This month, Pepsi executives tried to exploit celebrity fame in a quickly-pulled TV commercial featuring Kendall Jenner, which depicted the reality star using a Black Lives Matter-inspired rally as a runway. The ad’s controversial context overshadowed the fame of the heir to the Kardashian dynasty, and eventually backfired, leaving Pepsi apologizing to Jenner. Kendall’s fans were stunned that she could exercise such questionable judgment, and were left upset with her choice to appear in the ad. However, expecting such perfection from a celebrity is pointless, and doomed to disappoint.
Celebrities are admired — and in some cases worshipped — by people because of their successful lives. Dr. Nathan Heflick, a senior lecturer at the University of Lincoln, stated in a Psychology Today article that “when people are amazing (or even good) in one area, this tends to transmit to perceptions in other areas (the ‘halo effect’).” Thus, we might expect a celebrity who is talented at singing to be a better person than us overall because of this halo effect.
The consequences of the halo effect are rather negative because we tend to deem a notable person (in this case a celebrity) as perfect, when in reality he or she is far from apotheotic. Skills in one area don’t necessarily mean proficiency in another. For instance, no one wants to see a professional basketball player who argues that the earth is flat give a geography lecture at UCI. He might be a genius on the basketball court, but lecturing college students requires an extensive knowledge in one specific subject and countless hours of research.
Another source of this admiration for celebrities and successful people lies in the idea that, just by associating with them, people feel better about themselves. In Time magazine, Alice Park reported the findings of psychologist Shira Gabriel and her research on a group of 348 college students. In the study, Gabriel reported that “because people form bonds in their mind with their favorite celebrities, they are able to assimilate the celebrity’s characteristics in themselves and feel better about themselves when they think about that celebrity.” Celebrities can encourage us to improve our personal lives, as we see their personality traits as desirable and try to appropriate them. We become similar to them in an attempt to emulate their success.
The admiration bestowed on celebrities as a result of their success is also the reason why they are condemned with particular severity when their flaws are discovered. Because we put celebrities like Jenner on such a high pedestal and hold them to impossible standards, once we are reminded that they are human beings, they are demoted from their previously-supernatural status to social pariahs. Furthermore, we are enraged with those fallen celebrities because we wanted to follow their examples and be like them. Once they are disgraced, we want to distance ourselves from them and condemn them because they are no longer an acceptable role model in our society.
The cure for this disillusion is moderation. We cannot expect celebrities to be perfect, because they are common human beings who achieved fame and economic success by virtue of their abilities in specific areas. We cannot allow the halo effect to blind our judgment, because being proficient in one area does not mean that a person is proficient in other areas or morally correct. We must learn to admire the set of skills that made a person famous, while at the same time preventing ourselves from idolizing him or her.
Sebastian Suarez is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.