By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
Though the 2016 presidential election of television personality Donald Trump rattled the nation given his lack of prior political experience, this was far from the first time a well-known celebrity became an elected official.
Celebrity is a wholly subjective label, encompassing professions outside of entertainment. America saw a draw to celebrity politicians in 1965 with the election of Hollywood actor George Murphy as California governor, though the novelty of a celebrity politician seldom actually benefits the nation.
According to a 2015 survey by Vox, voters appreciate the fresh perspective a “celebrity politician” may bring, reasoning that those without prior political experience have not yet become entangled in the complex and often corrupt inner workings of the political world.
It can be hoped that these candidates will reign without a personal agenda and will run their campaigns without pushing political gimmicks used for party advancement.
While there is an understandable draw to the unique perspectives an “outsider” may have on politics, others worry affluent celebrities are too far removed from the lives of the average American to make informed decisions on their behalf.
“They might buy your CD or watch your movie but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills,” actor Mark Wahlberg said while addressing celebrities gaining traction in political circles in a 2016 interview for Task & Purpose. “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.”
Celebrities do not come from the demographic that comprises a majority of the constituency they would be representing. How, then, would they be able to determine the needs of the American people?
That said, there may still be a particular niche within American politics to which celebrities can belong. Especially as of late, many celebrities have become increasingly politically outspoken, whether using social media platforms or their art to voice their political opinions and rally their fans.
My grandmother was an avid Bruce Springsteen fan from his first album release until the last presidential election, citing his politics as the cause of her sudden distaste. While Springsteen has always been politically outspoken, the singer’s open campaign for Democratic candidates and denouncement of Trump rubbed some fans the wrong way. Some feel politics is no place for celebrities whatsoever, but even Bruce Springsteen is a human entitled to the same opinions as the rest of us.
Regardless of their opinion, entertainers are capable of broadcasting their thoughts across masses and persuading others to feel the same way. Having large fanbases across the country and even internationally, they reserve the unique privilege of immense influence over a wide array of individuals.
With the power of influence, however, comes responsibility. Remaining politically informed is key to avoid spreading misinformation. Celebrity political activism is only beneficial if the celebrities in question provide context and truth, regardless of the opinions they also insert into the dialogue.
In 2018, Taylor Swift posted an Instagram selfie with a lengthy caption calling on her followers to vote and to form an educated decision while doing so. She explained her reasoning behind her personal decision to vote for Democratic representatives.
“Swift in her Instagram post detailed her core beliefs, and examples where her vision of America is reflected in the party representatives she decided to vote for and stressed the importance of doing your own research,” NewsLeaf journalist Ellie Varley said.
Swift’s Instagram activism serves as a positive example of celebrity involvement in politics. She uses her platform to educate, while also providing her own perspective for the consideration of her followers.
Conversely, Kanye West sparked controversy in September 2018 when he closed his performance on Saturday Night Live with a lengthy, impromptu monologue in support of the Trump administration. He spouted unsupported facts, including the false statistic that 90% of news outlets were liberal, while also calling on listeners to “think with their hearts instead of their minds.” His claims were baseless. His calls to action were muddled.
Though he was thanked in a tweet by President Trump, West was scrutinized by fellow celebrities and fans alike who found his stunt to be tasteless.
Both Swift and West used the means available to them to voice their political opinions, but Swift aimed to educate and share her rationale while West offered no explanation for his statements. The latter serves to show that celebrities can abuse the “soapbox” they are given when they lose sight of the moral obligation they have to incite positive change rather than stir controversy.
When done with grace, celebrity involvement can be of benefit to American politics. Celebrities have the ability to reach those that may be reticent to become politically involved, such as young voters who are crucial to fair elections. Their influence can drive movements, and hearing different perspectives allows voters to become more wholly informed.
There is a place for celebrities in politics, but there are responsibilities taken on when assuming the role of political influencer that celebrities must bear in mind to avoid doing more harm than good.