Professional Learning

When Celebrities Fall Short as Role Models

September 15, 2009

In the world of stupid celebrity antics, this last weekend saw two of the more obnoxious outbursts in recent memory. First, on Saturday evening's live broadcast of the U.S. Open tennis championships, we saw superstar Serena Williams throw an obscenity-filled tantrum that ultimately cost her the match.

Then, the following evening, at the MTV Video Music Awards, a reportedly drunken Kanye West grabbed the microphone away from 19-year-old winner Taylor Swift and told the world that he thought singer Beyonce should have been the winner. Beyonce came through later and invited Taylor back to make her speech, but the thunder had been stolen.

Then we have South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, whose "You lie!" outburst during President Obama's health care speech last week was so incendiary that it inspired about 25,000 people to donate over $900,000 to his opponent, Rob Miller.

And earlier this year, one of America's most beloved athletes, Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, was caught smoking pot.

All these folks have since apologized to some degree or another. Joe Wilson apologized to Obama but refuses to say anymore. Serena Williams apologized to everyone -- more than once. Kanye West apologized via his blog, and it got so many hits that it crashed the server. He later went on to Jay Leno's show -- a latter-day celebrity confessional -- to deliver his mea culpas in front of a live audience. Phelps issued a statement apologizing for his "behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment."

We live in a world where boorish behavior is captured and amplified and discussed ad nauseam, particularly when the boors are our heroes, celebrities, and elected officials. Then, the handlers issue an apology, and all is forgotten. Of course, this is not new -- John McEnroe was a brat on the tennis court in the 1980s, Hugh Grant hooked up with a prostitute, and Washington, DC, mayor Marion Berry was busted with cocaine. And then -- like now -- you only need an apology or two, and life proceeds apace.

All this would just be media noise if these people weren't such role models for our kids.

We were chatting about this here at the Edutopia home office today and wondering how teachers manage these types of media viruses, as writer Douglas Rushkoff once described these loud eruptions of celebrity misconduct. Do you embrace them, talk about them, invite discussion? Or do you ignore and move on? One could easily spend an entire school year with this stuff!

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