It’s no secret that America has an obsession with celebrity culture. You can’t go 60 minutes within the 24-hour news cycle without hearing something about a celebrity’s personal life shared either through CNN or the latest viral tweet. Whether their fame comes from entertainment, sports, or other things, their influence affects everyday culture. But should a celebrity’s popularity automatically force them into a role-model position? Are the qualifications of a role model coming from having a massive platform, or is society using the celebrity as a scapegoat for social issues?
In his prime, NBA legend Charles Barkley could never be a disappointing role model thanks to his infamous “I am not a role model” commercial which denounced the idea that he owed anything to anyone except a good game on the court. In the Nike ad Barkley claims, “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kid,”with a bold truth that was authentically him. Barkley’s sincerity wasn’t so much admired, but it was respected—more than the pro athlete(s) who would be arrested for using the same drugs that they had told a generation to “Just say no” to. The lesson from Barkley was to never expect more from an individual than what they explicitly promised.
When CNN anchor Don Lemon stated that celebrities should speak out on the nationwide protest response to the murder of George Floyd, his opinion represented many who feel that it is a celebrity’s duty to use their platform to speak on social issues. However, in Dave Chapelle’s 8:46 special, his response to Lemon is, “This is the streets talking for themselves.” Lemon’s statement bypasses the actions of the people who were already speaking out against injustice; their voices hold no less value because they’re not famous. The parents/guardians who are the role models within their own homes—along with the youth—are taking action into their own hands, and any celebrity help is accepted but not required for change to happen.
Authenticity matters because the declarations of a person—celebrity or not—mean nothing if their actions do not match their words. What is the value of Kanye West’s $2 million donation to the legal fees of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor if he’s still going to vote for a president whose policies support the same type of law enforcement responsible for murdering unarmed black people? Instead, give me Lebron James who is vocal on social issues and is an inspiration to a younger generation. James’s many charitable actions always back up his words, such as helping to create a voting rights group that will get black people to the polls.
Historically, societal change has consistently come from ordinary people. So, while some dispute the merit of one famous person over another, we should remember that celebrity assistance is a bonus—not a necessity.