"Write an essay arguing whether or not celebrities are appropriate role models for young people. Identify the qualities or attributes of a role model, and analyze whether popular celebrities have these traits.
"Support your position with reasons and examples."
First place was awarded to 10th-grader Marina Parla, who won $100 for her efforts. Second place went to 10th-grader Nicole Potter ($50) and third to 10th-grader Justin Hazeltine ($25).
Marina's first-place essay, "Under the Influence," is reprinted below.
"Over the course of history there has been a select group of people that were highly influential upon mankind. Whether they were kings, queens, presidents, musicians, inventors, or artists, people who were well renowned have had an influence on those of the common nature. Today, however, people that highly influence our society are those of a different kind. They consist of movie stars, musicians, athletes, models, politicians, artists, and an array of miscellaneous types of celebrity. Celebrities are a complete part of mass media, helping to contort the images that the media portrays.
"Out of all the people influenced by celebrities, teenagers are influenced at the highest level. From the way they dress, speak, carry themselves, to the complete way they act, most teenagers are molded by this pop culture. A majority of this influence is negative. For example, the hip-hop and rap scene is filled with sexism against women, and degrading, violent antics. Due to this being extremely popular, there is a visible change in the way teens treat each other with respect, or, lack there of. A celebrity like Snoop Dog, who is constantly getting busted for repeated drug use, is a very influential man. He makes it seem "cool" to engage in such activities like smoking pot, drinking, and putting down women. Every single one of his music videos contains at least one of these acts. A celebrity like him goes to show that when you are famous you hold a power. The power to be a role model, and the power to be a high influence. Stars like him are using this in a negative way.
"Paris Hilton, daughter of Richard Hilton, is a main influence in today's pop culture. She is the butt of jokes pertaining to her provocative nature, a fashion icon, an awful actress, and a wannabe musician. The words she says are used as catch phrases: "That's Hot." Her overly orange tan skin, platinum hair, and fit body shape are the ideal figure and appearance to young girls. She speaks about wanting to be a role model, but she obviously doesn't understand what a role model should represent: modesty, integrity, self-respect, and intellect. If someone was examining her with a checklist that contained each of these, the results would show up blank. There is nothing modest, smart, or respectful about her. But if you walk into your local mall, you are sure to find Paris Hilton clones that are mostly teenage girls. They are overly tanned, wear short skirts, use dull vocabulary, and have a knack for getting dates. If you ask them who their inspiration is for their style sense, surely they would say Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie. Paris Hilton is an example of the negative image that celebrities portray.
"Though there is a large amount of negativity in the media world, that doesn't mean there can't be a positive influence from celebrities. For example, famous athletes can be great, inspiring role models. Athletes like Serena and Venus Williams, professional tennis players, are great examples of good role models. They stay fit in a healthy, active way, and don't starve themselves like pop culture celebrities. They give motivation to young girls that sports are not just for men. They are empowering and strong, and they are someone to aspire to be like.
"Another form of celebrities, musicians, are also highly influential upon young people. Bands, solo musicians, DJs, song writers, singers, rappers, and instrumentalists are all in the mix. They can be negative and positive influences, because there are so many different bands and types of music. Although you cannot generalize all kinds of fans that follow different types of music, there is a large amount of similar people listening to similar genres. It's not always about the music though, but about the people behind the music. For example, the band Avenged Sevenfold is a lot like the hip hop culture in the way they portray and degrade women. There is negative, sexist imagery in their music videos, like strippers, and extreme sexual behavior. This is not a positive influence, and definitely not something good role models should project.
"But there is always a positive side. The band My Chemical Romance is a great example of a positive influence among young people. They are highly misunderstood to be a dark, violent band, but that is exactly what they stand against. They speak openly against suicide, self harm, and drug abuse. Their music has saved fans' lives, and there are testimonies to prove it.
"In the February, 2007 issue of Spin music magazine there was a detailed interview with MCR (My Chemical Romance.) In this interview, they displayed quotes from MySpace, fan pages, fan forums, and e-mails. One young girl said, "They fill a void … a missing part of me … a part of my heart and soul … a part of my confidence. Their music makes me happy. Their music makes me feel beautiful." That is definitely not something you hear every day from fans of mainstream bands like The Killers or singers like Avril Lavigne. Another fan states here that "I even wrote my suicide letter. I even planned a date that I was going to kill myself. But then, MCR came into my life … They helped me believe that I wasn't alone, that someone actually cares. Their music inspires me so much. And I cannot thank them enough for giving me a reason to live. For giving me a reason to be myself. Thank you MCR, for saving my life." That is something extraordinary.
"The singer of the band, Gerard Way, has dealt with many of his own self-image problems, and drug and alcohol abuse problems. After two years of sobriety, he has fully recovered, and he uses his experiences to speak out against negative things like low self esteem and negative self talk. For example, at a show, he once said, "Hey girls, you're beautiful. Don't look at those stupid magazines with sticklike models. Eat healthy and exercise. That's all. Don't let anyone tell you you're not good enough. You are good enough. You are too good. Love your family with all your heart and listen to it. You are gorgeous whether you're a size three or 14. It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside. As long as you are a good person, as long as you respect others. I know it's been told a hundred times, but it's true. Hey girls, you're beautiful." He is definitely a good role model, because he is real, with faults like a normal person. He's not candy coated or spray tanned. He's part of a tangible actuality that one can aspire to be like.
"Next time you hear someone talking about their favorite celebrities, ask them why they like them, and think about their reasons. Is it because they are hot? Is it because they are fit or talented? Or is it the fact that they stand for something worth believing in, and give them a feeling of self worth? In the end, a celebrity can be an awful role model, or an amazing one. The choice is yours. Who will you follow?"