To follow the trend or to set an example? That is the question.

29 Mar

Yes, that second to last photo IS in fact Shia Labeouf’s official mugshot after being arrested for a DUI.  And yes, he IS smiling.  Something wrong with this picture?  Literally.  How obnoxious can one be? And that last snapshot is our beloved (sense my sarcasm) reality TV star from The Hills, Stephanie Pratt.  Didn’t recognize her? Neither did I.

Athletes, actors, artists, models, reality TV stars…whatever they are, some of Hollywood’s most well-known have jumped on the bandwagon and into the booking room.  And it’s here where a real problem presents itself.  Celebrity arrests for drinking and driving receive considerable media attention.  However, do these “newsworthy” events serve as teachable moments or do they influence what young people might consider to be the norm?  Public figures are role models, whether they intend to be or not.  Stories about them pop up everywhere from the newspaper to magazines to blogs to Perez Hilton, for goodness sake.  Unfortunately, a lot of these reporters use their media outlet to focus on the particular celebrity and how their actions affect their personal life, instead of using the opportunity to reinforce why driving under the influence is such a terrible idea.  I came across an article from 2009 that looks into the issue with a pretty clear perspective:

Media Ignores Health Consequences of Drinking and Driving Among Young Celebrities

DUI-related Policies and Societal Interventions Also Overlooked

The recent drinking and driving (DUI) arrests of celebrities—Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsay Lohan—yielded widespread news coverage, however, very little of it offered any public health context, according to a new report by researchers from theJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy. Analyzing stories reported by the New York TimesTIMEPeople and the evening news broadcasts from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox, researchers found that only 4 percent of the reports made any mention of injury or potential injury from the DUI events. In 2005, alcohol-related crashes resulted in 16,885 deaths in the U.S. The results of the study will be published in the May 2009 issue of Alcohol and Alcoholism and is available on the journal’s website in advance of the print publication.

“Media are an important source of information about the consequences of alcohol consumption, and influence how individuals define acceptable behavior,” said Katherine Smith, PhD, lead author of the study and assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Center for Injury Research and Policy. “While the celebrity DUI stories raised awareness of the issue of drinking and driving among young people, an opportunity to educate this audience on solutions to prevent DUI was missed.” Previous research has demonstrated that medical-related celebrity news, such as reports of breast cancer, can motive the public to seek cancer screening services like mammography.

Smith, along with colleagues Denise Twum and Andrea Gielen, conducted a qualitative analysis of 150 print and 16 television news stories using a coding framework to capture main elements of relevant story content, e.g., placement of any mention of the DUI incident, mention of contributing factors or consequences of DUI, as well as any public health messages. The most frequently occurring topics found in the study sample were arrest, sentencing and going to/release from jail. Less than half of the stories focused on the legal aspects of the DUI event. Few articles included any consideration of any DUI-related policy or possible societal intervention, and discussions of the consequences of the DUI were almost entirely limited to discussions of the legal and professional repercussions for the celebrity herself, such as losing movie or television roles. Examining who is most often called upon to offer comment, researchers found that those involved in the justice process (police, district attorney, judge) were frequently quoted, whereas no story included quotes from public health stakeholders or DUI advocacy groups. Only one story suggested the possibility of a designated driver.
“This is really a missed opportunity. The fact that reported rates of driving impaired are higher among young adult drinkers and that drinking and driving in this age group is increasing suggests we need to be taking advantage of every opportunity we have to change behaviors and perceptions among this audience,” said Gielen, ScD, a co-author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy. “Unfortunately, when media cover paltry legal consequences for the celebrities alongside routine use of their glamorous photos, we are likely doing a disservice to young people. We need to be getting the message to young people that drinking and driving is a serious issue with substantial legal and life-threatening consequences.”

The research was funded by grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.

(Source: Johns Hopkins Public Health News Center)

It really is a shame that so many public figures can’t seem to keep it together.  As someone who is constantly in the spotlight, you’d think they would put a little more effort into protecting their image and maintaining a level of respect in the community.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.  And fans who know better are constantly being let down by their actions.  We need someone who can set an example.  We can no longer rely on Hollywood’s clan of hot shots to do it for us.

“But who?” you might ask.  What about you?

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Cliche, perhaps, but a valid statement nonetheless.

As college students, we have the ability to inspire teens and adolescents to make healthy choices and to excel in all aspects of life.  Believe it or not, we are role models too.  Whether you are a tutor, your little brother’s little league coach, a dance teacher, or just someone who plays with your nieces and nephews during the holidays, you have a lot of influence on how these kids see the world.  Give them someone they can depend on and look up to face-to-face.  Forget the magazines and television.  By actively participating in their daily, weekly, monthly routines, you can help bind them to the real world and all that it can offer if you strive to be the best you can be.

Don’t drive drunk. Don’t get in the car with someone who is intending on driving drunk.

Can you imagine how devastated that little one would be, with big hot tears welling up in his baby blue eyes, when he finds out his hunky basketball-playing wii-boxing superman of a brother who knows best was killed in an alcohol-related car accident?  It would be absolutely tragic.  Luckily, you won’t be there to witness the whirlpool of hysteria that follows because you’ll be dead.  Lucky might not be the right word.  But you get the idea.

I hate reflecting on all the times I’ve gotten into the car with a drunk driver (and believe me, it’s been far too often).  Sometimes I wonder what it would be like for a police officer to show up to my front door and try to explain sympathetically in carefully chosen words to my parents how I had been in the car with someone with a .18 BAC and was killed instantly upon impact, my bones crushed between chunks of metal.  I can’t even project onto this blog all the thoughts that would probably run through their minds.  They  would probably blame themselves.  Where did they go wrong?

That fact of the matter is that they didn’t.  Because I know better.  So why the hell has it happened so many times?  I have trouble answering this question myself.  So I took it to the streets (survey monkey, to be specific) and asked you guys instead.  See my next post for the results.

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One Response to “To follow the trend or to set an example? That is the question.”

  1. Jessica Kelly March 31, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    I am so glad that you pointed out all of the celebrity DUI occurrences. With so many of those influential people up there in your blog post, I wonder how many of them still do it and get away with such ridiculous levels of irresponsibility.
    It’s amazing that – as you mentioned – the news frequently covers stories like this but hardly goes in to the real consequences of it. Lohan gets caught and charged, but she doesn’t go to jail because she is a celebrity, etc etc. It certainly does not set a good example for people if they don’t see such prominent individuals get the same treatment everyone else does. Despite all of the campaigns out there against drunk driving, for some reason people still take the issue far too lightly. I really hope your change comes along. Great topic.

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