Celebrity Support Muddles Important Topics

by Sarah Weber

On Nov. 8, 2017, singer Taylor Swift posted a photo outside of a polling station with the caption, “Today is the day. Go out and VOTE.” Within a matter of minutes, her simple statement was dissected by millions of followers and media outlets across the globe. The absence of a declaration of support for either presidential candidate in her message was taken by many as a personal slight. Some newspapers went so far as to speculate that Swift was a covert Nazi, while others heavily criticized her for refusing to endorse a candidate in the unusually polarized election. Somehow, a pop singer had become a political symbol.

The public’s demand to know Swift’s vote shows, in a nation whose own president is a former reality show host, that sensationalism has overtaken the political system. This is becoming increasingly obvious as otherwise qualified political candidates are disregarded by voters for lack of “likability”; many of Hillary Clinton’s detractors cited her wooden, uncharismatic demeanor as a primary reason for their dislike of her, despite her political experience and governmental prestige. Meanwhile, talk show hosts and Twitter users alike encourage politically unqualified public figures to run for president based solely on their popularity, ignoring the reality that a certain amount of knowledge of law and government is required for the position. Movements such as #OprahforPresident or #Kanye2020 only serve to exacerbate the problem; celebrities, no matter their fame or fortune, largely have no expert knowledge of government or law and should not be counted on to supply political commentary. While President Trump seems to be running on little more than hot air when it comes to political nuance, there’s no evidence that Oprah Winfrey, as charismatic as she is, would possess any more knowledge of the legal process than Trump. Turning to non-politicians for political purposes can end only in further tangling of the delicate balance of government.

Turning to celebrities rather than experts for political advice can also present some unforeseen consequences. Reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner’s support of Trump, though met with widespread anger from the LBGTQ+ community, nevertheless showed that even Republicans who could be potentially harmed by Trump’s presidency still backed him. Similarly, singer Joy Villa’s clear support of Trump (she wore a “Make America Great Again” dress to the 2017 Grammy Awards) showed that African American women could back Trump despite his widespread unpopularity among the group. In both cases, speculation is rampant that casting support for Trump was a bid for media attention, skewing the general population’s beliefs of certain groups in the process. Conversely, Beyonce and Katy Perry’s ardent support of Hillary Clinton only served to alienate their non-Democratic fans, who felt themselves to be ostracized in an arena that has generally been considered one of leisure and not of political discourse. Rather than resulting in a more informed electorate, public celebrity support simply elevates certain positions above others, which may or may not be beneficial to fans they seek to represent, and deepens the rifts of politics by contaminating any common ground two groups may share.

Celebrities, though they often claim differently, are not viewed by society as “normal people.” They are seen as members of America’s pantheon of fame, and their actions are often used to justify the actions of those who reside on levels far below them. Endorsements or political views should not depend on a platform of popularity to be rationalized, nor should the existence of such platforms force celebrities to give their own views when they feel they should be private. There is no reason that celebrities should have to use their fame to promote their own interests. While claiming to bring attention to important issues, celebrities often solely serve to represent their small minority of the extremely wealthy. They also often tend to have views that do not align with those those their followers who live in more disparate conditions. Though it may seem admirable for stars to cast their support behind a candidate or campaign, it ultimately further skews the political divide that exists today and creates an oligarchy of celebrity that has no basis in fact or reason.

Celebrities Provide Access to Critical Issues

by Hannah Cheves

Hollywood and its celebrities have been politically vocal in their support for candidates and issues for decades. For example, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe gave their support to former president John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential election. More recently, Beyonce’s supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. However, in the present day, it is easier than ever for celebrities to engage with their fan bases and spread their views through social media, influencing millions of people. Ultimately, this is beneficial as it spreads awareness of issues such as sexual assault and political injustices while simultaneously helping individuals in society realize that they have the power to affect change.

Recently, many female celebrities have used their platforms to expose the lewd acts of producer Harvey Weinstein, which in turn has led to an explosion of effort in Hollywood to reveal sexual predators. This also served as inspiration for worldwide #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano. #MeToo surfaced across social media outlets with the public endorsements of many celebrities. High profile names such as Lady Gaga and United States gymnast Aly Raisman helped make this watershed event even more powerful; one of Gaga’s tweets has garnered thousands of retweets and likes so far. #MeToo first affected celebrities, and then was spread down to their followers once the movement gained a widely known base; without these stars being vocal, the #MeToo movement would have never gotten nearly as much traction as it did.

Some may argue that celebrities who are involved in politics are only motivated by their own benefit; however, having the courage to speak out clearly shows that is not the case. Many politically active stars could be potentially hurt by their participation in these types of endeavors, and many actresses have spoken out about having been blacklisted and threatened when they brought issues that they were passionate about to light.

The biggest problem with asking celebrities to stay silent in the face of social and political issues is that it would lessen awareness of social and political plights. Like it or not, the average American consults celebrities’’ social media feeds far more than they check the news, and are therefore more likely to read about an issue when a celebrity speaks out about it; awareness therefore does not spread if stars stay silent about issues. Celebrities with reach should fight for what they feel is right and not feel pressured to remain silent. If they have such a large following, they should be allowed to use their voice to reach it.

In fact, influencers should not remain docile, especially with the wrongness of today’s society. At Super Bowl 50, Beyonce’s halftime show performance, in which she evoked iconography from the 1960’s Black Panthers, brought Black Lives Matter into the homes of millions of Americans who had never even thought about the movement before. Similarly, actor Leonardo DiCaprio founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which he created to focus solely on climate change and the “wellbeing of all of Earth’s inhabitants.”

Celebrities are not obligated to nor should they stay silent on issues that matter to them and others. Their considerable spheres of influence allow many to get involved in fighting important problems when they might not have otherwise gotten involved in the first place. It lends itself to creating an awareness of injustices that can be rectified with enough people speaking up.

 

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