Charles Barkley famously said that he is not a role model. Apparently, those who worship at the altar of Jay Z and Beyonce did not get the memo.
Keith Fallon explains how the Jay/Bey brand was developed:
After all, the first couple of the music industry has carefully, in the years since they began dating, built a brand and image based on perceived perfection. They were two artists at the pinnacle of their careers combining their respective star powers into one nearly blinding supernova. They honed a balance of coolness and class that not only bolstered their popularity, but has worked to create an expectation of infallibility. The words “perfect couple” aren’t used lightly, and Jay Z and Beyoncé have parlayed that branding into a pop-culture empire that rests delicately on that very word, “perfect.”
In all fairness, Jay and Bey are celebrities. They have done exceptionally well at it. More power to them.
But, that is not the same thing as making them into role models that young people, in particular, should emulate.
Fallon reminds us that Jay has a somewhat checkered past. Besides being a drug dealer, he is also known for:
… shooting his brother as a kid, stabbing a record executive, allegedly assaulting a woman during the filming of a documentary.
None of this has prevented the media from elevating Jay and Bey into idols. If you did not know any better you would think that they were the most important, the most talented, the most beautiful people who have ever existed.
In a 2013 Newsweek article titled “It’s Beyoncé’s World and We’re Just Living In It,” ZZ Packer wrote about the pop deity, for whom “Halo” is as much a description of the glory she seems to effortlessly emanate as it is a signature song, “She has become—perhaps even more than Michelle Obama or Oprah—the all-around compliment-by-comparison for any black woman.” There’s a reason that the terms “Queen Bey” and “Beysus” have been shorthand for the entertainer, and employed only with a slight wink.
As for Jay Z’s own coronation as one of pop culture’s reigning kings, you only need to look to the additional titles he’s bestowed on himself in the lyrics to his own songs, all of which have gone all-but refuted: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man”; “I make the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can”; and, naturally, “I’m the motherfucking greatest.”
You understand that someone who talks like that should be every child’s role model.
And yet, true celebrities are not in the business of setting a good example for children… or anyone else, for that matter. They are in the business of occupying space in the media, of exposing themselves in dignified and not so dignified postures, of getting attention and eliciting worshipful adoration.
If the culture, in the person of the media decides to elevate them as role models, it is not, dare I say, their fault. They are riding the wave to fame and glory… to say nothing of wealth.
Surely, the media is idolizing Jay and Bey because it wants black children to emulate them. True enough, the couple has succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination, but do liberal media types really believe that the average child in a minority community should be spending his time trying to master the art of hip-hop, along with other decadent pursuits.
Would it not be better for the media and for community leaders to promote men and women of achievement as role models, men and women like Clarence Thomas, Tim Scott, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Sowell, David Webb, Allen West, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Herman Cain, Colin Powell and so on?
You know and I know that these men and women are often disparaged and calumniated by the media because they do not follow the party line.
So, instead of trying to build a culture of achievement in minority communities, the media has been glorifying pop stars and demeaning men and women of achievement.
For the past couple of days everyone has been agitated by a scene that took place last week. Everyone is asking whether it matters that Solange Knowles attacked her brother-in-law in an elevator last week?
The short answer is: No, it does not.
To the extent that we are talking about celebrities, it is par for the course.
If we are talking about role models, Ms. Knowles was setting a poor example. For his part Jay was setting a good example.
If the net effect of the incident is for the world to see more clearly that Jay and Bey are celebrities, but not role models, then perhaps it will have produced some good.
At the least we will have less of this: When Beyonce was proclaimed one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world, Sheryl Sandberg—Facebook COO and cultural warrior-- wrote an encomium. In it Sandberg thrilled to the fact that Beyonce could engineer a huge career while being a full-time mother.
After reading Sandberg’s essay Penelope Trunk posted on her blog that it was grossly misleading. By Trunk’s lights it is bad to lie to young people.
In that same issue Sheryl wrote the homage or essay or ass-kissing-memo or whatever we are calling the Time 100 writings, about Beyonce. Sheryl talks about how Beyonce has changed the music industry. She’s a leader in song and dance and performance. But there’s exactly nothing surprising until Sheryl adds, “Beyonce does all this while being a full-time mother.”
In that little sentence, Sandberg does something very big. Sandberg declares that you can have a full-time job and be a full-time mother.
This is convenient. Because now Sandberg is a full-time mom who spends some days away from the kids signing autographs. And running Facebook. And Beyonce is a full-time mom who spends some days away from her daughter on billion-dollar concert tours. So basically anyone who gave birth is a full-time mom regardless of how much of their time is spent on kids. Now we can all feel good about ourselves regardless of our choices.
But does this help anyone?
Of course, Trunk has emphasized the obvious flaw in Sandberg’s self-serving reasoning. You can have a full-time job and be a mother, but you cannot, Trunk suggests, be a very good mother. You cannot be spending all of your time on your career while spending all of your time caring for your children.
It is, dare I say, logically impossible. And it is deceitful to suggest otherwise.
Trunk adds this point:
There is only the truth that you get what you give. If you give a lot to your kids, you get a lot from your kids. If you give a little, you get a little. And the same is true with your work.
I don’t know what Beyonce has left to give her daughter. I don’t know what Sandberg has left to give her kids. But I know that redefining full-time parenting, as something you can do with a full-time job, only distorts the discussion of the choices women make now. And it is deliberately misleading to women who have to make tough choices in the coming years.