Kanye, Taylor and more: the modern celebrity's role in today's politics
In the age of technology and social media, celebrities have the platform and money to influence society in ways never before possible. Just a few decades ago, the public had to patiently wait for famous people to give interviews to the press. Now, many celebrities prefer to have an online presence where they can send out a tweet or post an Instagram photo whenever, wherever. While social media is a great marketing tool for promoting new products, music or film, celebrities are also using their platform to voice their opinions on politics and are increasingly active in campaigning for awareness on current national issues. This newfound power raises an important and controversial question: as entertainers with no professional background in the field, should celebrities have a political voice?
Media has always been used as a means of voicing political beliefs. Songs and movies were made with political themes and clear criticism of the government, but the artists would rarely speak at political events or head social justice movements. Nowadays, celebrities use the platform they created with their art to directly involve themselves in the political process.
Kanye West, for example, recently met with President Donald J. Trump to discuss politics on live television and is even considering running for office. Taylor Swift used her social media platform to directly encourage people to vote. Other celebrities, such as Jennifer Lawrence and Miley Cyrus, established nonprofit organizations directly relating to social justice and political advocacy.
A concern many have with the political relevance of celebrities is the lack of education they have, especially in the political field. When asked about her opinions on Swift and West's recent political discourse on Twitter, conservative personality Tomi Lahren responded "I'm not for celebrities popping off on s*** they don't understand." Though educated celebrities do exist — Brown educated Emma Watson and Harvard alumna Natalie Portman are not alone in attaining prestigious degrees — many of the outspoken voices didn't even attend college, and some didn't even graduate high school.
America was established on the idea that all citizens are entitled to express their political opinions, regardless of their education or status. Celebrities, at the end of the day, are private citizens who have every right to voice their opinion. The problem many have with this notion is that celebrities rarely participate in politics as simply a private citizen. They instead discuss their politics quite publicly and use their platform to persuade people to side with them.
The solution to this seems simple, celebrities could just keep those opinions private and not entangle politics and their entertainment career. The fact is, though, there is virtually no way for celebrities to exist as private beings. Whereas a regular person can easily separate their career from their private life, that isn't an option for celebrities. Anything they tweet, any cause they donate to, any event they attend is automatically public knowledge. The only way for celebrities to actually keep their politics private is to not participate in any political activities.
It also can be argued that all people exploit their influence to spread political views. The only difference between celebrities and regular people is that the rich and famous simply have more expansive platforms. “Everyone has a twitter, and everyone shares their opinion,” said Serena McKiernan, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year. “Just because celebrities have an audience doesn’t make their opinions any less valid.”
It’s hard to deny the powerful effect celebrities have on the public. When people hear a celebrity discussing an issue, they’ll be more likely to invest in it. Since the politicization of Hollywood, the rates of political efficacy in the general public have skyrocketed. It's a popular tactic for nonprofit political campaigns to recruit celebrities to publicly advocate for their cause. Even when Swift posted on Instagram about voting last week, the voter registration rate increased exponentially. Vote.org reported that more people in Tennessee alone registered in the 36 hours after her post than in the entire month of August. Aryeh Iosif, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said that celebrities being involved in and speaking about politics is a good thing. “It’s a great way to get excited about politics and a great way to encourage people to vote,” he explained. There is no denying that increased political involvement is a good thing for the American democracy, and celebrities do mobilize the public.
It’s unlikely that people will come to a consensus on this issue, and in the meanwhile, celebrities will continue to express their political beliefs. Politics has always been a rich man’s game, and now there is a new upper class with virtually unlimited funds and unparalleled access to the public. With such power, it’s doubtful that celebrities will refrain from participating in the conflict brewing in America and their voices will only continue to grow more and more prominent.