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Letter from Brussels: Marketing and PR of Role Models

by De Ket in Columns & Opinions , 24 February 2017

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Dear Neighbors to the North, Following the death of British pop star George Michael, the GLBTQ community praised George Michael as a role model. To some degree, his coming out was very brave indeed, but it should not come as a surprise that precisely the coming out of role models is part of the marketing and public relations of the celebrities’ personality cult.

Especially younger gay men lean on gay role models. Those gay role models have to serve as example and as an excuse that it “isn’t so bad to be gay. Look at George Michael, he is gay too.” Young straight soccer players all want to become another Messi.

It is questionable whether we actually need a role model for anything and everything in our daily lives. Those who lean on role models run the risk of losing a sense of reality. It is not surprising that the epidemic of depression and despondency runs parallels with the abundance of information about potential role models on (social) media. The more someone fixates on a role model, the more likely he or she resembles this role model less and less. The psychological effects are now known.

Another question is whether the role models we look up to, such as George Michael, help us coming out, or with other issues concerning homosexuality. Perhaps to a certain extent. But then, as mentioned earlier, they mostly serve as a token of being gay. A lot of famous gay role models have or had a lousy reputation. Or they confirmed in an almost inimitable way the prejudices the GLBTQ community hBoy George and Freddie Mercuryad to put up with for decades: Rock Hudson had AIDS, Boy George’s and George Michael’s drug abuse issues, Stephen Fry going after a much younger man, RuPaul as a drag queen, etcetera.

Periodically, GLBTQ activists call on celebrities to come out of the closet, without mentioning them by name. While it can be said that a lot of stars look very “gay” indeed and often move heaven and earth to keep their bedroom secrets private. The moment of the coming out of the stars - and therefore subsequent role models - was never accidental. George Michael and Boy George came out of the closet at a time their record sales and star statuses started to plummet, and Stephen Fry came out at a time his acting skills were no longer appreciated.

Or how their coming out was not so much a real coming out, but a sophisticated marketing and PR strategy for their declining success and a means to rekindle interest. This applies to a large number of gay celebrities.

Stephen Fry and his husband Elliot SpencerBut what about those straight gay icons? Singers Madonna and Kylie Minogue are advocates of gay rights at heart, but they and their managers know all too well that the flow of money mostly comes from GLBTQs. Their careers are almost entirely dependent on their LGBTQ fans financially speaking.   

In a commentary after the death of George Michael, Fernand Van Damme, gay journalist of “De Morgen,” called on famous gay people to come out of the closed to function as role models. It is probably because of his young age that Van Damme did so. When celebrity gays out themselves, it is often because other things are at stake besides “being gay.”

I never felt the need for such gay role models. Instead of leaning on a role model, people should just be true to who they are. That is hard enough as it is, but would make many gays so much happier.

Yours sincerely,

De Ket



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