“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Our culture is filled with images and messages of famous folks who are “trending now”. On electronic devices, there are news reports, social media stories, and information pieces about a variety of people and their actions – the good, the bad, and the ugly – who have caught the interest of the press. And it’s not just people – it’s the pop culture of sports, music, and entertainment. For example, each year the Super Bowl’s halftime show highlights music entertainers, and they are watched by millions throughout the world. They are the favored entertainers whom we view with rapt attention, if only for a moment.
In our current environment of instant fame, the notorious can be as popular as the admirable. In the world of Hollywood and television, actors and actresses have become so recognized by the characters they portray that they are permanently identified with them. Gone are the days when we root for the good guys and boo the bad ones. Now there are villains, criminals, and evil characters that are beloved. The line has blurred between heroes and celebrities, between good and bad, and right and wrong.
Not only is the line blurred in the stories, it’s blurred in real life. Fame is volatile, and the same person who might have a strong following for supporting the country and helping the underdog, can become “dissed” seemingly overnight and then all but forgotten. Or it can be as simple as today a person is popular, tomorrow he or she isn’t.
The mass media are fickle and often have biases that can push someone into the limelight or hide him or her from public view. Social media can exalt the virtues of some, while intentionally censoring others.
Consider the use of celebrities in advertising. Celebrity endorsements, as they are called, can make or break a product. Think about: Oprah Winfrey and Weight Watchers, Peyton Manning as the spokesperson for pizza chain Papa John’s, Taylor Swift and Diet Coke, Ellen DeGeneres and Cover Girl. Sometimes, things don’t work out so well, such as the Jello brand’s association with Bill Cosby for years, and then their need to backpedal from that relationship.
Parents and other significant adults must take back the role of arbiter from the media. Conversations must be held about the differences between popular and admirable. Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” But of course, that’s only true in “media land”, where most of us don’t live.
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
The realm of celebrities and heroes makes great fodder for discussion. Try some of these ideas with teens.
• Ask them what the word “celebrity” means. Look up the meaning of the word online or in the dictionary and read the definition aloud. Talk about current celebrities.
• Now that they know that a celebrity is just someone who is well-known, ask these questions and share examples:
• Can a fictional person be a celebrity?
• Can an animal be a celebrity?
• Can a cartoon character be a celebrity?
• Can a child be a celebrity?
• Can a person who is no longer alive still be a celebrity?
• Ask them what the word “hero” means. Look up the meaning of the word in a dictionary and read the definitions aloud. Think of examples of heroes.
• Now that they know that a hero is someone who has a positive effect on others, ask these questions and have them think of examples:
• Can a fictional person be a hero?
• Can an animal be a hero?
• Can a cartoon character be a hero?
• Can a child be a hero?
• Can a person who is no longer alive still be a hero?
• Ask, “Can celebrities also be heroes?” Have teens go back to their celebrity examples and ask whether each one would be considered to be a hero.
• Ask, “Was Jesus a celebrity or a hero?” Discuss reasons.
• Discuss whether heroes or celebrities would make better role models.
Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a possible lesson for youth group gatherings.
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Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker. She is the Director of Media Alert!
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