Celebrity Behavior

As an avid consumer of entertainment news, I have found myself wondering how celebrities fit into the theoretical framework we have studied in this class. What would Emerson say about today’s most infamous icons? Would Shklar regard them as citizens? In this post, I will run through several key points of our curriculum, and note where celebrities fit in. I welcome feedback and suggestions for how to further this critique.

Civic Republicans or Classic Liberals?

I don’t think many would disagree that celebrities are classic liberals. Although many of them publicly support philanthropic causes, their ultimate priority is to themselves. We are often shocked when celebrities reveal themselves to be devoting their earnings to people other than themselves, like Lady Gaga’s recent statement about how the majority of her earnings support her father. They are not working on behalf of the community, they are working for Oscars, for Tonys, for Grammys and Emmys and Golden Globes. Some may argue that they work on behalf of saving the arts, but let us not forget why they want the arts to be saved: so they can continue to work.


Shklar would likely not be able to deny that celebrities are citizens, though she may be tempted to group them with the “idle” bunch that she discusses, who do not work. This critique may apply to “old money” celebrities, including heiresses such as Paris Hilton, who do not need to work in order to have earnings (though Hilton considers herself a businesswoman). However, celebrities do earn, and for the most part, they have the right to vote, so despite the frivolity of their work, they would be citizens by Shklar’s standards.

Emerson, on the other hand, would cringe if he knew how celebrity culture functioned today, for the name of the game is always recognition. There is no silent church, no retreat into nature; the only escapes that we see celebrities engaged in are a retreat to either a vacation home in the Hamptons or St. Barts, or to rehab. There is no exploration of the self, unless Emerson would count yoga. They do not subscribe to his credo from Self-Reliance “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” for their self-esteem is rooted in ratings and money brought in. Everything is about property and ostentatious displays of wealth.

Breaking the Law

It’s no secret to any of us that celebrities often see themselves as above conventional laws and morals. Just a few examples: Alec Baldwin was recently kicked off an American Airlines flight after refusing to turn off his phone before takeoff, Miley Cyrus has been far from subtle recently about her drug use, and Brooke Mueller was just arrested for cocaine use. Despite their knowledge of the rules, celebrities engage in illegal or simply disruptive activity, with full awareness that not only can they get caught; their transgressions will be aired to the entire public through the media. In some cases, like Baldwin’s, they deflect blame to others.

Lincoln would roll over in his grave. Although celebrity misbehavior does not always call the people to arms to break the law together, it does set a supremely negative example and indicate to people that disregard for the law is acceptable if you are powerful enough. He declares in his Lyceum Address, “by such examples . . . the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice.” When they act as though the law does not apply to them, particularly for the reason of self-satisfaction – not even for the purpose of trying to change a law – they are showing a prime example of the detachment of people from their government.

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3 Responses to Celebrity Behavior

  1. lgeorge905 says:

    This is an interesting topic. I disagree with the way in which you generalize all celebrity behavior. First, you make the point that all celebrities are classic liberals, because their ultimate priority is themselves. In this example I fail to see the difference between an average citizen and a celebrity. I think the majority of citizens (some would say all citizens) are ultimately considered with their own well being. I don’t think many would argue that celebrities work on behalf of saving the arts; rather, I think more would argue they work on behalf of creating art. Sure, there are countless examples of celebrities interested in only a paycheck, but there are also plenty of examples of celebrities choosing projects that pay little to nothing. This is not altogether different than the choices an average person would make, it just happens to be made in the spotlight.

    On the topic of citizenship, you mention the “frivolous” work that celebrities do, yet I think the majority of celebrities are doing meaningful, purposeful work. I think the difference here is that you are focusing on the tabloid driven, sensationalized stories about celebrities. You remark that celebrities rarely engage in exploration of the self. How you can know this I’m not sure. With the majority of celebrities being individuals who became famous for doing something “different”, I’d have to imagine plenty are introspective.

    Finally, on the subject of breaking the law, I’m not sure I’d agree that celebrities are more prone to break the law. I think we simply hear about it more because, well, they’re celebrities. Perhaps a small portion of celebrities break the law because they believe they’ll get away with it, but I bet the vast majority are law abiding citizens.

    In summary, not every celebrity is Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton. In fact, I presume most celebrities are just like us. Unfortunately the ones who get the most exposure are the ones who exhibit bad behavior. Even worse, some probably exhibit bad behavior to get exposure.

    • hadasbrown says:

      Thanks for your feedback. I’m going to address each of your comments in turn.

      (1) I am of the opinion that most citizens ultimately are classic liberals for the same reason that they eventually have to be most concerned with their own well-being. Therefore, I do not disagree with your assessment that they make choices that an average person would make. However, there is a certain aspect associated with celebrity nature that you do not address: they are seeking fame. That is exactly why they are celebrities. They aim to have their names up in lights and their faces on the big screen. Many people do not know who the actors in independent films are, thus making them non-celebrities. That is part of the reason why many argue that being an artist such as an actress or singer is the most selfish profession out there; you can create art in a nonmainstream venue, but many choose not to because they want the RECOGNITION. I am not a celebrity hater by any means – I myself wished to be an actress for many, many years – but these people DO set out to become famous, rather than choosing a profession where they serve the greater good of the community, like being a doctor or teacher.

      2) I do not disagree that there are many celebrities who do “meaningful, purposeful work.” However, I do strongly disagree that the “majority” of them do. Perhaps you are more focused on decades past, but if you turn to the entertainment world today, the majority of celebrities are not those who are in Oscar-worthy films. They ARE the reality-TV stars, the main characters in that sitcom with a storyline that has been used time and time again, the recording artists whose voices are autotuned beyond recognition. Again, I do not dislike celebrities. As I mentioned in my original post, I am a frequent follower of celebrity culture, and appreciate both the art and sleaze they present; nevertheless, I do believe that the trash in recent years has risen to outweigh the true art. Many have linked this trend to the economy, because it is simply cheaper for a studio to produce a cookie-cutter reality television series than to brainstorm and execute new ideas for fictional programs.

      3) My point in stating that there is no exploration of the self was to provide another detail to illustrate how celebrities’ lives are rooted in others’ recognition of their work rather than commending themselves on a job well done. You are correct in saying that logically, I cannot state that I know that there is no celebrity who engages in self-exploration.

      4) I do not say that celebrities are MORE prone to break the law, but I do note that we hear about it. The point that Lincoln makes is that public displays of illegality detach citizens from their government, and when these individuals are not given a true punishment, the innocents are exposed to their wrongdoing and shown a poor example of how a citizen should act. My point is that when celebrities are caught showing blatant disregard for the rules, it sets a negative example for others, particularly when they do not appear to be given a true punishment. For instance, Lindsay Lohan has been in and out of rehab and jail more times than we can all keep track of right now, and yet she’s being featured on the cover of Playboy’s next issue: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/10/lindsay-lohan-in-playboy_n_1141100.html?ref=celebrity

      To conclude, again, I appreciate your critique, and agree that not every celebrity is a Hilton or a Kardashian. However, I do think that there is a line that needs to be drawn between celebrity and artist. Celebrities are not only those who merit fame for just and true reasons. There is a distinct set of people who have “attributed” celebrity, and rise to public recognition because of something that happened to them or something that they did that ultimately brought about scandal, for instance, people who are caught in public sex controversies. For instance, one of Tiger Woods’ mistresses is using her attributed fame to launch her nail polish line, which includes names such as “Not Just a Pornstar.” On the other hand, we have stars like Anne Hathaway, who do produce art and rarely make headlines for reasons other than their work. Although this critique applies more to attributed celebrities, it is important to note that they do comprise a sizeable portion of those considered famous today.

  2. haleynicoleepstine says:

    I really enjoyed this blog post. I think that by applying what we have learned in class to modern day society definitely puts what we have studied into a different perspective. I agreed with alot of the agruements that you made. Such as celeberties being classic liberals and only being concerned with themselves. I feel like we can see this not only through the absurd paychecks they ask for, but also through certain celeberties desire to be constantly photographed in the media- especially up and coming celeberties. They are solely trying to get their names out their so they can become more famous. Another point that I agreed with was your dicussion about how celeberties believe they are above the law. While reading two names immediately came to mind: Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton. Lindsey has violated her probation multiple times clearly showing no respect for the law. And after her DUI Paris Hilton was shocked when she was forced to cary out her full sentence in jail, rather than getting released early like many other celeberties have in the past.

    Something that I think is also important to think about is why are celeberties the way they are? Why do they think they are above the law and why are they more Classic Liberals than Civic Republicans? Are they to blame or is society as a whole to blame? Or is it a mixture of both? Just some food for thought…

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