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Rihanna, Bieber and the dangers of celebrity worship

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Rihanna speaks to students at Barrington High School on Friday, March 23, after arriving nearly 4 hours late. (Celebuzz)

The gymnasium of Barrington High School exploded with Beatlemania-like screams on Friday as Rihanna, pop princess of the Billboard charts and racy queen of the tabloids, made her grand entrance.
Never mind that she was over three hours late, a delay she attributed to "Chicago traffic" in an Instagram photo she posted just an hour prior. The meet-and-greet for students who had won a video contest about "giving back to your community" was obviously low on Rihanna's priority list, as she offered "thanks for waiting" non-apology to the 2,500 person crowd--the majority of them young girls--and stayed for only 12 minutes.
Fans grew disgruntled waiting for Rihanna to arrive, deeming her behavior "rude" and pathetic." However, most were quick to forgive her when she finally showed up.  
"It was a really long wait, but Rihanna is so inspirational," freshman Batul Yawer told the Chicago Sun Times
Justin takes a selfie on an audience member's phone. (SugarScape)
What do these teens find "so inspirational" about Rihanna? Sure, she caught the attention of hitmaker Jay Z in 2004, and with the help of some very talented songwriters, churned out 12 number one singles to tie Madonna's record. However, the 24-year-old singer is also famous for rolling drugs on her bodyguard's head, acting erratically on several occasions and, perhaps most disturbingly, returning to boyfriend/abuser Chris Brown after he was convicted of physically assaulting her in 2009. 
Of course, everbody makes mistakes, and even chart-topping royalty like Rihanna should not held to standards unattainable by mortal beings. But her questionable conduct in the public eye (irresponsible at best, nihilistic at worst) sets a horrible example for her young fans to follow: be a bad girl, behave unprofessionally, record a love song with the man that punched you in the face and make no apologies for it. 
Fans also cling with troubling rabidity to one Justin Bieber, pop singer and babe magnet extraordinaire. His tween devotees (they call themselves "Beliebers") have slammed him with false paternity suits just to get his attention, issued death threats to his now ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez and threatened to cut themselves over his alleged drug use. 
Bieber is a talented-enough kid, but this whirlwind of insanity around a 19-year-old who frequently throws temper tantrums (he had the "worst birthday" ever, you guys) and doesn't even know how to spell "Janis Joplin" is downright terrifying. 
The hero-worship of athletes is also way over the top. From high school to college to professional leagues, sports stars are showered with inconceivable amounts of money and praise. The greats (Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and even the recently scandalized Tiger Woods) are revered as gods. But besides being masters of their game, what have they really done to better society as a whole?
Gloria Steinem circa 1972, featured in the PBS documentary 'Makers: Women Who Make America.' (USAToday)
Some of my role models are actors and musicians; however, they also possess many qualities outside the realms of "acting" and "singing"  that I hold in high regard. I look up to these people not just because of their talent, but because of how they carry themselves through the world. 
Tina Fey inspires me as a writer, feminist and whip-smart businesswoman. I admire Andrew Bird for being a positive influence on other aspiring musicians through the Andrew Bird Scholarship Fund for Chicago arts programs. Many more of my role models are featured in the PBS documentary Makers, which chronicles over 50 years of trailblazing American women: from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Maya Angelou to the original leader of the feminist movement, the incomparable Gloria Steinem. 
Outside of the entertainment industry, I implore our nation's youth to look to the people in their own communities for inspiration. Our life-changing teachers, nurses, neighbors, social workers, mentors, counselors, close family and friends are the true unsung heroes of our society; never to receive the same widespread media coverage as Rihanna and Justin Bieber, but always the ones whom we should value the most.
Who are your role models? Leave a comment below, tweet @leahkpickett or join the conversation on Facebook

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