In an Instagram post-Sunday, Taylor Swift broke her long silence on politics and encouraged her more than 112 million followers on the platform to register to vote. Less than 48 hours after Swift’s post, more than 169,000 new people registered to vote. (Washington Post)
In late 2017, comedian Jimmy Kimmel called out LA Senator Bill Cassidy on his health care plan that would ‘kick about 30 million Americans off insurance.’ Kimmel simultaneously came under a lot of fire and appreciation for stepping out of his role to point out a legitimate inconsistency with what he saw.
It has been a generally held conservative position that artists should just ‘shut up and sing’,’ or in other words not comment on politics or matters of public policy. As rational people, we do understand the influence celebrities hold over the general public and the imbalance there could be between this influence and their actual ability to comprehend and comment on politics. As most of the ‘Hollywood types’ are predisposed to a liberal outlook, it has been rather easy for the American conservatives to dismiss celebrity conversation on politics as irrelevant. That was until Kanye West took even them by surprise. A man who seems obsessed and fascinated with his own celebrity status, Ye has declared his love for Donald Trump on multiple occasions and has followed his wife’s example by having a one-on-one with the President in the Oval Office. He holds the extraordinary achievement of having Trump lost for words as he went on a 10-minute monologue in the Oval Office saying things like wearing the MAGA hat ‘made me feel like superman’ and ‘Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.’ He sees in the POTUS a kindred spirit, another celebrity who both revels simply in the celebrity status and also knows how effectively to wield it, without ever relenting the spotlight. More interesting though is his endorsement of people like Candace Owen and Scott Adams. They are both alt-right icons, known each for Turning Point USA and Dillbert cartoon. When he weighs in with support, conservatives are suddenly at a loss on how to respond. The general positivity with which they have accepted this particular celebrity exercising his ‘right to free thinking’ shows that partisan interest in celebrities taking stands really extends only as far it really helps their cause.
There’s an opening in between celebrity status and politics that Donald Trump exploited to the fullest. While Hillary had celebrity after celebrity endorses her candidacy, Trump used his own status as the sole focus of his campaign, a strategy that paid dividends.
We do need to address the premise of celebrities not being competent to give opinions on things they don’t really understand or are qualified to talk about. Given that celebrities are by default more influential, it could be argued that they should be held to a higher standard of sensibility than that of a less influential person. On the other hand, it makes no sense to restrict the right of someone to go bonkers just because of how other people could react to it. It is sometimes genuinely great to see someone try and use their influence to get more people to participate in the democratic process, as Taylor Swift has done this week. But when someone goes ahead and implies slavery was a choice, you don’t really know how to react.
In a world where ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity,’ both celebrities and political parties only gain from extended time on the spotlight. The burden will always be on rational individuals to see through the obvious gimmick, malic, -and most importantly- ineptitude.