Saturday, January 13, 2007

Post No. 99: On The “Social Responsibility” of Celebrities

Disclaimer: Before I say anything else, I think I should state clearly now, lest I get “flamed” by her many supporters and fans, that I have nothing personally against Jasmine Tye. I am just using the belowmentioned news article about her as a springboard leading into the issue that I would be discussing below.

Earlier this week (specifically, it was this Monday, 8/1/2007), I found myself mildly surprised by this article in the Straits Times’ Life (“The skinny on Idols”, 8/1/2007) that reported that Miss Jasmine Tye, of Singapore Idol 2 fame, has become a spokesperson for the slimming programmes offered by Jean Yip Salon. I was surprised because it did not occur to me, while watching her on TV, that Miss Tye needed to slim down. But I was only mildly surprised, considering the precedent of Ms. Olinda Cho, from the first season of Singapore Idol, who also became a spokesperson for a slimming centre (which I cannot remember the name of offhand) after Singapore Idol 1 ended its run on local TV.

Well, I quickly recovered from my mild surprise to take a close reading of what was written in the abovementioned news article. According to this article, Miss Tye’s height is 1.58m while her weight has dropped from 50kg to 46kg. Having too much time on my hands that particular Monday morning, I decided to use these figures to calculate what is Miss Tye’s Body Mass Index (BMI). And, to my amazement, according to my calculations, Miss Tye’s BMI has dropped from 20.0, which is in the “acceptable” range, to 18.4, which is in the “underweight” range. In other words, according to BMI standards, Miss Tye had become “underweight”, albeit slightly, considering that the upper limit on the “underweight” range of BMI is 18.5. However, the worrying thing is that, according to the article, Miss Tye is hoping to lose another 3kg, which will, if she does lose it, then place her weight within the “anorexic” range.

Furthermore, it was reported in the article that though Miss Tye knew she was not overweight, she decided to go for a slimming programme because she was sick of being called by others as “plump and chubby” and as a “sphere”. Also, if the advertisement featuring Miss Tye, which appeared on the bottom half of the front page of this Monday’s home section of the Straits Times, is to be believed, Miss Tye was quoted to have said: “I was once called a ‘sphere’. But now, I feel and look a lot sexier!”.

Putting all this information together in my mind, an issue popped into my mind. And that would be the issue of the “social responsibility” of celebrities, especially those in the media & entertainment industry.

With regards to this issue, it is, I believe, the opinion of many that celebrities, especially those in the media & entertainment industry, have the “social responsibility” of needing to be prudent & proper in their behaviour and actions because, considering their status as celebrities and as idols to many, their behaviour and actions will have an influence on their fans, especially the young and impressionable ones, and on the public in general. In other words, society expect celebrities to refrain from certain sorts of behaviour and activities which are perceived to be “undesirable” and/or “bad”, lest the fans and/or impressionable young people imitate such behaviour from celebrities. Examples of such “undesirable” and/or “bad” behaviour which society expect celebrities to refrain from would include, but are not limited to, improper romantic/sexual relationships, law breaking, the use of obscene and/or vulgar gestures or language and, last but not least, being unhealthily thin. Thus, the “moralists” and strong feminists amongst us all may perhaps frown upon Miss Tye’s decision to participate in a commercial slimming programme when she was not overweight, for it is possible that she will be setting a bad example to her young impressionable fans [thankfully, Miss Tye is sensible enough to note that she would not want to lose weight to such an extent which will be detrimental to her health].

Yes, some of us may perhaps think that it is somewhat unfair to expect celebrities to be proper in their behaviour just because we do not want their young impressionable fans to imitate any improper behaviour from them. However, there are those who would argue that this “social responsibility”, though it may not be explicitly stated in any contract celebrities may sign, is nevertheless an implicit part of “celebrity-hood” (if you all get what I mean), that it is the price which celebrities, and other public figures, have to pay for their privilege of being famous. The issue of whether this is too high a price to pay is something which I will not be discussing as of yet but I suppose it is a question that all of us would have differing answers to, depending on how we all look at it.

Yet, while I may not be in total disagreement with the opinion that celebrities have a “social responsibility” they need to fulfil, I think we will be taking things too far if we expect that celebrities should not commit any sort of mistakes at all. It is one thing to expect celebrities to not intentionally engage in improper behaviour and another to expect them to be perfect. They may be celebrities but, in the final analysis, they are nevertheless still normal ordinary human beings like all of us who are susceptible to making mistakes and errors in judgement. Of course, I concede that sometimes, it would be most difficult to judge whether a certain celebrity is intentionally engaging in some form of improper behaviour or that it was a sincere mistake on his/her part. Here, the debate over whether Zinedine Zidane should have reacted aggressively towards Marco Materazzi’s provocation during the final match of last year’s World Cup is, in my opinion, a most illuminating case study.

Also, in my opinion, we would be unduly unfair to celebrities if we attribute the blame of causing improper behaviour in the youth of today solely to them. We should note that while it may be true that the improper behaviour of celebrities could have contributed to the presence of improper behaviour amongst youths (who, I suppose, form the main base of support for most celebrities), we would be overstating the case if we argue that they caused such a phenomenon, for there exist, as far as I can see, other factors which could also have contributed to this phenomenon of improper behaviour in youths. Thus, for example, while we may perhaps say that the use of violence by celebrities (in reel or real life) and/or the use of “violent” lyrics in the songs of certain musical celebrities could have contributed to an increase in violent behaviour amongst today’s youths, we would not be doing ourselves any favour if we fail to include other possible contributing factors into our analysis on how to resolve this problem and attribute blame only to what I would call the “Idol” effect (or, in cruder terms, the “monkey see, monkey do” effect).

Hence, in the final analysis, I think we need to understand that while we can expect much of celebrities, we cannot expect too much.

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