RORY McIlroy brushed past an autograph hunting kid as he left the final green at the Open Championship and caused the latest in a long line of social media criticism firestorms directed at celebrities who don’t appreciate their fans.
There’s a million reasons why the criticism was ridiculous, not least the fact that, under the rules of professional golf, he was not allowed to sign anything until he signed off his official scorecard at the stewards room he was walking to at the time.
On a more personal level we can all relate to that. We all have one or two naggy friends who want things from us at the most inopportune moments.
If we are honest with ourselves we ignore these people every second time they ask us for something annoying like, ‘Come over and see my new decking?’, ‘Why don’t we go to that place we both know you hate?’ or ‘Will you watch this video of my kid that looks like every other kid you’ve ever seen in your life?’
Why is it so different when someone like Rory or Kanye West tries to go about their business rather than deal with each and every request made of them? A commonly recurring answer is, ‘They are different. They are celebrities. Their fans pay their wages. They owe it to them.’
The argument goes that the celebrity ought to show gratitude to the people who have enabled them to have the lifestyles they enjoy by constantly being at their beck and call. Or at the very least, when they’re in public, signing anything and everything that is presented to them.
I’ve never bought into to that line of thinking mainly because I think it’s unfairly weighted on the side of the autograph hunter. How can buying one of one hundred million items endorsed by a person give you a right to intrude on the life of that person regardless of the setting forever more?
It’s almost as absurd as the other most frequently made argument, ‘Well this is what you signed up for - If you didn’t want to get hassled than you shouldn’t have become famous.’ The most frustrating part of the prevalence of these arguments is that they miss the broader question of ‘What do celebrities owe us?’
Some years ago the rap music pioneer Chuck D suggested that modern musicians should take more responsibility with their music. He claimed that, in an era when so many have so little, it’s wrong for artists like Jay Z to pen anthems about their abundance of wealth. Thought needs to be given to how powerful that platform of fame has become.
Whether it’s through golf, rap music, fashion or just being famous for being famous, these people can effect change through the people that admire them. Barak Obama’s election is perhaps the most obvious example of the exercise of that power in the last 10 years.
The big question is not whether our famous people owe their fans an autograph, but whether they owe the people that will potentially act upon their words an example to follow.
It’s worth remembering the next time there’s a knee jerk reaction to a celebrity’s perceived ignorance to their fans the broader aspects of what they try to do with the fame they have earned. Rory McIlroy is a Unicef Ambassador and by all accounts uses any free time he has to help raise awareness for causes such as at-risk youths, human rights, poverty, slavery and human trafficking.
In light of this, the outcry over this single autograph seeker (who at that time had no right by the rules of golf to approach the golfer) was as dumb as it was typical of the Twitter era we live in. Who can make the fastest snidest comment first?
Now that he’s on the top of the hill who can be the first to take him down in a limited number of characters for the most amount of retweets?
Of course there is an imaginary contract signed that says, to have this lavish lifestyle you have to pay celebrity tax in the form of posing for photographs with people who can’t work the cameras on their phones.
But don’t we owe a little more respect to those like Rory who go above and beyond the terms of the agreement.