Celebrities are the philosophers and spiritual guides of the 21st century. They sit on the pedestals we’ve built for them, role models for how to dress or do your make-up, what food to eat and how to live. You need only scan your eyes over the magazine racks to see what an impact certain individuals, whom we’re unlikely ever to meet, make to our everyday lives. For women, it is certainly the case that female celebrities become style icons. Cosmopolitan magazine boasts interviews with actresses, singers, and models, noting how they’ve coped with stress and heartbreak in their lives. As a relatively average 19 year old, I have to admit that I know the most useless pieces of information – like what makes Kim Kardashian feel sexy, and what Beyonce has decided are the three most important things in life – about people I don’t even know. We tend to care about what they say, regardless of whether they really have much authority on the subject at hand. I imagine the same must be true to some extent for males, possibly inspired by Brad Pitt’s success at wooing both Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie in just one lifetime.
So in the same week that a number of St. Andrews ladies were on the lookout for Hugh Grant during the Dunhill Links event, the folks back in my home of Northern Ireland were pining over Rihanna as she shot her music video in Belfast. It was quite standard celebrity adoration, really; crowds of fans, large posters, and lots of waiting. However, not everyone was pleased to see so much of the pop star. Alan Graham, the farmer who owned the land Rihanna was filming on, expressed his shock and unhappiness after viewing the celebrity running around topless on his muddy field. A staunch Protestant, he is quoted to have said that Rihanna should perhaps “acquaint herself with a greater God”.
Is he, in fact, a prude who should really move along with the times? Perhaps you believe it is anyone’s right to run around topless, even if it is nearly October and you’re in Northern Ireland, which boasts an exotic climate beaten only possibly by Scotland.
The reality is that it is not really my concern what some nameless 23-year-old girl from Barbados does in her spare time, even if it is in my homeland. But of course, this one’s not just any nameless 23-year-old girl. She’s Rihanna: A famous, award-winning, and world-recognized Artist. So recognized, in fact, that her surname isn’t even necessary when referencing her. This doesn’t give her the right, as many blinded by the shining celebrity light might believe, to do what she wants, whenever she wants. Rather, I would argue that if she really understood her role, she should have given up whatever right she believed she had to engage in such spontaneous stripping.
Rihanna’s charitable contributions are rather impressive: she created the Believe Foundation in 2006 to help terminally ill children. Taking this philanthropic side to her on board, what I don’t understand then is why, since she seems so interested in the wellbeing of young people, she continues to portray an image – both in her musical performances and in her personal decisions – which is simply a terrible influence for youth.
I worked for a few summers at home in the typical Summer Camp role, and found to my horror that many children in their pre-teen years were singing the lyrics of Rihanna’s hit “Shut up and Drive” to themselves, and indeed mimicking her dance routine in groups. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the piece of musical genius that is this song, I can tell you that it’s a description of sex using a number of vehicle-associated metaphors. Very sexy. The kids probably didn’t even know what it really meant; yet I don’t think that fact makes it harmless.
But why should their familiarity with the song shock me? It was a tune targeted towards young people, played repeatedly on the radio in shops, other public places, and possibly in their own homes and during car journeys. Rihanna is an entertainment package put together by producers, songwriters and so on, to sell records and music videos. She lends her image to this over-sexualized role.
I shouldn’t be so hard on Rihanna, for she isn’t even the worst culprit of portraying this image. The sad truth is that I can list many others whose dance routines, personal lives, clothing (or lack thereof) and lyrics, delivered in catchy pop tunes, are ingrained into the minds of young people- Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Ke$ha, to name but a few. We’re trying to fight for gender equality in our modern day, and some may see these female artists as giving a voice to feminine sexual freedom. But there is quite a difference between expressing this deserved freedom, and putting yourself back into the objectified state in which women have been considered for years. You don’t need be scantily clad, or to grind across the television screen, just to make the point that you are as powerful and have all the sexual rights as men do.
It is the responsibility of parents to censor what their children hear and see, to the best of their ability, and it is inevitable that eventually they will grow up and be exposed to everything this world has to offer. I am not naïve to these facts. But right now for them, and for us all, Rihanna’s breasts needn’t be part of that exposure.
We, as adults, can listen to the music and enjoy it with the knowledge of what it is; merely entertainment. The majority of us understand that celebrities are not infallible and sometimes do ridiculous things. For those in their early teens, still finding their feet in this world, understanding this may be more difficult. These are our younger siblings, our nieces and nephews, and our little cousins that I’m talking about. I believe not only that they should have better role models, but also that they completely deserve them. With great fame comes great responsibility, and those in such a public light shouldn’t disregard the influential role they hold.