Jul 022007
Authors: Ryan Nowell

Recently we’ve had a rash of editorials on television, the internet, even right here on the Collegian opinion page, applauding Paris Hilton’s jail sentence. “Thank god!” it’s been exclaimed, “We’re sending a message! The days of celebrity privilege are numbered! Maybe they’ll start behaving like the role models they ought to be!”

So, I know the church bells are already ringing, and the ticker-tape parade’s a go, but am I the only one left that isn’t particularly bothered by celebrities being unaccountable, drunken train-wrecks?

For example, the idea of a reformed Charlie Sheen just makes me uncomfortable. That’s not the drug addled, porn crazed man America fell in love with.

I’m not saying it’s right for celebrities to have special legal privileges. It’s not fair they can choose rehab over jail sentences, or pick their cell if they actually do serve time. But they’re rich, and this is America. If you haven’t noticed yet, those two things lend themselves to rather cushy treatment. It’s not fair by any means, but that’s capitalism.

If we’ve all decided to be outraged about the gap between the haves and have-nots, though, perhaps we should be spending less time on innocuous dolts like Paris Hilton when this country practically hemorrhages white-collar Caligulas out to swindle, sedate, poison, or flat out bomb we, the plebian masses.

Take Alberto Gonzalez. He’s a big fan of water-boarding. Not the kind you do at the beach. And everybody wave hello to former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. There are lots of places Mr. Kissinger can’t travel to because he’s kinda sorta wanted for war crimes. Lots of places, actually. In a world of NSA wiretaps, special extradition, and eminent domain, I can somehow sleep at night knowing Tyra Banks is free to roam the streets.

And where did this expectation of celebrities to be role models come from? Is that the thing now? Simply being famous now requires you to lead a PG-13 existence?

Commentators seem to forget that celebrities don’t make themselves famous, we do. We go see their movies, we watch their shows, and we read the magazines that publish lists of what’s in their garbage, what appliance they threw at their adopted third-world rent-a-kid, what viscous fluid Paris woke up in a puddle of this morning.

We’re the ones driving the industry of obsessive gossip propping them up as the all-important center of the cultural universe. Before the editorial bandwagon gets bent out of shape over celebrity misbehavior, we should probably examine the far more disturbing trend – that we, as a nation, care way too much about what goes on in the lives of famous strangers.

But what’s that? Poor young tweens that are being misled by these celebrities? The kids, being young and impressionable, look to these famous faces for inspiration and direction are guided into a life of abusing drugs they can’t afford and attending wild Hollywood parties they live nowhere near?

First, there’s a lot more wrong with a kid than what Lindsay Lohan is doing this weekend if said kid is eagerly waiting to hear about it. If their judgment is so impaired that the closest thing they have to a role model is some strung-out actress trust-fund tart, there’s a large number of people failing this kid in more profound ways than Lohan ever could.

I think Iggy Pop is something of a demi-god, but does that mean I’m going to run out and shoot heroin into my ear because he did? Well…that actually sounds pretty cool, so maybe that’s a bad example.

Further, it’s interesting that it’s okay for kids to idolize these botox creatures, but the second one of these science projects takes the dream corvette out on the freeway with a pint of Jaeger in the passenger seat, there’s suddenly grave concern for what behavior the children might take to.

Expecting celebrities to overhaul their lives in accordance with some pre-approved, kid-friendly protocol is not only absurd, but wrongheaded. Famous people are not obligated to be living saints, or model citizens, or even decent human beings.

The obligation rests with us to think for ourselves. And if we don’t already expect that from our poor, impressionable children, we should probably start. It’s hardly asking too much. It’s a pre-existing expectation; that’s why everyone laughs when they see obituaries for kids that jump off the roof playing Superman.

Bottom line: before climbing on our soapboxes to bemoan the evils of pop culture miscreants, we should scrutinize the media apparatus that’s inviting us to make such observations. If we don’t like the way these stars are leading their lives, maybe we should put down the magnifying glass.

Ryan Nowell is a junior English major. His column appears weekly in the summer Collegian edition. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collgian.com

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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