In late January of this year, Jussie Smollett, an actor on the show “Empire,” told the police that he was called racist epithets and that attackers wrapped a noose around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him. Afterward, celebrities gave their sympathies through various forms as well as vows to find justice. Another group of people stated that Smollett staged the alleged attack due to rumors of being kicked off the show after the Chicago Police Department stated that they wished to talk to Smollett once again about the incident.
Recently, the Chicago Police Chief stated that Smollett orchestrated the attack, while Queen Latifah said that she stands with Smollett until further evidence is shown. The public doesn’t know who to believe.
My point isn’t necessarily to bash Smollett, because there is a lack of information from primary sources, but to build on a larger problem that happens in our society.
Public figures are individuals who have developed a following either through their artistic or political success or mere wealth.
I do understand the need for such people, given their ability to trickle down information, values and ideas in a way that other institutions may not be able to, but their existence does create problems like this incident. The public doesn’t know who to believe, and people of similar status often choose a side.
These influential people are on our cable news channels, on columns like these and at conferences. They are our celebrities and even our professors. In fact, we listen to many on a daily basis.
When select individuals have a microphone, physical or virtual, it is powerful in our world — so loud because, through one way or another, they are able to move the trajectory of society. So when the possibility of misinformation, or even a misdirection of a quote is possible, we all must be careful.
We all have individuals, organizations or institutions that we look up to but that we should never take at complete face value. We give them power by consuming their information.
Another example of this is during the Clinton presidency when we saw the passing of the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act,” a bill seen as the largest crime bill ever passed. The act was quite extensively implemented with more prisons, more officers, the expansion of the death penalty and even more statutes to charge individuals with.
The Clinton administration was a key factor in its passing, but Bill Clinton later stated that he regretted portions of the bill. One failure here was the lack of consultation with other opinion leaders with different stances on the approach to crime, but the biggest failure was ultimately the public being too trusting of the opinion leaders rather than the politicians or the consultants.
These actions destroyed countless lives and damaged countless communities as a result.
As humans, we have a tendency to search for public figures and value their opinions, which is fine, but we shouldn’t take every statement or action by people like Jussie Smollett or Bill Clinton at face value because we are all humans, after all.
Jonathan Lovelady is a senior sociology and geology major.