Saturday, May 1, 2010

Area of Expertise

I was surfing TV stations recently when I came upon a couple of actors speaking out about the passage of immigration legislation in Arizona on one of the cable news networks. It isn't important which station we are talking about, nor are the actors names particularly important. What was important however, was that neither of them appeared to have actually read the legislation they were commenting on and it appeared that they were simply mimicking some talking points that they had heard or read elsewhere. 

Their lack of informed opinion was the point that struck me ... that and the fact that the only reason anyone was willing to listen to what they had to say had nothing to do with what they knew and was all about who they were. So I asked myself: What makes the opinions of actors (or musicians for that matter) in any way important on subjects other than acting or music? 

Certainly an actor can have credibility when it comes to speaking about the theater, doing TV, or making movies; but how does that translate to expertise in the area of state or federal legislation (or any other subject for that matter)? If achieving celebrity is to be the arbiter of who gets to have opinions, one might just as easily accept their opinions on medical ethics or nuclear physics. If being famous is the only scale that counts, one could just as easily decide that since everybody seems to care what the judges from American Idol think every week, we should send them over to negotiate peace in the Middle East once and for all.  

This is not to say that celebrities have no right to an opinion or to express it. They in fact have the same rights of free speech that everyone in this country has. Nor is this an indictment of a particular point of view that any chooses to express (whether I agree with it or not), but instead a question of its relevance. If you choose to speak out publicly on a subject, then you need to at least take the time to become informed on it. If the mainstream media is going to give you a national platform to express your convictions, then someone in charge should make sure that you have some idea of what's going on before allowing you to do so.

The whole thing took me back (way back) to my days in high school, when those of us who were not the popular or cool kids were so concerned about the approval, the personal style, and the opinions of those who were. Looking back on it now of course, I realize now that members of the football team or the cheerleaders were in no way smarter or better than anyone else; but we certainly seemed to think so at the time, and far too often we let them influence our decisions. I would venture to say that those who still have any contact with these people today would probably not consider asking for their views, let alone continuing to follow their lead. 

This need to influence on the part of the famous seems to stem from the atmosphere that makes up the celebrity lifestyle. Catered to at home and at work by an entourage of handlers, assistants, and agents (all of whom would like to keep their celebrity jobs), these performers are surrounded by little more than a group of human bobble-head dolls. The result of such an atmosphere is foreordained: spend enough time with people who always agree with you (whether you're right or not) and you can't help but grow into the belief that your opinions are not only always right, but of greater value to the world at large. Few of us exposed to such constant approbation and worship could retain the proper level of humility, or fail to succumb to a feeling of ingenuous self-importance, if not false omniscience. 

Now I know that there are some celebrities that take a genuine interest in causes around the world. They take the time to do careful research, consult with actual experts in the field, and try to gather as many facts as possible before putting themselves forward. They then use their celebrity to draw attention to causes and lend their support with personal appearances and with monetary donations. For this they deserve our respect. 

I fear however, that they are the exception rather than the rule. Most seem far less involved and far too easily swayed by whoever manages to bend their ear while massaging their ego. Having once been swayed, they mount their steed of self-importance and ride off in quest to right a wrong that they don't understand and which may not exist; secure in the knowledge that as one of the beautiful people, they will never really be questioned. 

Overall, I think that the world would be better served if these over-aged "popular kids" spent more time concentrating on their art and craft, and less pontificating on subjects that they saw on a PBS special or read about in People Magazine. No matter how pretty they are and how far-reaching their celebrity, most of the world's great issues are simply outside their area of expertise.


Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


If one wants to become truly informed and espouse views on any subject/purpose/cause, the only way (as you've pointed out) is by doing one's own research via multiple sources. Relying on the popular people du jour however is not one of them.

Opinions on the "popular" causes must include this kind of research (better would be immersion and or self involvement) which means that most of the opinions floating around are worth less than a tinker's dam.

(That's my story and I'm sticking with it).

Tim Higgins said...


Having just railed in the TFP about only professionals being allowed to express opinions, this may be contradictory, but it's not. I merely ask that those speaking out attempt to be informed (as we bloggers do) and that the only qualification for being able to express a "learned opinion" not be celebrity.

Roland Hansen said...

I am always amazed at the general public's gullibility in following the opinions of well-known "celebrities" regardless of the celebrities' knowledge (or lack there-of) on the subject.
The "sheeple" as Dave calls them just seem to follow the lamb to slaughter.