People often discuss whether celebrities should be role models. It’s a fair question to ask, but it won’t do much to change the simple fact that celebrities, such as athletes, actors and politicians, influence behavior.
But some people don’t see that as a good thing, because they don’t want to see their kids or younger siblings aspiring to be like Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus.
Regardless, research done by psychologist Albert Bandura shows that people are more likely to model their behavior after others if that behavior meets four characteristics, one of which is when the model has a status of attention. It does not matter if we want these people to be admired. By nature of how human beings work, they are.
When people in the public eye act, people notice, and, as Bandura’s research shows, they will be more likely to emulate that behavior.
Sometimes, we wish that this wasn’t the case. When a celebrity messes up, his or her mistake gets magnified, shedding light on behavior we don’t want younger members of our generation to see. On the other hand, with the spotlight shining bright, there are times when celebrities will act or speak in such a manner that puts the attention to positive use.
Sunday night, during the 57th annual Grammy Awards, that spotlight was on. And, on multiple occasions, with 25.3 million people tuned in, celebrities rightfully made an influence.
During Pharrell Williams’ performance of his hit song “Happy,” which won the Grammy for Best Music Video and Best Pop Solo Performance, a powerful scene took place. Nearly two minutes into the performance, while classical pianist Lang Lang was masterfully playing a solo, Williams and his backup dancers, many of which were suited up in black hoodies with the hoods up, slowly raised both arms in the air, with their hands up, and palms outward. They froze in that position for two seconds.
The moment was powerful. The hoodies were a clear reference to the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and the upraised hands paid tribute to the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement that ensued following the death of Michael Brown in August.
The message about police violence Williams conveyed was important to both him and a large sector of our society. He took the liberty to spread that message on one of the largest stages.
But this was merely the first example during Sunday night’s broadcast of a celebrity putting his platform to positive use.
The second example occurred not much later when a prerecorded message from President Barack Obama was broadcast. He lashed out at domestic violence, saying sexual assault is not OK and that it must stop. He went further, telling Americans that “it’s on us — all of us — to create a culture where violence isn’t tolerated (and) where survivors are supported.”
After the screen went blank, a survivor of domestic violence, Brooke Axtell, took the stage and delivered an emotional spoken-word piece about her experience. The focus on domestic violence continued when Katy Perry performed her ballad “By The Grace of God.”
Domestic violence is an issue that is getting more and more attention lately. It was highlighted during in a Super Bowl advertisement by NoMore.org and again Sunday at the Grammys. It is a tragedy that too many people experience, and celebrities taking action against it on a national stage will do more to benefit the cause of reducing domestic violence.
Later in the show, Prince appeared, decked in a sparkly orange outfit, to present the award for Album of the Year. Prior to announcing the finalists for the prize, he spoke a few lines. After the thunderous applause ceased, he said, “Albums, remember those? Albums still matter. Albums, like books and black lives, still matter.” He went on to announce that Beck’s “Morning Phase” was album of the year.
His purpose was obvious and, like Williams’ performance, it was a reference to the events that ensued in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown.
The point is not whether you agree with their messages. The actions of these few celebrities matter. Tweets flooded the Internet about them. Discussion was started, not about how they got in trouble with the law or how they were photographed misbehaving at a party, but about how they took a stand about an issue that mattered to them.
Celebrities, by nature, can influence our culture. They receive a lot of heat for their actions, some of it warranted, some of it not. It is great to see when their positive actions are glorified.
Sunday at the Grammys showed us that at least some celebrities recognize that their actions, like albums, books, black lives and the victims of domestic violence, do matter.