Editorial: Celebrities are not experts on social issues

There is something satisfying in following celebrities on social media and seeing what they have to say about things, whether trivial or substantial. Big issues — like gay marriage and abortion — often come up in media feeds. These are usually prompted by interviewers pushing for drama or something newsworthy. But the question arises: what makes a celebrity’s opinion so newsworthy?

In the strictest definition, a celebrity is a person made important. They have fame and attention on them, so tiny things like what fast food chain they prefer can create waves among fans. News about what a certain celeb thinks about a social issue comes like a cannonball. The narrative is typically constructed as “guess who said what about this,” and it never fails to grab the attention of media and people worldwide. With prolific technology, it is easier than ever for these things to spread at the click of a button — and we do click, because sharing what so-and-so said about a hot topic is anything from scandalous to inspiring.

If a celebrity happens to agree with a social issue, they are praised for their contribution. Using fame to bring attention to causes is a great way of working the system. However, the opposite opens up a hole for criticism. When someone famous gives a controversial opinion, news explodes with sudden interest, and it becomes the focus of discussions. Even worse, they may say something downright inappropriate.

Recently, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao made derogatory comments about gay marriage and gay people in general, relating them to animals. This opinion is just that: an opinion from a man who happens to have a following. The nature of the comment, paired with the reactions that followed, made this a huge affair. Pacquiao has since lost his contract with the company Nike, which has reassured consumers that it does not stand for those sort of comments. This is the standard protocol for these situations and one that makes some ethical sense.

What does not make much sense is the staging of these questions. Like tabloid magazines made only to shock and amuse, celebrities are set-up to answer about issues that they are no more qualified to speak about than the average passerby on the street. Take for example the “Duck Dynasty” fiasco from 2013, where reality TV star Phil Robertson made bigoted comments against gay people. This should have come as no surprise considering he is a conservative, religious man. Yet reactions were huge. He was eventually suspended from his show, all for answering a question about an irrelevant issue.

This elevation of famous people puts us in a predicament where unqualified individuals have more authority than those qualified. Actual participants in real issues have less voice than a singer or actor who happened to make a stray comment about something. A celebrity is a single person with their own unique standpoints and valid opinions, but these opinions should not affect ours. There is cultural influence in a celebrity’s endorsement or defamation of an issue. We should get out of this rut and focus instead on the facts rather than the quick thoughts of a big name.

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