The Standards We Seek

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By Trisha Mahoney, Editor-in-Chief
Graphic by Danielle Szabo

Performers and politicians are practically the same.

Both influence the state of our society and are publicly upheld to a certain standard of behavior.

While it appears to be an egregious statement, the truth is that in American society, in particular, we place a great importance on those in the public eye and how they conduct themselves while in the limelight.

Many still consider the proposed impeachment of Bill Clinton to be because of his marriage infidelity, instead of for lying under oath and obstructing justice. Cheating on your wife is not considered acceptable behavior for the leader of our country and therefore, our perception of Clinton becomes skewed.

It was also why Ariana Grande came under great public scrutinization a couple years ago for licking donuts in a store where she had not bought them and saying, “I hate Americans. I hate American.” — a statement for which she felt compelled to issue a public apology.

Why do both of these instances cause us to throw disapproving glares and grumble? Because neither of these reflect the perception of ourselves and our American society that we would like broadcast to the world. Bill Clinton and Ariana Grande serve as more public versions of ourselves, not only should they be smarter, more talented, and all-around better, but also they must refrain the things that we don’t want displayed outside of the privateness of our own despicableness.

Thomas Jefferson said as B.L. Rayner reported in 1832, “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.”

When someone deems themselves as a public figure then they need to comply with the demands that society has on their behavior, otherwise, the public will then turn on them to remove their popular status. Personal lives bleed into public perception when it comes to politicians and performers. But why these two categories of people specifically?

Art and media hold a great power over each of our lives. They are rampant with political messages and the goal of creating a better world. Politicians are charged with the same the goal. With both of these fields constantly on our minds and our newsfeeds, it is hard to not let what these public individuals have to say influence the way that we think, act, feel, or believe. Especially as they are actively trying to change the world that we live in.

That is what power is: having the ability and the access to change people and lives. And those with power should not be like us, they should be beyond our mere mortal stumbling and pitfalls.

But we all know that this is not true, for as incredible as the actions that these people can do and attribute to themselves, they are prone to the same humanity as the rest of us.

So, is it wrong for us to expect so much of actors off the stage and politicians off the clock?

Yes. And no.

We do not need perfect Greek gods in power. But we do need some standards.

Similar to my affinity for using beauty products that have not been tested on animals, I strive to surround myself by media that was made ethically. Art and politics set a standard for how we should live our lives and we need to demand powerful figures who uphold behaviors that are acceptable for consumption. As stated before, it is a reflection of us in the end, and in the end, it is what we become.

When James Barbour was cast as Phantom in the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera in 2015, there was outrage from the theatre community. James Barbour was convicted of two counts of endangering a minor after being accused of sexual assault by a 15-year-old who went backstage at his last Broadway show.

Many fans felt that it was inappropriate to put Barbour in a position with a show that has a fan base consistent with the age group he targeted.

After all the outrage and the talk about Barbour’s wrongdoing, Phantom saw no difference in their box office sales and Barbour was given rave reviews as the new lead. The outrage petered out after a while and the reported transgressions were forgotten by the general public.

Either the issue was not heard by enough people, or they were not moved to effective action. In both situations, we are responsible for talking about it and acting on that talk until something is done. We are too prone to hearing something upsetting, rioting on the public front of social media, and then quietly returning to our daily lives.

But situations have recently arisen in our country where we simply cannot continue this behavior.

Donald Trump will soon be president of the United States and fill other powerful positions with like-minded people. We cannot simply forget the past with each new scandal but act upon each and every outrage in order to make our voices heard so that the representation of our country can represent all of us.

Public individuals are held up to a standard for a reason, to keep them accountable for their actions and how they affect the society that they live in and are making changes to. It is a reminder that though they may be the figurehead, those of us living in the day-to-day reality of their wake have a say about what we consume.

We must not forget that Donald Trump has been caught on tape admitting to sexually assaulting women. Or that has admitted to not paying Federal Taxes. And we absolutely must not forget that there has been no consequences for either of these.

What we can do is to protest, call representatives, and refuse to remain silent.

Our job is to continue to hold them accountable. We cannot forget when it is convenient for us to. Because honey, you deserve better.

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