Blame It On Social Media: Do Today’s Stars Need Old-School Etiquette Classes?
You may not have heard of her, but Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell was a model turned charm school powerhouse who set out to change beauty standards and the way people of color were seen in America. She taught dress and diction to the likes of Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll and Faith Evans, the same kind of etiquette that Motown offered its many acts back in the day. This was no Flavor of Love, TV-ratings type of charm school. It was the real deal. If DeVore-Mitchell were alive today, she could teach certain controversy-prone artists a thing or two about how to navigate the circus that is fame.
Case in point: Meek Mill. Where to start with him? Oddly enough, Meek was ordered to attend a $10,000 etiquette class in 2013, partly to ameliorate his social media habits (which an assistant district attorney insisted caused social media users to send death threats to the rapper’s parole officer). A judge mandated the class following an uncouth court appearance over a probation violation stemming from the 2008 gun and drug conviction that saw Meek serve about six months in jail. But if the last few weeks are any indication, the etiquette class didn’t work. Interesting, considering the fact that after he completed the course, Meek willingly hired his instructor, Gail Madison, for additional training. Apparently, thanks to Meek’s extensive foreign travel, he wanted to learn international etiquette. He might have that part of the lesson down, but Meek could use a refresher course in how to behave on social media. Yes, beef is to hip-hop what boy bands are to pop, but despite Meek’s best efforts to clown Drake, his tweets (and onstage commentary for that matter) left him looking rather foolish. But then again, maybe there’s no room for etiquette in today’s hip-hop.
There are many pitfalls and traps to fame, and I commend Meek for taking the classes in the first place. Celebrities today are in a whole new ballgame. Not only is there social media, but cameras watching, which in DeVore-Mitchell’s day solely belonged to paparazzi. That means anyone and everyone with a cellphone can record celebrities without their knowledge, and quickly upload damning or embarrassing footage online. While they shouldn’t alter their daily interactions for fear of the third party gaze, celebrities should be aware of the media’s penchant for reporting the minutiae of their everyday existence. Charm school is not meant to silence or rob artists of their rights or of their unique identities, but to help them stay out of trouble, present their best selves and keep the focus on their art.
Another charm school candidate? Ariana Grande. She’s young, and young artists often go to extraordinary lengths to prove to the world that they are indeed grown and can handle their own. But that’s not a good explanation for the behavior she’s displayed in recent months. Donutgate ring a bell? If Grande were in charm school, she might have thought twice about licking those donuts. It would have saved her a lot of embarrassment and kept her from having to issue an apology in the first place. While I’m on the subject, public apologies are so common today that everyone from pop stars to politicians issue them. But just like our overuse of antibacterial hand gel, apologies don’t always wipe the slate clean. I know that sounded a little awkward, but you get the point.
And there should be a separate charm school altogether for reality stars. They don’t reach the same worldwide heights as celebrities in music, film and television, and thus, have a different caliber of fame. But it’s fame nonetheless, and often for the wrong reasons. VH1 practically owns the reality market and has scores of shows that should require participants to take charm school as part of their post-show re-entry into civic life. Or at least a free sit-down with Iyanla Vanzant.
If given the opportunity to be famous, many of us might not perform or act so well under a microscopic lens either. Stars are people too – they make mistakes, they falter. But they are in the public eye and are therefore held to slightly different standards than us regular folk. Charm school might help them cope with those standards and have more fulfilling, long-term careers. And a lot less drama.
Who else, in your opinion, could benefit from charm school?