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During the past few decades, mass media outlets have become increasingly interested in celebrities: what they do, how they dress, how much they earn, what they eat and how they look. As Doctor Eisold (2014) pointed out, the media’s excessive thirst for content is the main reason why celebrities have become such a dominant component of our culture. In the past, fame was primarily associated with religious leaders – the main one being the Pope – royal families, philosophers, scientists, noble people and mythical figures; while people admired celebrities for their achievements and tried to know as much as possible about them, they rarely aspired to be like them (Danesi, 2013. p. 111). As new media technologies emerged and people’s needs and interested evolved, politicians, athletes, actors and other media-generated icons also joined the celebrity realm (Danesi, 2013, p. 111). As explained by Professor Cashmore (2006, pp. 2-3), celebrity culture did not just come out of nowhere: it was triggered by specific circumstances and episodes. From a historical point of view, celebrity culture stemmed from two main phenomena, namely political leaders’ inability to fill people with confidence and hope about the future and the proliferation of technologies that exploited mass communication to reach large segments of the population simultaneously (Cashmore, 2006, pp. 2-3). It is thanks to media technologies that media conglomerates managed to bombard millions of people all over the world with celebrities’ scandalous pictures, tragic stories and happy moments. For instance, the rise and death of Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor’s private affairs and Madonna’s outrageous behaviour received remarkable media coverage and enabled consumers to feel close to their favourite icons.
Analysing celebrity culture from a strictly sociological perspective, Ferris (2007) observed that sociologists’ tendency to classify celebrity as either a pathology or a commodity has prevented them from grasping the complexity of this phenomenon. First of all, it should be noted that celebrities are people who are regarded as particularly appealing and / or charismatic as a result certain outstanding qualities they possess, e.g. beauty, intelligence, physical strength, musical talent and so forth. According to sociologist Max Weber (1968, p. 241), charisma – intended as a combination of extraordinary characteristics that are capable of inspiring and influencing others – is a major source of power that has played a very important role in traditional authority systems. It follows that people do not become famous as a result of their economic power; on the contrary, their charismatic power is what makes them famous and wealthy (Ferris, 2007, p. 373).
However, research has clearly demonstrated that fame does not always go hand in hand with talent and charisma (Ferris, 2007, p. 374). Many have argued that in today’s society, even the least talented people can achieve fame by simply promoting themselves in a certain way among the hungry masses (Ferris, 2007, p. 374). Some have even pointed out that people’s obsession with celebrities derives from their dishonourable and irresponsible behaviour, has a negative impact on their uniqueness, and can even trigger serious mental disorders (Ferris, 2007, p. 374). According to Professor Eisold (2014), celebrity culture serves two main purposes: on the one hand, it distracts us from the terrible things that happen all over the world and provides us with excellent conversation starters; on the other hand, it directs all of our attention to celebrities’ wardrobe malfunctions, divorces and eating habits, while the superrich keep accumulating more and more wealth without anybody complaining about society becoming increasingly unequal. In other words, worshipping celebrity heroes is a dangerous activity which encourages people to detach themselves from the real world, thus preventing them from fighting for justice, fairness and equality.
At the same time, however, celebrities can also act as positive role models by supporting various causes and using their fame as a tool to help others. For example, Angelina Jolie’s efforts to raise awareness about the hardships experienced by Cambodian people, Middle Eastern refugees and women in underdeveloped countries – to name but a few – has earned her media coverage in some of the world’s most influencing newspapers and magazines (Ramsdale, 2013). In this regard, Barnes (2008) wrote an article for the New York Times in which he reported that Angelina Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt had been requiring tabloids that purchased and published their pictures to devote some coverage to Angelina’s charity work, as well as to Cambodian people’s needs and challenges.
In conclusion, while it is true that worshipping certain celebrities can actually sensitise people to certain issues and causes, celebrity culture remains a highly distracting activity which is unlikely to contribute to people’s education, personal growth or understanding of the phenomena that are shaping the world in which they live. With regards to the impact of celebrity culture on women, it has been observed that media outlets’ growing appetite for celebrity news is slowly making both educated and uneducated female readers dull and “dumb” (Bentley, 2011).
Advertising is a very old practice that has a profound on impact on consumers’ behaviour and buying decisions. Archaeologists maintain that advertising was already common in ancient Rome and Pompeii, where they have found signs promoting houses for rent (American Psychological Association, 2004). However, advertising campaigns targeting children did not appear until the advent of television and the emergence of channels whose shows and commercials are meant exclusively for young viewers (American Psychological Association, 2004). According to recent data, most children in the United States have televisions in their bedrooms and unrestricted access to personal computers and laptops (American Psychological Association, 2004). While the situation in the United Kingdom is not as bad, a recent survey has revealed that 20% of children aged four or less also have television sets in their bedrooms, as their young parents ignore the fact that unsupervised access to technology could have a negative impact on their children’s social skills and personal development (Poulter, 2011). Over the years, many experts have discussed the benefits and risks of exposing young consumers to advertising and marketing.
On the one hand, Lamb & Brown (2006) maintain that advertising makes it difficult for young girls to make free decisions as it exploits their “girlhood” in such a way to manipulate their behaviour. For example, a marketer who wishes to promote a certain purse among young female consumers may ensure that teenage celebrities are seen wearing that purse – perhaps by resorting to a common advertising technique called celebrity endorsement (Lamb & Brown, 2006, p. 45) – whilst making it visible on social media platforms and developing ad hoc TV commercials targeting fashion-conscious girls. That way, the purse being promoted would be perceived as a highly desirable item by numerous girls who would persuade their parents to buy one for them. According to Lamb & Brown (2006, pp. 1-2), songwriters, marketers, illustrators, TV producers, retailers and others all compete to promote their stereotyped perception of today’s girls: to some of them, girls are sweet little angels and, to some others, they should start acting as teenagers when they are still in elementary school. As a result of that, girls are encouraged to start dressing to impress those around them way sooner than girls of previous decades (Lamb & Brown, 2006, p. 14). The problem with this is that while parents may appreciate the fact that their little girls look like sweet Barbie dolls, exchanging genuine play time with being trendy, fashionable and glamorous is an unearthly choice that is likely to have a negative impact on their adolescence and personal development (Lamb & Brown, 2006, p. 14).
Similarly to girlhood, boyhood can also be extremely profitable if well packaged. Brown, Lamb & Tappan (2009, p. 12) note how frequently we are exposed to images of fathers who watch their sons grow into successful baseball players and athletes, never missing a game and always telling them how proud they are of their boys’ achievements. In other words, a decent father-son relationship is one that revolves around typically male activities and a clear lack of authority. Therefore, if a father decided to focus on his son’s feelings, qualities and diverse skills, chances are his son would then be mocked by his peers for not acting like a “normal boy” (Brown et al., 2009, p. 12) . As for women, advertising campaigns usually depict mothers as nothing more than happy-looking snack providers, female teachers as scary people who have devoted their lives to making boys’ lives a living hell and, finally, grandmothers and aunts do not even exist (Brown et al., 2009, p. 12).
In view of the above arguments, it can be inferred that advertising and marketing are two powerful weapons that skilled professionals use to manipulate the minds of young people so as to promote potentially harmful ideas and products among them.
On the other hand, practitioners like J. Walker Smith from Futures Company argue that whether adults like it or not, children are ordinary consumers with needs and demands and, consequently, marketers’ interest in them should not surprise or upset anyone (Pardun, 2013, p. 1953). After all, data suggest that a significant percentage of parents take into consideration their children’s opinions when making buying decisions, thus accommodating their preferences and playing an important role in shaping their personalities (Pardun, 2013, p. 1953). Instead of accusing marketers of doing their job, Smith (Pardun, 2013, p. 1955) believes that people should accept the fact that children can be very smart consumers and cooperate with marketers in order to ensure that advertising and marketing campaigns targeting children take into consideration children’s actual needs and desires.
With that being said, children living in media-saturated contexts are highly likely to be continuously bombarded with promotional messages whose main goal is to persuade them to buy certain branded toys, clothes and other products, rather than giving them what they want (Panici, (Pardun, 2013, pp. 1959-1960). As a result of that, it would certainly be wiser to prevent children from being overly exposed to advertising and media.
The self-help movement is meant to assist individuals in improving themselves and solving personal problems without resorting to professionals for guidance. As explained by Davis (2004, p. 11), during the past century, numerous self-help books have been written and released which were primarily concerned with character building, intended as the acquisition of certain desirable skills and traits in order for one to become a better person. The movement is named after Samuel Smiles’ (1859) “Self Help”, which is widely regarded as one of the first self-help books ever published. In his book, Smiles (1859) simply encourages his readers to act in order to achieve their goals, rather than relying on the government and / or political leaders to get what they want. However, it was not until Dale Carnegie (1936) published his best-selling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” in the 1930s that the self-help industry began taking shape. Despite having been around for eight decades, Carnegie’s book is still extremely popular, to the extent that in 2011, Time Magazine labelled it as the nineteenth most influential book since 1932 (Sun, 2011).
In spite of its remarkable success and growing popularity all over the world, the self-help movement has been criticised on numerous occasions for its false promises and ineffectiveness. According to Steve Salerno (2009), while many Americans believe that self-help gurus’ claims are completely harmless, in 2009 three people died and eighteen were hospitalised after performing a purification ritual recommended by James Arthur Ray, a motivational speaker known for his self-help books, speeches and DVDs. Over the years, self-help gurus’ reckless theories have resulted in numerous tragedies, fatalities and incidents which could have been avoided if people had simply sought professional advice, rather than resorting to primitive rituals to solve their problems. As explained by Salerno (2009), many self-help gurus owe their success to elaborate mind games aimed at making their followers feel completely defenceless and vulnerable; in occasion of their periodical meetings, they may ask participants to take off their clothes or endure some sort of pain or discomfort in order to be ready to receive their messages.
In one of his books, Salerno (2005) analyses the self-help movement in greater depth so as to demonstrate its negative impact on people’s self-confidence. After unveiling the simple and yet suggestive techniques employed by some of the world’s wealthiest self-help gurus – e.g. Tony Robbins, Tommy Lasorda and Peter Lowe, Salerno (2005) explains how these authors often rely on fake testimonials of people who have found the courage to change their lives and leave their abusive partners to persuade their target audience to believe everything they say. He even argues that the only people who truly benefit from the self-help industry as self-help authors, whose wealth has been growing significantly during the past three decades (Salerno, 2005). It is because of self-help gurus that millions of people are led to believe that the only way for them to unlock their full potential, see things positively and make their dreams come true is to purchase a book and attend a few meetings (Salerno, 2005). While some of these gurus’ statements may actually inspire people to improve themselves, Salerno (2005) maintains that they should stop acting like scientists as their claims are still largely untested. However, it is worth pointing out that self-help gurus have helped numerous people overcome their fears and improve themselves. For example, business magnate Warren Buffett has publicly thanked Dale Carnegie for teaching him how to speak in public and get up in front of others, thus enabling him to give public speeches and pursue his goal of becoming the Oracle of Omaha (Baer, 2014).
In conclusion, while Salerno (2005) and other critics of the self-help movement are certainly right when they claim that certain self-help gurus encourage their followers to engage in reckless and potentially harmful practices, it would not be fair to generalise about all self-help gurus, as some of them may actually use their knowledge and experience to motivate others to improve themselves and master certain skills which they need in order to achieve their goals. As reported by Mandy Stadtmiller (2014) from Time magazine, self-help books have enabled her to turn her life around and become the confident, self-loving woman she had always wanted to be.
Before determining whether it is acceptable to buy counterfeit branded goods, one should first try to understand why the production of fake products has become such a booming industry (UNODC, 2016). As explained by Chaudhry & Zimmerman (2009, pp. 68-69), consumers buy counterfeit goods for a variety of reasons, the main ones being their disregard of quality and their belief that violations of intellectual property rights do not harm the economy; moreover, surveys have revealed that numerous consumers believe that buying counterfeit goods is perfectly acceptable as genuine designer products are too expensive and the is really no difference between fake and real products in terms of quality (Chaudhry & Zimmerman, 2009, pp. 68-69).
According to McCartney (2006), both consumers and luxury brands are to be blamed for the growing popularity of counterfeit goods, as while consumers’ demand fuels the market of counterfeit goods by encouraging manufacturers to increase their output and find new ways to distribute their products all over the world, companies’ marketing campaigns are clearly meant to promote the glamorous lifestyle associated with their products, rather than quality and less superficial / emotional attributes. As reported by Ali (2008), available data suggest that people who buy counterfeit goods do not usually respect the law and hold negative attitudes towards large companies that sell expensive products. As a result of that, their decision to purchase fake branded items may be seen as a rebellious act against consumerism and capitalism. However, counterfeit products are also known to appeal to those consumers who would like to be perceived as wealthy and glamorous, even though they cannot afford the items that symbolise / reflect their desired lifestyle (Ali, 2008).
As Doctor Ali (2008) pointed out, despite being illegal, the most interesting thing about selling and buying fake goods is that this is something where one’s criminal behaviour is not visible to those around them; in fact, most counterfeit items are so similar to their genuine counterparts that most people would not even be able to tell them apart if those who buy them were not perfectly comfortable with talking about their passion for counterfeit brands (Ali, 2008). While buyers of counterfeit goods are usually perceived as victims who are sold items which resemble the genuine ones that they really want, the truth is that a significant percentage of consumers who buy counterfeit items are aware of the their origin and appreciate the fact that they are very affordable. However, research has demonstrated that according to many people, counterfeit items as just as good as genuine ones (Ali, 2008). As a result of that, there is really no reason for them to purchase expensive branded goods, which is exactly what companies should focus on in order to stop consumers from fuelling the counterfeit goods industry.
To be more precise, rather than devoting a great deal of time, energy and resources to penalising those who sell and buy counterfeit items, companies should ask themselves why imitations are so attractive and what can be done in order to convince consumers that genuine items are way better than fake ones. For example, they could develop awareness campaigns aimed at sensitising consumers to the inadequate circumstances under which underpaid workers in developing countries manufacture counterfeit goods, more emphasis could be placed on the relationship between counterfeit goods and organised crime and marketing campaigns could be planned in such a way to emphasise the hard work behind each luxury item so as to attract consumers who appreciate quality, rather than aspirational buyers. As reported by Pwc (2013), while the majority of British consumers believe counterfeiting to be a morally wrong practice, over 50% of them have purchased counterfeit goods at least once in their lives; Pwc’s (2013) findings also suggest that young British consumers are becoming increasingly tolerant towards the idea of buying counterfeit goods.
It follows that even though the law and even social norms tell us that buying fake goods is wrong and detrimental to numerous people, most consumers do not actually appreciate the gravity and implications of counterfeiting, which is why deep down, they find it perfectly acceptable to buy counterfeit goods. While both consumers and companies have remarkably solid arguments, it cannot be denied that those who purchase counterfeit items fuel an illicit industry whose growth is having a profoundly negative impact on popular brands, governments and even buyers, due to many fake goods being made of materials which are harmful to consumers’ health (UNODC, 2016).
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