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Handcuffs, a new status symbol

Getting Arrested: A Celebrity Status Symbol

Unsplash | niu niu
By Brian Hurwitz

Society has a habit of idealizing its celebrities. As a culture, we often put them on par with superheroes owing to their lavish lifestyles and idiosyncratic personas. Some exude grace and affability by posing for selfies with fans and signing countless autographs with a smile. We're told time and again they're just regular people, yet it's hard to humanize our heroes when they're regularly presented to us as larger-than-life figures. One way they show the world they're just like the rest of us is when they're arrested fighting for a cause they believe will make the world a better place. And when we see photographs and videos of them being handcuffed and stuffed into a squad car, we can't help conclude they, too, put their pants on one leg at a time.

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Jane Fonda being arrested at a climate protest
Gettyimages | Mark Wilson

Recently, the cause that has resulted in most celebrity arrests is climate change. Protests hoping to compel businesses and governments to change their policies that many deem harmful to the environment have become a weekly occurrence from coast to coast All manner of celebrities are regularly in attendance. They're often asked to address the impassioned crowd and voice their concerns. In doing so, they show the public that they care about more than just their box office and ratings. And when they're arrested for their protests, they prove it.

Joaquin Phoenix at a recent protest against climate change
Gettyimages | Tom Williams

Last December, actors Jane Fonda and Ted Danson were two such celebrities whose fervent calls for action to be taken against climate change were heard by all those in attendance at a rally outside the Capitol building in Washington DC, as well by local police. Both Fonda and Danson were ceremoniously handcuffed and arrested. Earlier today, actors Joaquin Phoenix and Martin Sheen received similar treatment at another climate change rally out of the Capitol building. Certainly, no one believes any are in danger of spending serious time behind bars. Rather, they show their willingness to use their platform and their privilege to enact change.

George Clooney meeting with former President Barack Obama
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Clooney_-_White_House_-_October_2010.jpg

In 2018, actress Susan Sarandon was arrested at a rally while protesting President Trump's immigration policies. It wasn't her fist time in cuffs. In 2012, actor George Clooney was arrested outside the Sudanese embassy in New York City protesting the humanitarian crisis in that country. And in 2016, actress Rosario Dawson was arrested in Washington DC while protesting corruption in politics. None made such appearances hoping to boost their public image nor for free publicity. They protested because they cared, and their subsequent arrests were more badges of honor than marks of shame.

Harvey Weinstein
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HarveyWeinstein-TIFF2014.jpg

However, not all celebrity arrests can be seen in such light. There was nothing courageous nor commendable behind the arrest of disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Long thought of as 'America's Dad,' the arrest of Bill Cosby opened many people's eyes to the overlooked epidemic of sexual assault. And the reasons for R.Kelly's time in jail was not celebrated by anyone but his victims. The difference between crusaders like Fonda and Clooney and predators like Weinstein and Cosby is that while the former is willing to fight for something larger than themselves, the latter is only concerned with themselves.

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