Celebrities looked to as the carriers for social movements
People often criticize celebrities for not using their status to discuss politics or important issues like women’s rights or gun violence, simultaneously criticizing them for the stances that they do take. Celebrities throw around phrases like, “I’m just a person,” “I’m just like you,” “I’m normal.” While this may be true in that celebrities are not necessarily built differently than other people, our culture isolates celebrities and examines them so closely that their actions and words are criticized in every capacity possible.
The Kardashians are celebrities that are often criticized for being unaware of how their actions might contribute to a conversation. The youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner family, Kylie Jenner, caused an international uproar when she posted Instagram photos sporting cornrows on July 11, 2015. The photo was liked by over 1.4 million people and commented on by over 176 thousand people.
Amandla Stenberg posted on her Instagram in response to Jenner’s braids. “When you appropriate black features and culture but fail to use your position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards your wigs instead of police brutality or racism.” It’s important for celebrities to be aware that even though they are not using their voice to contribute to a conversation, their actions sometimes speak louder than words. In Jenner’s case, it’s important for her to recognize that being a white woman posting a selfie in cornrows does make a statement, and it does contribute to a conversation about appropriating black culture.
Instead of acknowledging the conversation Jenner was — intentionally or not — placing herself in, she instead chose to “clap-back,” a term coined by rapper Ja Rule, referring to returning a diss. Jenner responded by posting a tweet stating “Mad if I do…mad if I don’t…” The tweet, though shedding light to the constant criticism, serves in humanizing Jenner, and reminds her followers that at the end of the day, she is a 19-year-old girl capable of making mistakes. Ultimately though, it’s interesting to note that when Jenner was given a direct opportunity to speak up about Black Lives Matter and police brutality, or give support, she instead decided to clap-back, once again not realizing the potential power of her voice and failing to utilize her platform for good.
In contrast to Jenner’s silence on important issues though, are celebrities who attempt to join conversations through slacktivism, which may be equally if not more damaging. Beyoncé is a celebrity that young women think of when they think of female empowerment and feminism, but what has she really done to support women’s rights?
“How to Reclaim the F Word? Just Call Beyoncé ,” was Jessica Bennett’s headline for a TIME article about Beyoncé taking feminism to the stage, when at the 2014 VMA’s, Beyoncé preformed underneath the word feminist. Because of this visual, people had internalized Beyoncé as a champion of women’s rights, brainwashed to some degree by the shock-value of the performance.
However, Beyoncé has in fact actually contributed to shaming other women. In her song “Partition,” Beyoncé sings “he Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown,” shaming Lewinsky.
Lewinsky wrote in response to Beyoncé’s lyric in her Vanity Fair article. Here Lewinsky criticizes Beyoncé because instead of blaming Clinton, Beyoncé shamed and blamed Lewinsky, although maybe unintentionally. Monica Lewinsky discusses in her TED Talk, The Price of Shame, how difficult it was for her to become a punchline, and unfortunately Beyoncé’s voice, and lyric further perpetuated Lewinsky as a punchline, which doesn’t align with feminism or female empowerment.
It’s hypocritical of Beyoncé to claim she represents feminism, and then contribute to publicly shaming a woman who has already been shamed internationally, it is also unfair of society to expect Beyoncé to entirely represent feminism. After Beyoncé sang underneath the word feminist, although she hadn’t necessarily done anything for women’s rights, she did raise awareness on feminism — but this is not enough.
When Laila Ali visited Ithaca College’s campus in late September, she was asked a question by a student about supporting Black Lives Matter, and in response she stated she was more of a fan of “All Lives Matter — Including Black Lives.”While Ali is entitled to her own beliefs, she shouldn’t be expected to speak for all black women. Her words were criticized because, as a successful famous black woman, she also refrained from using her voice to shine light on the Black Lives Matter movement, especially on a campus that has dealt with many conversations and conflict on racial inequality and racial tension on the campus within the last year.
The students seemed more in awe by Ali’s celebrity, that they weren’t able to critically analyze what she had said, similar to how the millions of people who watched the VMA’s were in awe of Beyoncé’s performance. They didn’t stop to think about what Beyoncé had actually done for women’s rights, or what exactly made Beyoncé a feminist; they just blindly accepted Beyoncé as a feminist — similar to Kylie Jenner’s 80 million followers who still follow her despite the meaningless content she provides. It’s important for people to call on celebrities to use their voices as there is so much more they can do with them, however, it is also equally important to not blindly follow celebrities’ voices, but analyze them as though they weren’t celebrities. It’s no longer enough for celebrities to merely raise awareness.
Tatiana Jorio is a second-year film, photography & visual art major who think it takes more than one person to move a mountain. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.