As a teenage beauty queen, TV news anchor, syndicated talk show host, Oscar nominated actress, owner of her own television network and philanthropist par excellence, Oprah Winfrey is nothing short of a dynamo.
Whether she is endorsing an ideal or adding the latest Jodi Picoult novel to her book club’s reading list, Oprah continues to prove her go-getter attitude. Each of her actions starts a chain reaction, such as the resurgence in book publishing following her creation of a nationwide book club to promote reading.
And that only touches the surface of her accomplishments.
Oprah’s next goal is an ambitious seven part series titled Belief, which explores avenues of faith in a transcontinental spiritual exploration. We witness a young Jewish boy playing on the cobbled streets of Budapest, pondering his last moments as an adolescent on the eve of his bar mitzvah. Next we arrive at the crowded banks of the Ganges River, where a young Hindu woman ends her pilgrimage. At each stop, Oprah takes her viewers on a journey to regain the goodness faith has formerly represented in society.
Many celebrities have followed suit in championing causes – for better and for worse— and using their large followings to gain movement.
Jennifer Lawrence, America’s sweetheart and Panem’s boldest hero, recently acknowledged the issue of the gender pay gap. After facing financial discrimination, Lawrence turned to Lena Dunham’s feminist newsletter, Lenny, to express her anger with the complacency women are expected to have in the workplace. Her coworker and fellow Hollywood stud, Bradley Cooper, supported Lawrence’s quest and pledged to combat the issue.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, television personality Jenny McCarthy has led the precarious campaign against childhood vaccination. McCarthy got behind the movement after an article published in the venerable medical journal, Lancet, proclaimed an alleged link between autism and vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella. Despite the medical community’s discredit of the Lancet article and McCarthy’s crusade, the resulting polarization of the pro- versus anti-vaccinations has remained significant. The topic even made its way to the stage in the Reagan Library during the most recent Republican Presidential Debate.
The rising influence of celebrities on social change begs several questions. Should celebrities exploit their popularity in this manner? Is pop culture an appropriate platform to discuss these issues? In the end, do we leave important matters to the experts or to the dilettantes?
Claire Harding, CSOM ’19, gave the college student perspective on this issue. If heartthrob Harry Styles were to reestablish the KONY 2012 campaign, Harding “embarrassingly admits” that she would pledge $20 and change her Facebook cover photo to the flashy red, black and blue poster we know all too well.
Americans worship cultural icons, plastering their faces across all media outlets and headlining their every comment. While celebrities must discern the best way to address and utilize their fame, their audience must decide which celebrity is worth supporting. Nonetheless, people should avoid letting celebrities make up their fundamental belief systems (no matter how well Harry Styles sings, Jennifer Lawrence sports a bow and arrow or Oprah persuades).