors that are very anti-social. It is not their responsibility to act better, but rather the responsibility of media and others who choose their publicity to find and magnify the good behaviors of other people.

Prescott Valley: Whether celebrities have the responsibility to be positive role models or not, the desire to be a public figure certainly throws them into that position. Their character and behavior is subject to extreme scrutiny by the media and their adoring fans, and though the actions of a number of celebrities are negative in nature, a positive and genuine presentation is more rewarding and valuable to young Americans caught in the trap of a materialistic world and celebrity worship.

Young and impressionable Americans longing for the life of a celebrity and all the material perks that go along with such a lifestyle, dream of their 15 minutes of fame, and they need to be awakened to the fact that their celebrity obsession is just that, an obsession.

Celebrities are responsible to relay to young fans that they are just regular people who have been fortunate enough to succeed in a very competitive business, whether it be acting, singing, dancing, playing an instrument, writing, artistry, broadcasting, participating in a professional sport, or entertaining in general. They must also convey that in most cases, hours of study and preparation went into their craft and the celebrity part sometimes came after years of limited to no work, other jobs out of their field, extended schooling and study, apprenticeships, working their talent and sharing the limelight with other entertainers, following strict work schedules, and repeatedly proving themselves with a constant stream of criticism and pressure concerning physical appearance, relationships, wealth attainment, and their own human frailties. Young Americans need to be aware of the issues that surround celebrities and that they don’t live a life of constant luxury and ease of living without considerable sacrifice in one way or another.

A true celebrity will impart character, self-confidence, humbleness, gratefulness, a work ethic, morality, and a caring and generous spirit that is easily transferable to others. If those qualities are apparent in a public enough way, young Americans will be able to see those qualities, emulate them, and apply them to their own lives.

As the late President John F. Kennedy once said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” That phrase can transfer to the presumption that a real celebrity is indeed expected to be a positive role model to young Americans, but it will take considerable effort to remove the selfish persona of celebrity and convince young fans of what a true role model is, and whether or not the particular celebrities they follow are role model worthy.

Cartwright: I would say that celebrities to some degree do have a responsibility to be positive role models. But there are two problems here. First, television and the media love to portray derelict celebrities as being cool and as being successful. This gives young people the wrong idea; they think they can be rich and famous by being derelicts as well. This is quite a moral hazard. Second, parents are the best role models for their children. They can’t subrogate responsibility for raising their children right and teaching their children morals and values to someone else.

There’s no doubt that celebrities have a tremendous influence on the youth in this country. Actors and athletes are in the spotlight. They get a lot of time on TV. Kids want to emulate these people. Kids see these people on TV and follow their lives online and social media. They see them acting like fools and disrespecting others and the law without consequences then the kids think they can do this too and also face no consequences. These kids get brainwashed in a way.

Parents and society need to do a better job educating children about actions and consequences. Kids see these celebrities as heroes. We need to better educate kids as to who the real heroes are. The actor or athlete is rarely the hero. The real heroes in this world are the teachers, the EMS responders and doctors, the police, the firemen, the members of the armed forces, and the veterans. Let’s teach kids to look up to these people, but it’s sort of hard to do that when the media in this country wants to push the actors and athletes in your face as being such great people.

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