The Price of Being a Role Model: Giving Justin Bieber Credit Where it’s Due

July 16, 2013
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Everyone’s dreamt about it at least once in their life: your name in a blaze of dazzling spotlights, hundreds upon thousands of people screaming for you and singing your lyrics, a whirlwind lifestyle involving different cities every night and invites to the hottest parties, your face plastered across magazine covers and websites…yeah, who wouldn’t want to be a pop star? Today’s society places quite a crazed amount of attention on the idea of celebrity, which is why those who taste those coveted drops of fame finds themselves underneath the scope of a white-hot spotlight…

…which brings us to the downside. Beneath all of the perks and heavily glamorized, public side of having your name in lights, there is a dark, rather daunting aspect to fame. Being a role model comes, sadly, with a very lofty price. And it’s high time the world comes to terms with this.

Let’s take pop superstar Justin Bieber as a prime example. At 19 years old, the Believe star has seen his life take an exponential turn within the last 6 years. Everyone knows the story of how Bieber came to fame: after posting a number of videos featuring his younger self belting out R&B hits, Justin was discovered by Scooter Braun, who promptly transferred him to the States and – through a mixture of raw talent, hard work and perseverance – transformed the Biebs practically overnight into one of the biggest young superstars the world has ever seen. Not only is he currently in the midst of his second sold-out world tour following the release of four chart-topping albums, but he is currently the most popular celebrity on Twitter, with over 41 million followers and counting. On top of that, it is reported that he has a net worth of $110 million. When one thinks of a global music phenomenon, Bieber is quintessentially that.

But Bieber pays a high price for his superstar status.

Indeed, there are not many who can say that they’ve never heard of Bieber, particularly as he acts as both a role model and pop icon to his legions of Beliebers, whom he refers to not as fans, but family. Naturally, with any form of fame comes jealousy, and jealousy is the first step to hate. Out of every young talent act in today’s Hollywood, Bieber is likely the most hated on, and a good amount of that hate stems from his place in the spotlight. Achieving fame means that every single one of your admirable actions and career moves will be broadcasted for the world to see – as well as your less admirable ones. And as Bieber is arguably mainstream’s biggest star, his actions are dissected by a bigger audience than anyone else.

That’s the problem. We as a society are so obsessed with the idea of fame and anyone who embodies it that we tend to forget that those blessed with the warm rays of the spotlight are, in fact, human. We place these enormous stars on a pedestal as role models for ourselves, for our children, and for humanity as a whole, and in the process completely disregard the fact that they are no more perfect than the rest of us and are bound to make mistakes just as we do on a daily basis. Being famous does not make you flawless. But unfortunately for stars like Justin Bieber, society has come to expect such a thing.

Take a posting on TMZ today. The notorious gossip website gave a report on a 4th of July party that Bieber attended with Selena Gomez, in which he was photographed clutching a Dos Equis beer bottle. TMZ reprimanded the star for drinking underage, and even went so far as to attack Gomez, saying “so much for being a good influence” as she reportedly “stood back and watched” Bieber boozing at the party. In my opinion, this was an unnecessary piece and quite a childish blow.

Yes, Bieber should respect the drinking laws of countries he’s in, but it should be kept in mind that back in his home country of Canada, he’s of age to consume alcohol legally. And what right does TMZ have to reprimand Gomez for not telling Bieber what he should or should not be doing? He should be free to make his own decisions, just as Gomez (who, by the way, turns 21 next week) should not be criticized for attempting to hinder such a freedom.

Many argue that, as a role model for millions of young people across the globe, Bieber should know better than to allow himself to be photographed consuming alcohol illegally. While discretion should always be used in public settings, we have to cut Bieber some slack. Let’s take a look at the facts – according to a survey conducted by the Core Institute, 84% of college students drink, whether of legal age or not. At 19, if Bieber were a normal young adult in the United States, he’d be in college right now, surrounded by a community in which more than 3/4 of the population drank. It does not seem reasonable to criticize him for doing something that most people his age are doing, anyway. And, whether we like to admit it or not, every young adult acts as a role model in some way. I know that while growing up I, personally, admired anyone in college, simply because they seemed so old. I don’t believe I’m the only one who thought that, or that my belief that most college students have at least one younger person looking up to them is absurd. As such, it doesn’t seem fair to make claims that Bieber is not allowed to act like everyone else his age and have a bit of fun every once in a while simply because he’s famous.

No, I’m not saying that people who are stars should be let off the hook or allowed to go crazy (and again, let’s give Bieber some credit here – has he gotten hooked off of ecstasy or cocaine, or shaved his own head recently? Do we see him stumbling out of clubs cross-faded at 4 in the morning on a frequent basis? No. On the contrary, he’s surrounded almost 24/7 by a very wholesome, hard-working team, which is something to be admired). It’s important that celebrities remember their place in the spotlight and the global influence they have (which they can use both to their advantage and against it), and maintain a strong set of values. But it’s our job as an audience and a society to realize how much we de-humanize those in the spotlight. If they put so much as a toe out of line, everyone in the world hears about it – and has something to say about it.

Think back to my introduction, when I discussed all of the aspects of being a pop star that everyone has dreamed about at some point or another: the flashing lights, the glitzy cars, the VIP treatment, everyone knowing your name…

…and now add this on top of it: Zero privacy. Your every move watched and photographed. Every decision you make scrutinized and dissected. Millions of people denouncing you as a “horrible role model” the moment you decide you’d like to go a few miles over the speed limit or have a beer on a holiday. Endless messages of insults and hate on your talent, your appearance, your voice, your friends, your everything.

Sound as appealing anymore?

Being a role model comes with a price. And it’s high time society started paying their share of it.

 

-Shelley DeHekker

@shelleydehekker

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