When the disturbing photos of a battered and bruised Rihanna were released online three years ago, fans and non-fans could sympathize with a woman who was not just a famous pop singer anymore, but now also a victim of domestic abuse. Ideally in cases of domestic abuse it should not matter who the victim is and who the attacker is. But our American culture is consumed by the concept of celebrity to the point that our allegiances to a certain famous person can cause us to abandon some of our strongest values.
Rihanna’s attacker was R&B singer Chris Brown, who recently performed and won a Grammy at last Sunday’s ceremony. It was his first appearance at the music industry’s top awards ceremony since the infamous incident with Rihanna, and so the incident was fresh on the mind of many watching. Unfortunately, the response by many of his fans about the incident continues to be a disturbing example of the power of celebrity allegiance.
Buzzfeed published a roundup of 25 tweets during the Grammys by women that all expressed how they would permit Brown to “beat them up anytime,” and some even expressed desire for Brown to attack them. These tweets are representative of a large group of Brown fans who continue to defend his actions. Many of these tweets were certainly done in jest and not meant to be taken literally, but they display a sense of toleration about Brown’s actions.
Many people seem to pledge allegiance to a celebrity and then look upon them as perfect people who can do no wrong. But this celebrity admiration blinds us to the fact that these celebrities are real people who have faults. When a person likes a celebrity they always seem to try to reinforce their fondness for that person by constantly defending their work, their personality or their looks. So when a person like Brown punches his girlfriend, those fans have an especially difficult time admitting their favorite celebrity has made a mistake. Similar reactions can be found with celebrities like Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson or filmmaker Roman Polanski.
All of the mentioned celebrities have worked in the world of arts and entertainment and accumulated fans that appreciated their work and looked up to them because of it. When Jackson, Tyson and Polanski were put on trial for things such as rape or child molestation, many of their fans attempted to justify the actions. Jackson was acquitted of his child abuse charge, but during the trial I recall talking to some Jackson fans either saying he was innocent before the trial was even finished, or even defending his alleged actions because of his troubled past. The only reason someone would defend such a thing was because they were blinded by their love for the celebrity.
It is important to know that just like the rest of us, celebrities are real people who can make mistakes. We look up to them as role models, and when they do something against our values or against the law, we would rather defend their actions rather than question their status as a role model.
People should take as a rule never to look upon a living person as a role model. We cannot choose to emulate a life that is still being lived, because that puts our lives at the whim of the life of the role model. Those who have passed, such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., the Prophet Muhammad or Jesus Christ, can be role models because we can look at their whole lives and decide if we want to emulate them.
That is not to say we cannot look up to people like Bill Gates, who are still living and are doing great inspiring work. Reuters reports The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $750 million to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria group last month. There are many great people living today, but we need to be aware that they can make mistakes. If a person like Gates does do something antithetical to our values, then we should not be afraid to call those actions out and separate his good work from his bad.
It is a dangerous path when our love for a celebrity leads us to defend domestic abuse, something that is almost universally accepted as wrong. I would not argue that those females who think Brown is an attractive man or love his music need to change their opinions on those topics because of his actions toward his girlfriend. But those females do need to realize that just because someone is good at one thing, does not make him or her good at everything else.