“Silence is dangerous no matter who you are.” – Melanie Ernestina
Many of us have shared our “two cents” regarding the roles celebrities and those in the ever-present public eye have in our lives- more specifically, the presence they purposefully and/or unintentionally have in influencing our every-day lives.
Ultimately, I find myself conflicted: I don’t know how to feel about the celebrities as “role models.” I know if I were a famous athlete/actor/musician I wouldn’t want people to look up for me as anything more than a hard-working and successful athlete/actor/musician; I wouldn’t want someone to buy the products or foods I purchase for my personal life just because they saw me photographed with it. However, unfortunately, respect of one’s craft and separation of celebrity are not mutually exclusive. I equally support someone like “bad gal Riri” [Rihanna] who openly gives not a single f*** about how she choose to live her life as well as someone like Zendaya who is very conscious and aware of the role she potentially plays in many of her fans’ lives; both young women are strong, powerful, beautiful souls for different reasons.
I grew up thinking my mother and grandmother were the world [and still think that] but I too “looked up to” some of the rich and famous such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Audrey Hepburn and Josephine Baker to name a few of my “idols,” however I was aware they didn’t live spotless lives; what they did live in was a significantly more shielded, private time. I still highly admire these women, each for different reasons but was able to recognize that no matter who I named as a role model, distinguishing their best qualities, it was up to me and only me to develop my own positive traits and meaningful life. Not everyone is as lucky as me to have such direct role models within their family and have to look to celebs; regardless of the decisions a given celebrity makes for themselves about where they stand in society and what they mean to their fans or the public in general almost doesn’t matter since a certain amount of reporting about their life choices will be shown in the media with or without their consent, and furthermore, they have little to no control as to how details about their lives are presented to the world. It’s complicated- this media age is still very new and we are all still learning how to navigate through it all, let alone function in it; the age of technology’s effects – short term and long term – are just now able to be measured and studied. Kristen Bell and Halle Berry may never truly win their fight to police the paparazzi and protect their privacy just like we may never have a correct answer to should/are celebrities role models.
Recently, the allusive Dave Chappelle – a celebrity comic who has infamously struggled with his famous livelihood and image – commented that he believes all in the spotlight of the public should put forth greater efforts in speaking out on their beliefs- specifically, more celebs should come out in support of the socioeconomic and political platforms of the Black Lives Matter movement; I could not agree more.
This may sound like a contradiction to the hesitancy expressed previously regarding celebrities as role models or not, however, I considering the support of large number or human beings versus one’s decision to use morning sickness pills as exclusive from one another. Should a celebrity catch your attention with a product they use or a diet fad they’re into, I think it’s responsible for one to instead of blindly following a stranger’s lead [yes celebs ARE still strangers, despite what you think you know about them] and research said interests before using/ consuming said interest yourself.
Snoop Dogg, Zoe Kravitz, Matt McGorry, SZA, Cara Delevingne, Laverne Cox, Joan Smalls, Zendaya, Jesse Williams and Yaz the greatest from Empire are a handful of celebrities I follow that I’ve seen express their beliefs regarding topics such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter and more; from what I’ve seen, for every ignorant, uninformed, hateful comment there are dozens of supportive, factual and educational rebuttals on these celebrities walls/comment sections/feeds. My point being, there is a necessary and critical dialogue happening. However, though the formerly mentioned are stars in their own rights, stars I like very much, and there are dozens of others like the that have expressed interests in current events, it can be argued that not enough real superstars are actively in the forefront. I spoke with Melanie Ernestina, dear friend and curator of Use Your Skin, the Tumblr campaign dedicated to encouraging the public to use the privileges granted to them at birth for the greater good of the world, about her sentiments regarding celebrity involvement in activism of any kind.
“If Taylor Swift tweeted [just once] ‘Black Lives Matter’ and joined the campaign, all her [fans] would hopefully research and learn a thing or two about their privilege. We know [young girls] are capable of cutting themselves over Zayn leaving One Direction, then surely they can feel enough sympathy for this movement. Sandra [Bullock] where are you at? You have a Black son- they will come for him when you’re not by his side. Tom [Cruise] Where are you? Stop making Mission Impossible films and stand up for your Black son. Angelina [Jolie], you have the whole world represented in your family, including a Black daughter; where is your mouth?”-Melanie Ernestina
I can’t help but to agree with her- where is Charlize Theron, Madonna, Steven Spielberg? All of whom are superstars in my opinion as well as the parents of Black children. In specific regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, this is not to say they are not opinionated- I truly believe that most people, celebrity or not, are at the very least uncomfortable by the frequent killings being committed by what should be our trusted and safe authority figures, but I think people are scared; anytime opinions are expressed, so is vulnerability and unfortunately, the two go hand and hand. One is not allowed to express opinion and not be met with argument as you’re subjected to be judged for said opinion.
I think people like Chappelle, Ernestina and myself would like to see more people in important positions of power use their influence to insight change. I know Taylor Swift cannot march into Congress and demand the laws that I want to see come to fruition, but what superstars like her and others can do are talk and show their adoring fan-base that speaking out against or simply asking questions about injustice of any kind is needed.
Again, is it an unfair burden to bare to have the public rely on celebrity culture to inspire political and social change? Sure; but it is unrealistic to act as if the compelling force celebrities unconsciously and consciously have in our lives and in media and in society is anything but colossal.
Silence is safe but is also detrimental. Silence can be more damaging than wrong or ill-conceived actions and no one wants to be ignored.
To read more regarding Chappelle’s comments see here.
Use Your Skin is rooted in the idea that we all have different privileges and can use said privileges to better the lives of others. Follow Use Your Skin here.