Luke Dillon shows us just how influenced we are by the stars of screen and magazine.
Celebrities’ exposure has understandably scaled new heights in recent times. Their personalities permeate deep into the public subconscious. However, isn’t it time to question if these people should be idolised to the current level of hype? Through their advice, their image and their example they exert their influence on the unsuspecting public… especially when it comes to health.
It is nothing new that people mimic the behavoir of celebrity. Why else would Armani pay David Beckham so much to strut around in his briefs? But it’s the heightened and hyped level and extremity of exposure that is new. Modern tabloid magazines and websites unearth every dirty secret these days, meaning that stars are no longer romanticised visions. We get the good and the bad, but we accept them both.
Isn’t it time to question if these not-so-ideal people should be idolised?
In the good corner: this system has been used to promote cancer awareness. Kylie Minogue’s reaction to her own diagnosis of breast cancer propounded an awareness campaign. A marked increase in screening attendance followed. Whether this was due to Kylie’s campaign or the explosive media coverage of her diagnosis and treatment is unclear – but the result is the same.
A further positive use of fame can be seen in relation to global poverty and climate change, potentially the two biggest science and health challenges of our time. Bono and Bob Geldof wax lyrical at every available opportunity about the plight of Africa. Like it or not, it must be conceded that world leaders place more importance on these issues such as AIDS and HIV because of these men, and that has to be a good thing. The same can be said of Al Gore and his documentary on climate change.
On the other side of the coin, much of the harmful influence of celebrity is not a conscious act.
The influence of a celebrity’s fluctuating weight is difficult to gauge. As is the reciprocal influence of modern media’s exposure of them, particularly young female celebrities. A new brand of tabloid compares them to each other by weight. The pressure this creates on girls reading the magazine and seeing emaciated celebrities is incalculable: “if she’s doing it and she’s so successful, then I should too.” It is a simplistic and sinister form of advertising.
Interestingly a strong link has been drawn between the issue of weight and increases in female smoking. Placement of cigarettes in film and television was drastically reduced when smoking emerged as a health risk in, an effort to de-popularise it. Any good that came from this policy seems undone in young girls now smoking more than ever to get cellsas thin as modern celebs.
It has been commented that the other forms of grim celebrity behaviour can also influence suicide. In the month after Marylin Monroe took her own life, the suicide rate in the US rose 12 per cent. A 2003 study by Dr Stack of Wayne State University reported an increase of up to 2.5% in the suicide rate following large-scale coverage of such stories. Prevention may lie in less coverage.
So who’s to blame for the increases in anorexia and suicide? Who deserves praise for increased rates of early breast cancer detection, tackling global poverty and climate change – celebrities or the media? Theirs is a symbiotic relationship. More importantly, does celebrity influence do more good than harm? The jury is still out. At the end of the day we control our own lives, not the media, right?