A new celebrity culture took off in the late 20th century and has accelerated in the age of social media, such that people can use a variety of platforms to speak and inspire their fans directly, wherever they are in the world. In this wise, the internet recently went berserk as the social media community couldn’t stop taking about Nollywood actress, Tonto Dikeh, following the release of excerpts from an exclusive interview she granted to lambast her ex-husband. She revealed or rather confessed to the public that she married her ex-husband, Olakunle Churchill, with her own money. She further explained that their outlandish public displays of affection, loving sceneries, vacations as well as the cars she displayed on social media as gifts from her ex-husband, were all actually bought with her money, while alleging that Churchill is a fraudulent yahoo-yahoo man and not the decent philanthropist the public was made to believe he is.
But then, the internet does not forget, as another previous video of her newly married self in an interview praising her significant other, Churchill, to high heavens emerged online. In her own words, “Churchill is a man I am so proud to be with, a man who I don’t have to spend my money on to be with me, a man that brought me closer to God” and so on. First of all, how did a seemingly happy couple who publicly and playfully bantered across social media — dispelling myths of any relationship trouble — end up splitting a few months later?; why fake a perfect relationship online to begin with?; why not keep your private life private or better still live your authentic life and present things as they are? Well, because it’s Nollywood, and then, in show business, celebrities need their images either fixed or their profiles raised almost all the time, even if it means lying to their innocent millions of followers to achieve that. However, this is neither about Tonto Dike nor Churchill, but the celebrity hoax that has become the regular ice that the society has had to chew and draw upon, when we seek to gain liberation from boredom on social media, most of which followers subsequently internalize and judge their lives by.
For much of history, humans have paid particular attention to people who they feel they can look up to in one way or another. We’ve paid attention to courageous adventurers, skillful generals, great artists and musicians, brilliant thinkers and ground-breaking scientists. This made and continues to make considerable sense, because these were and are all people we could learn from. These were and are people with admirable qualities we could try to emulate, and by paying attention to such people, we could improve ourselves. Yet, there’s a sense in which the Tonto saga speaks to our all too familiar case(s) of celebrities deceit that we have all chosen to overlook or be silent about. It’s a story that depicts the era we live in – deception as a direct result of the power and influence of social media. And it does beg the question, how many people must have been made to compare their life to the seemingly flawless facade that is being put up daily by our idolized stars and celebrities? How many have had to be deeply buried in depression in the course of swallowing all the curated and packaged lifestyles of the screen divas hook, line and sinker? With mind boggling statistics on mental health in Nigeria as a result of social media exposure, we can bet many!
Sadly, many of the online celebrities we admire and idolize are guilty of this facade. So happy with retouching are today’s celebrities that many are willing to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the artist for days at a time, personally looking for flaws they want corrected. If the talent can’t be there, their managers often are, and nearly everything is approved before the final print. Hips are narrowed, calves slimmed, turkey-necks tucked. Pores are tightened. Eye-bags reduced often, entire hangovers are erased. Hair is thickened, teeth whitened. Underarm-skin is de-jiggled, belly fat obliterated, abs raised, and so on. Then again, we need not look far to know why celebrities are idolized because the way media portrays them as perfect human beings might be the answer. You can see and hear ubiquitously how celebrities are described as people who are physically attractive, rich, having the perfect spouse, etc. And then, there are teens and kids who are watching the television with such image of celebrities made up by the media inundating their minds. Forcing them to indirectly believe that celebrities are the best idols for them to follow. Needless to say, the many people this fakery must have unconsciously caused to feel hopeless, shameful, and sad with the seemingly perfect pictures of the affairs of the celebrities portrayed by the media. What the media doesn’t tell us however is that, for many of these so-called stars, peer pressure and public perceptions make them live large, by fire or force. And once one has crossed this red line, they do whatever it takes to keep up appearance.
As a consequence, the society has to battle with a generation of highly depressed teens and youths, whose generation has been set up for a lifetime of feeling like failures in comparison to their social media peers and stars. By all means this is not to put down every celebrity out there as bad role models as there are so many positive things we can learn from some of the celebrities (perhaps only a few) and their relationships much as we watch the mistakes they make to take out the lessons, validating all of us just a little bit. But for all that is good in this regard, it is also the case that the social media could lead us to stray from the truth, allowing others to believe that things are way better than they really are. That’s not to say that someone can’t post a photo online and be genuinely happy, what is important is not to take the measure of life from such posting, realizing that life is much more complex and complicated than happiness on the social media.
Still the point has to be made that celebrities have so many young people emulating them and by implication, they have a responsibility to be more careful about how they portray themselves, such that they would use their influence to serve as good role models to their fans and followers who put them on such a pedestal. To this end, it’s about time they acknowledged the amount of influence they have on the impressionable minds of teens and came into the realization that they are part of the trend setters of the society, with this imposing the responsibility to be much more controlled in their behavior and much more realistic in their depiction of lifestyles on the media and social media. In the same vein, the rest of the society, particularly the youth, should also be conscious of the perils of following uncritically the lavish lifestyles portrayed on social media knowing that not everything that glitters would be gold or be valuable in the last analysis. Indeed, we all have to be wary of the new trend of false life that is dished out in the form of celebrity packaging.
Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba, Nigeria.