Head to Head: Celebrity Status
Hasheel Lodhia & Amanda Mihoub Wright
McMaster Debating Society
H: In almost every society, there exist celebrity role models. Particularly in North America, there are hundreds of celebrities that are looked upon by millions of people of all ages. It is even more evident that younger generations are constantly bombarded with impressions of what to be and how to act. However, with this power should come a high level of responsibility and consequence. Kate Moss, Whitney Houston (R.I.P.) and many other high-profile stars have a history of cocaine use. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and several others have a history of drinking and driving. In many of these cases, little or no action is taken. They can expect fines (which don’t put a stress on their wallet in the slightest) and occasionally a custodial sentence. In the rare case that they are condemned as equals to the rest of society, their high-paid lawyers have no problem settling things out for them, and they continue doing what they do best – flaunting their lifestyle. What message does this send out to our youth? What internal and international image does it give of our country for placing people above the law due to their wealth and fame? Celebrities need harsher and more realistic punishments to show the public that their crimes are in no way acceptable.
A: I do not agree with Hasheel’s argument that celebrities, due to their status as “role models” and the fact that they tend to have more resources than the average person, should be punished more harshly. First of all, I take issue with the blanket use of the term “role model” when referring to celebrities. A role model is someone that people look up to, that they want to emulate in a positive way. Celebrities who have problems with the criminal justice system are not role models. These celebrities have displayed socially inappropriate behaviour, and even if they are not punished harshly for their offence, they are not given positive affirmation for their actions. In fact, it is always the opposite; their behaviour is deemed unacceptable. Also, though the media is a powerful force of socialization, people have many other influences in their lives, such as teachers, parents, peers, etc. It is more likely that a person steals a car because all of their friends are doing it than because they see a celebrity, who has done the same thing, receive a fairly light sentence for their actions. The celebrity is still being punished if they are fairly tried and convicted of a criminal offence. Celebrities aren’t the only ones with more resources than the average person. Wealthy people who are not in the public eye do too, and they also have access to better lawyers etc. Shouldn’t they be punished more harshly too, according to Hasheel’s argument? But, that doesn’t seem fair. This is a slippery slope, as every person is supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law.
H: Yes, celebrities who have problems with the justice system shouldn’t be considered role models, but the fact remains clear that they are. No pre-teen saw Lindsay Lohan in any less of a light after she got a DUI. Nor did their opinion change of her when she was given less than two hours of jail time, a small slap on the wrist, for a repeat offence (something that would not have been the case had any layman done the same). The purpose of the law is to reprimand those who have wronged society in a way that is proportional to the damage that has been done. I think it is extremely safe to say that an unknown homeless man doing crack in a back alleyway does not do nearly as much damage to society as a star of Jersey Shore snorting lines of coke on a hooker’s belly at a party, driving home drunk, feeling fly like a G6, and then having the details and pictures of their night plastered all over the media by the paparazzi. Yes, there are more influential roles in an adolescent’s life, such as parents and peers, but it is extremely ignorant to say that celebrities aren’t role models regardless of the bad personal decisions.
A: I disagree with Hasheel’s argument about the purpose of law. Laws are integral to the functioning of society; they facilitate social order. The concept of punishing someone in a way that is proportional to the damages that they have caused to society is not necessarily compatible with the idea of punishing celebrities more harshly for their crimes. The drug dealer who strategically befriends a vulnerable person just to hook them on drugs, or the drug cooker who actually created the drugs, is just as much, if not more, responsible for drug-related deaths and criminal offences than a celebrity who gets caught on camera taking drugs. Punishing a celebrity more harshly because they are in the public eye creates two different justice systems, which is detrimental to the functioning of society.
H: A celebrity is anyone deemed to be a national or international phenomenon, the world “celebrity” and “media” go hand in hand. The International Narcotics Control Board has openly stated that when celebrities take illegal drugs, it glamorizes them. Celebrities are not “normal” people. They are elevated above everyone else by choice. They enjoy greater benefits of society, but as a result, do more harm by condoning certain actions. However, it is not only the act that is important when deciding punishment, but the surrounding issues and context of the crime. A woman who takes drugs in front of her children is not only committing a crime, but setting a bad example, and should therefore be reprimanded further. Punishing individuals proportional to the damages to society is very much relevant to celebrities, who choose to live a life under the public eye. Just like how politicians are often scrutinized for their every action, past or present, the same goes for celebrities.
A: While some celebrities may glamorize drugs, others also demonstrate the horrors of addiction and drug use, and serve as powerful examples of the horrors of drug abuse. “Celebrity” is also a term that is hard to define; would it apply to everyone in the public eye? Locally known people as well as internationally known people? What about a popular teenager that everyone else in the school imitates? A two-part justice system would be difficult to implement; one could not come up with a fair criteria to make the distinction in every case between celebrity and non-celebrity, or to distinguish the level of influence that a particular person is exercising on others. It just simply shouldn’t be relevant whether or not a person is a celebrity or not; the punishment should fit the crime. When judges sentence a criminal offender, depending on the charge, there are certain guidelines that they must follow. The legal system has to remain fair and unbiased for society.