There are two things that bother me most about the response to Chris Brown and Rihanna’s assumed reunion. One is the fact that people who looked at Rihanna like a trashy R&B wild child days before are now pretending to suddenly be so concerned about her emotional and physical wellbeing that they have penned open letters to her about her love life. The other is the idea that Rihanna owes it to young girls everywhere not to go back to the man who physically assaulted her because she’s a role model.
Let’s be real about something. Rihanna hasn’t had the potential to be a role model since she ponned de replay, and even then I’m not sure that’s what she wanted to be. But since the assumed good girl has obviously gone bad she has repeatedly shouted from the roof tops that she is not a role model, she does not wish to be a role model, and she will not adjust her life to be a role model. Why aren’t we letting her talk that talk?
I understand the logic that once you become a performer your private life and a lot of the personal decisions you make are put on display for millions of fans and the public at large to critique, but that doesn’t make you a role model, that makes you visible. I feel the same way when it comes to the backlash against rappers. Of course they could all stand to make the content of their music a little less misogynistic and a lot more purposeful, but can we really expect men who literally just stepped out of the hood and got $10 million dollars put in their pocket to talk about their life experiences to suddenly encourage behavior they know nothing about? I mean is there some sort of remedial thug program aspiring rappers go through once they get a deal? Of course not.
Do I think there is a certain amount of responsibility that comes along with being a person that influential? Yes, but only to the extent that if you are engaging in questionable behavior you should never encourage anyone else to do so, or suggest ridiculous things to minors (Too Short). Do I think it’s fair to put pressure on celebrities to lead straight and narrow lives to appease the images we want them to hold of them? Not at all.
Being a role model is an awesome responsibility that many are not cut out for and few have the ability to live up to. Do you consider every leader in your community a role model? What about executives on your job? Sure, tons of people take direction from these figures and look to them for guidance but when you think about the positive context in which the term role model is used, it’s a title we don’t bestow upon ordinary, everyday people hastily. They have to earn it. So why should celebrities be any different?
At some point we all have to take responsibility for ourselves and the influences we succumb to. And when it comes to adolescents and teenagers, it’s up to their parents to set appropriate examples of who to emulate and who to excuse. As someone who never got into celebrity worship, I’ve never expected anything more from the actors and musical artists I am a fan of to do anything more than entertain me. Sometimes they do it with their personal lives, but I only expect it from their professional ones. Sure, sometimes the things they do off-camera or off-screen disappoint me, but that’s likely because I created an image in my head of who they were in lieu of the ability to really get to know who they actually are. And that’s why a celebrity could never be a role model to me. I don’t know enough about them.
If you want to model your career off of a famous person who’s made it big in an industry with a talent you share or wear a design some singer rocked, go for it. But when it comes to romance, relationships, and the things that matter when the paparazzi are gone, it’s not up to an entertainer to lead you in the way that you should go unless they’ve demonstrated they want to because they have their fans best interest at heart and they have a lifestyle that’s worth modeling. Otherwise you’re on your own—as you should be.
Do you think fame automatically makes celebrities role models?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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