With the cult of the celebrity at heady heights, Alex Davies asks if fame is playing too large a role in serious matters.

Reality TV contestants are often stereotyped quite negatively by certain sections of the public.  It seems unfair to a lot of us that these ordinary people have a chance to win large amounts of money, simply for being themselves. However, a quick glance over the participants of early stage X Factor, Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity do not, in general reveal to us the Albert Einsteins of the modern celebrity milieu. So called ‘real’ celebrities, similarly, tend not to be scientific, economic or philosophical genii, but tend to come from popular arts- music, television and film. While it wouldn’t be right to generalise them (as with any group of people) as stupid, it’s arguable that, as they have devoted their lives to their particular art, their influence in other areas shouldn’t be as strong as those that are trained in that subject. But is that the case? And if not, is it good for celebrities to influence other areas of society?
From the evidence, it’s clear that some people do. In a petition started by Martin Robbins, a science writer and blogger, he states that more reality TV show contestants have been invited onto Question Time than scientists since the 2010 General Election. He points out that a recent episode featuring a debate on climate change featured mostly “denialists”, ‘without a single climate scientist given an opportunity to contribute.’ I personally remember an episode where Kirsty Allsop, the celebrity Estate Agent from Location Location Location, was invited on to air her bizarre beliefs on taxation and public schooling. If we scan TIME’s annual list of the most influential people in the world, we will invariably find actors, musicians and bloggers near the top of the lists. Reasonably recently, celebrities like Samuel L Jackson and Clint Eastwood have gotten involved in debates over gun ownership, and their responses garnered more newspaper space than most analysts or politicians did.And then we come to attention seekers like Katie Hopkins. The failed Apprentice contestant has resold herself as a parenting expert and a political commentator, alongside her supposed businesswoman status. As a businesswoman, we should possibly be thrilled that her opinions are valued enough for her to appear on programmes such as Question Time and This Morning: until we realise that she’s only famous because of a combination of Reality TV show success and offensive, provocative ideals.
So it’s clear that there is value in these people’s opinions: possibly more value than in professionals within the industry- and this is a problem. It means that the wealth of a person’s opinion isn’t equal to the weight or evidence backing it. Admittedly, I’d be hard pressed to think of a single politician whom the ordinary public could trust- but then again, I can’t think of many Big Brother contestants I’d trust either. A solution would be an increase in role models within the business and political world- and yet with our TV oriented lives, it is difficult to contend against Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing. But we need to- after all, if we’re more willing to be influenced by Simon Cowell than Stephen Hawking, surely there’s a problem.
Alex Davies

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