In recent news, Ray Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended due to a video being leaked of him knocking his wife, Janay Palmer, out cold. As you could imagine, outrage swept across the nation, with Rice being suspended from the NFL and having his contract terminated, all the while various groups across the social spectrum took to social media to condemn Rice and his actions. And this is not the only celebrity who has been caught doing this. Just a few years back, Chris Brown viciously beat Rihanna, with the picture of her battered face appearing all over every major news outlet.
My problem with this incident is that it is part of a larger societal disease: that of celebrity immunity. Whenever you hear of something happen to some celebrity involving the law, it usually (again, usually, but not always) dies down, and they receive either the minimal sentencing or none at all. Let us think back to Lindsay Lohan and all the times she was caught with some kind of contraband that would have landed any of us plebs a cold, hard sentence in the joint. In fact, I’m surprised TLC did not come out with a show with a title something along the lines of “19 and Counting: Lindsay Lohan Rehab Stints,” or something to that effect.
And these celebrities are setting a terrible precedent, especially for young and impressionable people. Take, for example, the leniency certain college athletes throughout the nation receive compared to normal people. According to the Benedict-Crosset study, seen as a leading studying in college athletics and crime, college athletes only have a conviction rate of 35 percent, and lenient punishment policies often allow perpetrators to go unaffected.
These players then graduate to the major leagues, where they believe they are above the law. Sorry, boys, you are not. At least, not in theory. But famous athletes and celebrities have this peculiar ability to escape convictions, either by paying for the best lawyer they can find, or issuing a pathetic public apology, usually followed by them “finding God”.
Maybe this frustration has to do with my general hatred of celebrity worship in our culture. Why is it that we worship caricatures of people we will never meet rather than those we will? Why do we consistently emphasize to our children and youth that success, wealth or superstardom are preferable to helping others, loving your family and friends and doing the right thing? As a tutor and young adult educator, whenever I ask my students something along the lines of who they want to be like when they grow older, the answer is almost never someone that they know. They always want to be like LeBron James, or Derek Jeter, or Rihanna, rather than a good teacher, parent, or some other person who may be dear to them.
Maybe the reason for this is that it is easier to be like someone who does not appear to have any flaws; had this video of Ray Rice never been leaked, thousands of kids would keep buying his jersey and people would continue to pretend to be like him as they run in a touchdown as they play football with their friends. But they do not get to see the dark side of him that is just under the surface, just like many celebrities. Unlike their parents, friends and teachers, these people look like they have nothing wrong with them, and it is a lot easier to want to be like someone you know only the good things of rather than the people who you know have both good and bad qualities.
But maybe we need to show our children that celebrities are people too. They have their flaws just like me and you, and that is okay. But we should not worship them, not in the way we do currently. Maybe we, as adults, need to set a better example than we are now. Because if we do not, I am afraid children in the future will not have anyone to look up to, least of all those they love the most.