It seems you can’t read a paper or online news source without coming across some article about the political stance of one celebrity or another. We all have opinions but it seems if you become known for something whether it be acting, singing, or making a fool of yourself online then all of a sudden your thoughts are more valuable than anyone else. And it’s not just Politics, Celebrities speak out an all sorts of issues that they barely understand but because they have an audience decide it’s their duty to raise awareness. The problem is for every celebrity touting one thing there will be another saying the exact opposite.
Recently on a local radio show called Skeptically Speaking they had Sherman K. Stein as a guest discussing his book Survival Guide for Outsiders: How to Protect Yourself from Politicians, Experts and Other Insiders during the interview they touched on a term “Expert Creep”. Essentially someone who is an expert in one field being regarded as an expert in an unrelated field. One example he used was Einstein who being an expert in Physics having his opinion on politics being regarded as expertise as well. While this can occur at any time from anyone this I believe is most prevalent in the world of Celebrity or at least the most easily recognizable. One notable example in the news quite often is Jenny McCarthy who would be considered an “Expert” in Celebrity, and I use the term loosely, has been granted Expert status among the Anti Vaccine movement and their claims that Vaccines cause Autism. I’m not going to address this topic as it has been covered ad nauseum, for some reading look here, here and here, But it is one of the biggest examples of Celebrity Opinion run amok.
Now we see Celebrities on TV all the time in 30 second segments talking about products or services, and I think generally people realize that because these are commercials and the Celebrity in question is getting paid that they are not experts on the product or service in question they’re just being a spokes person. The advertiser in question is hoping to cash in on the Celebrities status to sell a few more units or services and that’s fine we expect that and our guard is up in regards to it. When we see Celebrities on Talk Shows giving opinion on matters such as Medicine, Religion, Politics or any topic not entertainment oriented then things get fuzzy. Our guard is down, they’re not being paid for these opinions, or if they are it’s not as easy to tell as with a commercial, and we’re more likely to think they are well informed in regards to the topic.
Consider this, you have a skill or subject where you have a modicum of expertise at whether it’s for your job or for a hobby you are passionate about. To maintain your level of expertise you continually practice the skill or study the subject or perform the function on a daily basis. Maybe you could even be considered an expert at this. Now you want to weigh in on a subject in which you don’t have the same type of time to commit to learning as you do your primary focus. Would you consider your opinion to be as valuable as that of someone that spends their life dedicated to the subject at hand? of course you wouldn’t. I’m not saying your opinion isn’t worthwhile but it may not have the benefit of all the facts that years of getting to know the subject can bring. Now consider the time involved it takes being a Celebrity. When you’re working your constantly on a set or in a studio when your not your spending your time improving your craft and trying to get the next big role or write the next big song. They have as much time as you do to spend learning non career related information. So why do we accord them with expertise they have not earned. Maybe it’s human nature to ascribe authority to someone we see on a daily basis in the news or in magazines. We just have to remember that to know a subject you need to talk to the people that spend the time getting to really know it.