Celebrity school of thought

By Rachael Roth

Lynn Tran/Collegian

When I search for something on Google, the yielded results have less to do with what’s got the most hits and more with what I would personally find relevant. For example, if I type “pizza” into Google, I get “Pizza House of Amherst” within the first five automated suggestions.

I am an IP address. I am the ads in the margins of my Facebook page. I am my Google searches.

I like to think of these Google suggestions as a voice. This voice mandates what my next step will be, at least in the immediate sense. When I click on a YouTube-promoted video because it is in my periphery, Google hands the reigns over to someone like Nicki Minaj or Burger King. I suddenly find myself listening to a different voice altogether, all in an effort to reign in a wayward Internet excursion, a vague search for answers. Perhaps it is this search, (of either the existential or Internet variety) that empowers the iconic voices of today; of politicians, talk show hosts and pop stars.

Bear with me while I compare the emblematic Minaj to Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League – the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the United States.

I’ve stumbled across Donohue’s name several times in Internet searches. When President Barack Obama enacted a provision that required the healthcare insurers of religious organizations, hospitals and universities to provide birth control for their employees, Donohue was outraged. Along with other members of the Catholic Church, he believes this is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. He argued that even if insurance companies were responsible for providing free contraceptives and morning-after pills to women, this would compromise the views of Catholic insurance companies.

When Minaj performed this year at the Grammy’s, she had in tow a man allegedly dressed to resemble Pope. Not only did the “Pope” accompany Minaj on the red carpet, but he was also featured in a video in which he performed an exorcism on Roman – Minaj’s alter-ego from her song “Roman Holiday.” The performance was only as over-the-top as anything in Minaj’s career to date.

While listening to the radio shortly after the Grammy’s, I heard a DJ say that Minaj had received a lot of flak from the Catholic Church for her performance. Upon further investigation, I was led to Donohue’s commentary.

“Whether Minaj is possessed is surely an open question, but what is not in doubt is the irresponsibility of The Recording Academy. Never would they allow an artist to insult Judaism or Islam,” said Donohue. Was Minaj’s mock exorcism actually an insult to Catholicism?

When Madonna was paid $5 million for the use of her song, “Like A Prayer” in a 1989 Pepsi commercial, Pepsi did not ask to review the song’s music video first. In the music video, Madonna dances in front of a burning cross with a gospel church choir and then kisses a saint behind bars. A Catholic bishop from Texas was upset by the ad and urged people to boycott Pepsi. Whether or not it was a reaction to the boycott, Pepsi pulled the ad a month after it aired.

Madonna commented on the video by saying, “It was about overcoming racism. And overcoming the fear of telling the truth. I mean, it’s a very taboo subject to have an interracial relationship. And the idea of that kind of joyousness in the church.”

Minaj displayed a similar “joyousness” during the Grammy’s, when she enlisted her dancers to dress up like monks. I don’t see this being as much of an insult to Catholicism as an interpretation. Sure, a bunch of monks doing the “Beyoncé” at the Grammy’s is unexpected, but is religion not so much a part of our culture that we can’t bring it into a different light in the form of theatrics and booty-dropping?

Both Minaj and Donohue make spectacles of themselves – the latter through the use of fear-mongering and the former through bold performance art – which undoubtedly is responsible for a lot of their success. I can’t imagine that Minaj was surprised when her Grammy performance stirred up controversy.
When Donohue speaks, he shouts. In a video he posted about Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), he said, “Did you know that most of the victims are not young people, that they are teenagers, that they are adolescents? Not that it makes it right, but we are not talking about child rape here.” Again, he is ruffling feathers, whether or not it is intentional.
Maybe Donohue is so firm in his beliefs that he does not expect media backlash, but why, out of all the civil rights and Catholic organizations, has he become a symbol for the cause? Why is it that Donohue endorses the Catholic Church as Minaj endorses Viva Glam – a line of MAC Cosmetics where a small percentage of purchases helps people living with HIV/AIDS? What if we didn’t have a face to go along with our products?

By exposing ourselves to the media, we find the answers to questions we never asked. We gravitate toward the person that’s doing it better, or louder or more often, or all of the above. We gravitate to whoever is willing to appoint him or herself a leader.

In July, 2008, President Barack Obama name-dropped Lil’ Wayne at a town hall meeting in Georgia. Mitt Romney referenced George Costanza twice in December 2011, and, in turn, Jason Alexander tweeted about Romney. Donohue – who I assume is a devout Catholic – knows more about Minaj than my grandparents ever will. In a weird way, we are all in this pop cultural bubble together.

So what voice should we be listening to? Is it possible to have individual thought rather than using someone else’s ideas a template? Perhaps we should learn to separate appreciation of a celebrity or representative from subscribing to their schools of thought.

Rachael Roth is a Collegian Columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]