The New York Times’ Mark Bittman takes Beyoncé to task in a recent piece for acting as a shill for Pepsi during the Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 3. The singer, he writes, “would presumably refuse to take part in an ad campaign that showed her carrying a semiautomatic rifle. But she’s eager, evidently, to have the Pepsi logo painted on her lips and have a limited-edition Pepsi can bearing her likeness.”
Beyoncé is not alone, of course. Bittman lists several other celebrities who presumably don’t need the money, yet shill for soda companies nevertheless. Some might argue that Bittman’s Op-Ed is a bit a harsh on the singer. But he’s a pussycat compared to Marion Nestle, who believes Beyoncé crossed an ethical line.
“Beyoncé will now be marketing sugar-sweetened beverages, products increasingly linked to childhood obesity, especially among minority children,” writes Nestle on her Food Politics blog. “This linkage is not a coincidence. Pepsi and other makers of sugary sodas deliberately and systematically market their products to low-income, minority children. Beyoncé will now be part of that targeted marketing campaign.”
But this is what stars do, right? Beyoncé isn’t the only person in the entertainment industry talking out of both sides of her mouth. Just watch the recent video PSA of Hollywood celebs demanding a plan to end gun violence and then the parody that juxtaposes their pleas against their gun-wielding acting roles. (Eek. Beyoncé is in that video too.)
Most of us can’t have it both ways, but we, the consumer, the ones who inflate these people’s star power, allow them to have their (metaphorical) cake and eat it too. And that, in large part, contributes to the career decisions they make.
Someone as famous and wealthy as Beyoncé probably didn’t need to take the Pepsi gig. And she may not have if she knew her fans would protest. And that’s what we should do. Rather than blindly worshiping celebrities, we should hold them to a higher standard -- especially those who, like Knowles, get involved in political and social movements. As fans, we have the power to boost a celebrity’s influence, the power to dampen it, and the power to help direct it.
I doubt we’ll hear anything from the Knowles camp, possibly out of respect (or obligation) to Pepsi. For all we know, she regrets her decision to team up with Pepsi and wishes she’d thought the whole thing through before signing on the dotted line. (Ever the idealist, I am…)
After her Super Bowl halftime performance, though, Knowles could consider a mea culpa tour. Bittman’s suggestion: “[S]he could take some of her creative time and produce a public service announcement that would positively affect the attitudes of millions of children and teens on the subjects of health, self-image, nutrition and exercise.”
Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier