Today’s post is an article written by Gordon Manley, one of my students at the International School of Brussels. In it he shares his insights into pop culture, morality and the obligations of public life.
I watched Tiger Woods’ apology the other day, and I have to say I was dumbstruck by one of his comments. He offered a profound apology. He said he “let us all down.”
I wasn’t let down.
There seems to be a mainstream consensus that celebrities, or in general, people in the public eye (politicians, talk show hosts, prominent social figures) have an obligation to behave responsibly in their private lives. It’s as if they took a Hippocratic Oath of sorts to lead an exemplary life for all of us to follow. It’s an attitude that dictates that if you are famous or well known in general, you have a vital obligation to lead your personal life to the standards that the general populous imposes on you, whether these are religious values, common sense or just a difference in moral beliefs altogether.
There are few greater examples of human arrogance and self-importance than this phenomenon. It is simply absurd to think everyone has to abide by your morals and principals. The mainstream media is a perfect example of this. Mainstream news, both TV and online mediums, are obsessed with the private lives of celebrities. They greatly blow every scandal out of proportion. And they would never pass up on an inside scoop.
But let us return to the original issue here, do people in the public eye have a responsibility to behave in a responsible fashion in their private lives? I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. First and foremost, where did this obligation come from? Is there a law that dictates that when you become famous you are obligated to behave yourself in a fashion that the public sees fit? Let me explain why this is absurd from a pure moral standpoint. Firstly, to adhere to the original statement one must condone the imposing of one’s believes upon another person.
This is intrinsically wrong, we all live the way we want, we make our choices and we behave the way we want to behave. Yes it is perfectly acceptable to voice your opinion but it can’t be taken much further than that until it becomes a violation of privacy. In my opinion, you should only get involved in someone else’s personal matters if it threatens lives and you have exhausted all other possibilities.
I have never been a big fan of authority in general and this attitude is a perfect representation of how some people are so convinced that their moral beliefs are the only valid ones that they aggressively seek out others to harass until they accept their beliefs. I see no reason why celebrities are required to behave themselves in a responsible fashion, especially when their fame is usually derived from being irresponsible in the first place. Elliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan are all perfect examples of well known people who became front line news for weeks because of their scandals. It is as if we condemn their behavior while at the same time celebrating it by giving it so much attention. If the people who think celebrities should behave responsibly really want to be consistent they should stop dramatizing all of these events or even giving them any attention. Like many other things in our lives, this “obligation” that some of us have imposed on the famous came from nowhere. It is probably rooted in our arrogant beliefs that everyone must share my moral guidelines or be wrong.
However, this touches upon my second point, why would we want celebrities to behave in a responsible fashion? Some would argue they should because if they don’t it sets a bad example for those who adore those celebrities i.e. if Tiger Woods has multiple mistresses all young golfers who are fans of him are going to engage in extra-marital activities to put it lightly. But let’s face it; do they really have that much of an effect? If your child is so susceptible to change his actions based on the actions of his idol, then he obviously wasn’t raised correctly.
The truth is that most of time it is the fault of the parents, who spend more time complaining about the crazy actions and influence of the celebrities and the effect on their children instead of actually spending time raising their children. The best way parents can combat any chance of their child mimicking or somehow emulating the “outrageous” behavior of said celebrity is raise their child competently enough so that they don’t do anything so irrational.
I would also argue that people in the public eye have no obligation at all to live their lives responsibly. I believe all people should live their lives as they want to. Who are we to dictate what someone should do in their private life. We call it “private life” for a reason. I honestly don’t care if they are cheating on their wives or husbands. I don’t care if they’re gay, I don’t care if they do drugs. It isn’t our business, whether they decide that it’s wrong or not is up to them, it is something they must discover. These scandals and various other events are exaggerated and promoted to create controversy because controversy sells. I think if the celebrity of famous person continues to provide the entertainment or service without danger or threat, then it really isn’t my place to judge their personal lives. Our society judges personal lives more severely than anything else. Take Bill Clinton for example, the Monica Lewinksy scandal got a lot of attention and generated a ton of political flak against him that will last until he retires. However, when a president lies about weapons of mass destruction overseas, sends American troops to fight for the purpose of preventing an attack and kills thousands of innocent civilians in the process, he doesn’t even get a trial. It shows where Americans or the general public put their money and focus, they care more about someone’s personal lives, what religion they follow, who they marry, what friends they had instead of focusing on actual qualifications. For example if I were to ask Americans what legislation president Obama proposed and who his reverend was at his church, many more Americans would know the latter. It is here that society misjudges and places emphasis on the wrong things.
And until society in general accepts the fact that personal lives are irrelevant as long as they don’t interfere with the function of that person and that we are all peculiar and human, and then I will continue to argue my position that we have no right to judge those in the public eye anymore than we should be judged ourselves. Because we have no right, because we shouldn’t and because it’s useless. And most of all because it’s probably a distraction from the real issues going on. Just ask yourself. How many Iraqi civilians have died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003? How many mistresses did Tiger Woods have?
The above article, entitled “People in the public eye have an obligation to behave in a responsible fashion in their private lives” was orginially delivered as Community Meeting speech at the International School of Brussels on Friday, April 30th, 2010. Gordon graciously agreed to let me share it with you.