Can We Dispel the Notion of Celebrities as Life Role Models?

by Jim Geraghty

Alyssa Rosenberg, with perhaps the most intriguing/non-snarky/thought-provoking/tolerable argument you may ever see on the liberal blog ThinkProgress, prompted by the performance of Jay-Z and Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards:

If conservatives want to sell Americans on marriage, maybe they have to talk more about the bliss half of wedded bliss, to think about the desire part of making marriage desirable. And maybe the entertainment industry that [Ross] Douthat’s singled out as the enemy of marriage has something to add to the case for marital happiness. If marriage is a product that conservatives desperately want to sell, the smartest thing they could do right now is to hire Beyoncé and Jay-Z as a product spokescouple.

The wonderful Ericka Anderson largely agrees:

Beyonce’s lyrics to “Drunk in Love” are very risqué and sexual, her performance pretty much the same, but hello?! She’s singing with and about her husband — the one she married and had a baby with after they were married.

I’ve heard it time and again — it’s the CULTURE and much of the Right (not all — and it’s getting better) has a hard time getting a handle on it. Well, embrace it people — embrace it in the sexuality within hip, healthy marriages and highlight to good things Hollywood does do to promote the principles we already support. Maybe they are a little buried but unpack them, notice them and pat Hollywood on the back for delivering.

The problem with Douthat’s column isn’t that he’s wrong — it’s that like most on the Right, he relies solely on numbers, polls, research and policy talk. Where are the real life examples that everyday people are interested in and can relate to their own lives? Non-existent.

Our Reihan Salam notes that the argument skips a step — proving that people are wary about marriage because they don’t see enough high-profile examples of happy ones:

The problem, however, is that Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas famously observe in Promises I Can Keep, one of the chief barriers to marriage in high-poverty communities is not the notion that marriage isn’t desirable or fun. Rather, it is that because Americans hold the notion of marriage as a mutually supportive partnership in such high regard, many have come to see it as an unattainable ideal. And by putting the cultural spotlight in marriages in which “various parts of female experience don’t trade off with each other,” or for that matter various parts of male experience, we might be exacerbating this problem. As Rosenberg states, we can safely assume that Knowles-Carter and Jay-Z have little difficulty arranging child care and meeting various other challenges that prove overwhelming for parents in even the most generous social democracies.

Ericka Anderson is probably right that spotlighting celebrities is a good way to bring a message to communities that usually tune conservatives out . . . but I reserve the right to gripe that it’s frustrating and stupid that any idea, value, or argument requires a celebrity endorsement before some Americans will pay attention to it. If you take your behavioral cues from people who are (A) exponentially wealthier than you, (B) held to a completely different standard of behavior because of (A), (C) able to afford personal assistants to handle all of the chores, errands, details, and headaches of life because of (A), and (D) surrounded by sycophants, providing no useful check on their judgment, which has been deteriorating because of factors (A), (B), and (C) . . . you’re going to have serious problems. Your life will be a “Behind the Music” special without that opening rise to the top.

As mentioned in today’s Jolt:

The piece is entitled, “At The Grammys, Beyoncé and Jay-Z Made the Case for Marriage that Conservatives Can’t.” The argument is wiser than the headline, because you can translate that as, “Two Immensely Well-Known Celebrities Made the Case for Marriage that a Political Philosophy Can’t.”
It’s more than a little unfair to ask why non-celebrities can’t command the public’s attention or win over hearts and minds as well as pop stars can, in a celebrity-obsessed culture such as this. Most of us married folk don’t wake up in the morning and explicitly set out to “make the case for marriage.” Hopefully we set a good example, and unmarried folks say, “Boy, I’d like to have a marriage like that someday.”
In other words, if a celebration of the institution of marriage requires both partners to be immensely successful and famous, with buckets of glamor, reams of positive press, and throngs of adoring fans, then our only other option is . . . Brangelina.

A reader reminded me that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are not yet married, presuming the seasonal rumors of a secret wedding aren’t true.

Remember my wariness about conservatives citing quotes from Ashton Kutcher and Bono to bolster their arguments? Here we see the suggestion that marriage, an institution that has existed roughly as long as humanity has, and that has largely thrived in various forms in just about every culture around the globe, has suddenly become reinvigorated with coolness and desirability because a couple of glamorous celebrities tied the knot and appear to be making it work. I mean, good for them, but having your view of marriage shaped by these two doesn’t strike me as all that different from taking health-insurance advice from Harold and Kumar.
Cracked had an amusing article, “Five Reasons Why You Should Never Take Advice from Celebrities,” and it’s pretty darn funny (and very off-color) — and it’s unnerving that it might be necessary.