The re-emergence of Miley Cyrus (and the controversy surrounding it) has reminded America of the cyclical life of the pop star. There is the bubble-gum-pop sweetheart phase, followed by rebellion, which leads either to an image reform or simply more rebellion.
Hand-in-hand with the rebellion stage are the angry parents, who purchased the CDs, concert tickets, and t-shirts that enabled their child's idol worship. How do they explain this to their child?
So why do we hold pop stars up as role models in the first place? The entertainment business is not exactly known for morality. To stay famous means to stay relevant, sometimes by any means possible. There has been a report that Amanda Bynes's recent erratic behavior is all part of a publicity stunt to reclaim her fame.
Pop stars don't sign up to be role models, yet for some reason we expect them to be. A Daily Mail writer recently ripped into Rihanna in a racist and sexist attack, citing her behavior as damaging America's youth. Rihanna responded by saying, "'Role Model' is not a position or title that I have ever campaigned for."
At the end of the day, you cannot expect the same star whose job is to sell a product to be a wholesome role model to a child, especially in a society that awards airtime to nude photos, nipple slips, and drug use. Stars are eager to shed their good-girl image, and racy photo shoots have become a rite of passage. Publicists are smart, and can use (and create) these situations to boost their client's appeal.
There are stars that do these things because they want to, and we have to respect everyone's ability to make their own choices. If a young pop star sees posing nude as an empowering way for her to embrace her sexuality, I'm not one to judge. At the end of the day everyone has her own motives. But in the entertainment world these motivations may not transfer to audiences, and they may see something that was intended to be empowering as a form of objectification. Instead of dissecting stars' motives and perpetuating the pop star cycle by sharing articles about the most recent scandal, we should instead be looking to supply children (and ourselves) with role models of a different sort.
It's unfair to expect a young woman who wants to pursue a career in entertainment to also be a model of behavior for children. There are often large age discrepancies between the performer and her audience. It is almost impossible to be a famous performer and perfect role model, and we don't expect this from our male pop stars. Instead children should look to peers their own age already making a difference for inspiration. The problem is not that children look to pop stars for role models — it's that they’re the only ones they can find.