Did you know Mexico has one of the worst public healthcare institutions in the world? I do. I've experienced first-hand how brutal trusting your health to it can be. I live in Mexico City.
There is no equipment in the hospitals, medicine is in laughably short supply, and the system's so overcrowded that people who need immediate attention are considered lucky when they get an appointment with a specialist in only three weeks. To top it all off, patients endure being treated horribly, as they're regularly humiliated by the very staff supposed to ensure patients' wellbeing.
You don't really get a sense of just how much we need to evolve as a society until you walk down a hospital so poorly-maintained that blood's spattered around the walls and floors, making the stable-like "rooms" housing sick children stand out even more. Or when you see a mother bent over her child's bed, crying while sitting on a cheap plastic chair because the boy is dying, and her financial situation doesn't allow her to do anything about it.
Even in the United States, where hospitals are better, new parents can experience fear and uncertainty when their child faces serious illness. Jimmy Kimmel recently found himself in that situation and talked about his experience, which led to backlash from conservatives and criticism that he is out of touch.
Jimmy Kimmel: A 'Creep' For Speaking Up
Celebrities are the gold standard for everyday people. They're cool and have their lives seemingly mapped out. The thing is, those role model-like qualities also come with a burden for them: Being invalidated when touching on real-life issues.
Look at what happened with Kimmel. The talk show host opened up during a monologue, revealing that his baby had been born with a serious heart condition. Without immediate and expensive surgery that his health insurance covered, his baby son would have died. It's a devastating situation that opened his eyes to the difficult situation underprivileged families constantly face.
Too often, people have to decide between what they can afford and their own lives or those of their loved ones. Kimmel used his experience as a call for action, to support the public health system and make sure no person who needs medical services is without the ability to afford it, particularly where children are involved. That kickstarted an intense debate, with people on one side slinging accusations like "elitist," "out of touch celebrity," and even a "creep."
You may think Kimmel wasn't as passionate about healthcare before he witnessed the challenges people without that benefit have to go through, so he is out of touch. But the thing is, does previous inexperience in a subject invalidate what a person has to say once they gain firsthand experience? No. It's a learning process. It's an eye-opening situation that in no way lessens their efforts to make a difference.
Even someone in a position of power doesn't necessarily know the ins and outs of healthcare. Congressman Raul Labrador once declared no one has ever died from not being able to afford healthcare. Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently made the argument that if someone wanted to afford healthcare, then they shouldn't buy iPhones. A number of House Republicans admitted to not having read the health care bill proposal before passing it; quite literally they didn't know what laws they were passing that would affect their own people. As I read about this, I was appalled by the irony of those claiming Kimmel's impassioned plea was out of touch being so out of touch themselves. When it comes to someone's wellbeing, there shouldn't be teams, money, or doubts involved in making that a priority.
Kimmel is not an elitist creep; he's commenting on a problem to many people have to face. People need affordable healthcare. And as my little example above shows, Kimmel's effort to bring attention to the subject didn't speak only for the U.S., it was a much-needed cry for help for the rest of the world. And the topic gives us the chance to look at the bigger picture.
Are Celebrities Really Out Of Touch?
During an interview with Task & Purpose, Mark Wahlberg said something interesting: He believes stars should refrain from speaking their minds about loaded issues, such as politics:
“A lot of celebrities did, do, and shouldn’t. You know, it just goes to show you that people aren’t listening to that anyway. They might buy your CD or watch your movie, but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills. A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family."
As much as I enjoy Mark Wahlberg's work, following the wise advice of not dealing in absolutes, I strongly disagree with that. We shouldn't encase people in a group because of their background. Having money or a high social status doesn't automatically make a person unaware of what's happening in the world, in the same way that having a humble origin before stepping into something bigger doesn't automatically propel you into leaving reality.
In response to the social media attacks after his statements, one of Jimmy Kimmel's arguments against the "out of touch" accusations was his humble origins, having to drink powdered milk due to not being able to afford actual milk, or his family having to smuggle their dog during trips to not pay the $2 motel fee for pets. Does his background exempt him from being called an "elitist"? No, it's who he is that does that.
Many celebrities (a sizable portion, in fact) come from humble roots, and it shapes who they become later in life, keeps them grounded. Yes, some do allow that ever-attractive sense of fame to fill their heads with a misguided sense of self-importance. But Hollywood has a way of chewing up and spitting out the celebrities who get too full of themselves too soon. While there are famous individuals sealed off in a thick protective bubble, that doesn't apply for every single celebrity, or even most.
Take Ashton Kutcher for example. He was one of the most sought-after actors for a while, breaking out in That '70s Show, starring in multiple films, and landing a leading role in Two and a Half Men. But his focus is no longer acting; the fame was simply a stepping stone to do what he really wanted to do. Instead, he's one of the fiercest combatants against human trafficking in the world, having built a company to eradicate it.
His money or status didn't prevent him from being well-aware of what's happening in our society, and most importantly, from doing something about it. Instead, he uses his status to contribute to putting a stop to a problem that's facing so many people today. The same can be said for other stars like Blake Lively, who's also fighting against child trafficking, Stephen Amell, who is a strong advocate for a cure for cancer or the late Cory Monteith, who was heavily involved in protecting youths from homelessness. We've also seen countless examples of the casts of comic book movies—arguably the biggest movie stars in the world today—using their fame to drive charity events, regularly visit sick kids, and raise money for good causes.
So, yes, I'm afraid I have to disagree with Mark Wahlberg. Being a celebrity shouldn't mean staying out of today's issues. People often see them as individuals with an unrealistic, privileged mindset that makes them oblivious to what happens outside their environment. The most powerful perk of being a celebrity, however, one quite a few actors have always understood, is that it puts them in a position to have the influence and money to effect change and give back. They're humans, just like us, and they have the right to express themselves. There are so many pressing issues in the world. I, for one, welcome celebrities to use their heightened status to raise awareness about them.