What is the effect of society “gazing at the stars?”
By Jacob Foote
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, NEW YORK – Across the United States, and in fact the world over, celebrities are the focus of a huge proportion of the populous. Indeed, they have established a primary role in Western societies, be it in the form of role models or a source of entertainment. All the while they are paid millions for their work, or lack thereof.
In this picture celebrities are simply taken for granted as a social reality. However, they did not always appreciate a high status. Celebrities first began to garner mass fame in the U.S. during the Great Depression, as they represented the glamorous life that was, for the moment, out of reach. Even up to the present day, their image has not significantly changed.
Many people today have failed to ask the all too important question, given the presence celebrities maintain in Western culture: are celebrities good for society?
“Beyonce is very huge to me because we’re both from Texas, both the southern country girl, and both creole … I can see myself in her,” said junior Gabi Jackson. “You get to see leadership, feel motivated to do more than you’re actually doing, you get inspired, and you want to do better.”
“You always need someone to look up to and to lead the way and to set the pace for society to follow, and not the other way around,” junior Tohme Abounader claimed. “You need some social standards, some social norms and all that, and that’s where celebrities come in. They’re the status quo setters in a sense.”
Abounader is not wrong. Most activities advocated by celebrities further secure the status quo. When calling for resistance, they typically endorse a mode of protest incapable of affecting systemic change – that is, the consumption of a product claiming to be counter-culture. For example, the “This is what a feminist looks like” shirts flaunted by numerous stars not too long ago were produced in Bangladesh sweatshops by workers for little more than $1 an hour.
Dr. Doug Tewksbury, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, said he found it wrong for people to solely look to celebrities for their societal views. “There’s a lot of other people that are very qualified to comment on the things that are going on that actually make a difference in terms of the lived experience of people,” he said. “Celebrities can be an important part of that, but they shouldn’t be the only people that individuals follow.”
Abounader found some individuals to be in a constant state of dependency. “People generally in the public do not or cannot or choose not to think for themselves, and they need someone else to think for them,” he said.
“I think what’s difficult when it comes to following celebrities is that you can’t necessarily depend on another person, you always have to depend on yourself,” Jackson said in disagreement. “They make mistakes, you can’t always depend on them to do right.”
Jackson may have a point. After all, one of the functions of celebrities in the marketplace is the advertisement of products and certain lifestyles. These at times can be harmful for society. For instance, the mass consumption of goods endorsed by stars as part of the life of luxury has wreaked environmental consequences. How useful is a relationship in which someone is trying to sell something?
The relationship is unlike any experienced in daily life between friends and family. “In an era where so many things are visual, and so many things about the image, you need the positive image to be successful but also you need to construct your identity in a way that translates well to social media in order to harness the power of fame and celebrity,” said Dr. Tewksbury.
Independence seems like a good way to counter the issues of celebrity culture. As Jackson said, “You want to be in your own shoes and to follow your own path.”