Open Letter to Celebrities
I have your best interests in mind when I tell you that it’s time to wake-up. Celebrity “foot in mouth disease” is epidemic and fans are upset that it’s getting worse. Anyone in the public eye is a celebrity today.
From Tim Hardaways’ outrageous “I hate gay people” tirade, to Michael Richard’s racist rant, Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-semitism, Senator Allen’s election-losing “macaca” comment, Isaiah Washington’s verbal blunder, Harvard President Larry Summer’s career-suicide gender-based comment, Paris Hilton’s snappy slurs and Senator Biden’s communication missteps, people are losing faith in our icons of success and hope. Maybe this is a good thing for us, maybe not, but either way celebrities are losing our respect.
My dear celebrities, I am being harsh on you, but I will also give you some practical advice that has worked for me. For those of you who intentionally make prejudiced comments, it is not 1950 anymore. You are a lost cause and your career will soon see the end of the line, so give up now.
there is hope.
As a professional speaker on communication and persuasion, I gave a presentation to a group of Statewide Athletic Administrators and I learned (before my talk) that “gym teacher” is a hot-button offensive term. The correct respectful label is “physical education teacher.” Unfortunately, another speaker at this conference (a politician who shall remain nameless) hadn’t done her due diligence and ended up offending the audience. Before my Keynote Address to a tri-state Realtor® conference, I learned that it is an insult to call a Realtor® a “real estate agent” because Realtors® have additional training and a membership in a prestigious association. Whew. I was glad I had maneuvered around that land mine.
STEP 2: Do not give uncomplimentary compliments. You do this when you act surprised that a person is skilled at something. For example, do not say, “She is really intelligent. I never expected that.” Nor should you say, “You speak English so well, for a foreigner,” nor “He’s so athletic, for a gay person.” And of course, the kicker is when you act surprised that an African-American is excellent at something. All in all, it is always an insult when we make a comment that includes the idea (whether it’s just a thought or spoken) that someone is good at something, “for a (fill-in-the-blank) person.”
STEP 3: When you use an adjective, be specific. If you say someone is “clean,” explain what you mean. If you say someone is “savvy,” don’t just leave it at that because savvy could be a good or bad word. If you call someone “evil,” a commonly used word in politics, give an example of a specific example of an evil decision or action, and if you aren’t willing to give an example, then don’t use the word. It’s offensive.
I’d like to think that this approach will help cure the epidemic. I have a lot more advice, but I’m not sure that everyone wants to hear it. In fact, I get the sense that we’re only on the cusp of offensive times.
Your biggest fan,
Laurie Puhn, J.D.
Television host, “i on New York” on WPXN-TV
Author, “Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life” (Penguin)
Girls Gone Good
Most of all, parents’ attitudes toward what’s right and wrong for their daughters has been altered by the celebrity tidal wave of over-exposure (in more ways than one). Parents want their daughters to be cool and fit-in because the parents’ egos are rapped up in their kids’ popularity. Parents see what the celebrities and other girls are wearing so, they let their daughters wear crude t-shirts that read “bitch,” revealing mini-skirts and make-up at age 12. Why not? Everyone else is doing it.
When I was 13 years old girls wore strapless dresses to confirmations and Bat Mitzvah’s. I didn’t because my mother said it was “inappropriate for a young girl to wear a strapless dress with cleavage exposed.” “But my friends get to wear them!” I yelled. And the consistent answer was, “I don’t care what anyone else is doing. You live in my house and I pay the bills.” Guess what? I got over it. Nowadays, a strong parent is one who is impervious to comments like “but all my friends are going” and “Lindsay Lohan wore a dress like this.”
Not only do parents need to say “no” more often, they need to present the idea behind the “no.” They need to give their daughters a moral counter-perspective. What is that counter-perspective? To start with, it’s the idea that these girls are riding high on two things, beauty and youth – traits that are both ephemeral and unoriginal. In other words, famous people known for their beauty and youth are a dime a dozen and totally replaceable (as we can tell from playboy Joe Francis’s revolving door of this type of fill-in-the-blank girlfriend). In 5 years time the headlines will declare that some other gang of seductresses are the new “hotties.” Beauty is a nice bonus in life, but what’s lasting is actual talent and upstanding character. If you want your daughter to make her mark on society then teach her the difference between temporary and lasting.
Now this is a hard concept for young kids to grasp, but it doesn’t matter, as long as parents understand the difference between temporary and lasting, right and wrong, and use that concept to help them call up their inner strength to say “no.”