Chapter 4: Convincing Discourses

4.2.4 Celebrity politics (research essay)

Thomas Lundin

English 102, November 2020

In the modern age of technology and social media news can travel across the country in a matter of minutes. There is so much information and so many problems that are discussed or become known every day that it is hard for people to figure out what is most important. Celebrities have not only capitalized on this mass of information but also helped to create an agenda in the mess by talking about the most important issues to them. In the past there was a stigma when it came to many celebrities and what they could really bring to the table of politics. There is still some today with them not being taken seriously but they have been changing it especially with them going above and beyond to help. For the most part though celebrities today are the decision makers. Today’s celebrities set the agenda and can achieve much more than a regular person or politicians due to their outreach and ability to attract a wide variety of people. They have become more and more vocal when it comes to specific issues that are most important to them or they are most interested in even if it has never affected them before. Many of these celebrities know the immense privilege that comes from their fame and it is important to many of them to give back. In today’s world though it is not a donation, it is political action. These celebrities have created a new type of politics that is changing the political field and how politicians need to be like to win and gain the support of their constituents. 

Celebrity politics is a new idea that is only recently seen a massive increase in following. The earliest and well-known celebrity politicians would likely be Ronald Reagan because he was a well-known movie star before his career in politics. This could be considered the seed that gave rise to such a drastic change in politics. The most recent event that cemented this change in philosophy is the election of Donald Trump. In the article “What is Donald Trump? Forms of ‘Celebrity’ in Celebrity Politics” by john Street. He proposes the idea of two types of celebrity politicians. The one being like Donald Trump or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Celebrity Politician one (CP1) which is the celebrity who uses celebrity techniques when it comes to fame and stardom and translating that to politics. While the other is Celebrity Politician two (CP2) which is more in line with celebrity activism. This is more of the Lebron James, Kim Kardashian type of celebrity who gets engaged with politics to help people rather than seeking office (Street 5). John Street talks about this idea of these two sides to celebrity politics. The most common being CP2 and where many current celebrities have found themselves. There are very few people that have fallen into the CP1 side of the spectrum but in today’s world we can see how career and new politicians are morphing their styles to look like the ideals of these stars. 

 Celebrities get a lot of attention just from living their life. With people starting to take a stand on different issues they are bringing different problems to light. By doing this they can control the hot topic issues in politics. Their outreach is very effective because more likely than not they are able to attract both sides of the spectrum because their current following has a diverse ideology. For example, in the article, “Can celebrity athletes burst the echo chamber bubble? The case of Lebron James and Lady Gaga” by Tsahu Hayay, Yair Galily and Tal Samuel-Azran they examine this exact idea. In the world of athletics this outreach can be seen the most. In the article they talk about how Lebron James is a liberal leaning person and he does post liberal things on social media but his following is so diverse due to his time in the NBA that there is many conservatives that see his posts (Hayay 910). This is important because with today’s algorithms that tailor information to you both sides only see what they want to see. With James’s following he can reach more people than a regular liberal politician.  

Celebriites massive followings allow them also to promote and in a way to dictate the agenda for the political realm. In the article, “Can Celebrities Set the Agenda?” by Anthony Nownes. He discusses how celebrities can promote and bring different issues to the table. More times than not you would think that the media has the most control over what are the hot topic issues in everyday life. He had three treatment groups and one control and wanted to see if the treatment groups would cause more people to pick health care as the most important issue. The different treatment groups were a puzzle, media and then a celebrity advocate. He concludes that the celebrity groups had the highest rate of picking health care as the most important issue (Nownes 7-8).  From this information the idea of celebrities having control over what is important is true. This ability can be caused from their outreach. This comes from their initial platforms and the diversity within those platforms. In modern politics today politicians are unable to bring people in from the other side. Even news agencies struggle because of their biases. Though celebrity followings have a wide variety of people following allows them to reach both sides of the argument and bring in more people than a politician ever could.  

Though celebrity politicians can be successful and help influence the world to fight for a cause in a meaningful and thoughtful way there is a dangers that this type of promoting takes away from the real issues at hand and dumbs down the movement. In the article “More than just a famous face” by Sarah Steele and Tyler Shores. They present the issue that can be seen in some celebrity campaigns. They talk about in some cases celebrities make a social movement narrowed down to one issue that does not encompass the full extend and in others their presence distracts from the issues (2). This is damaging to the movement because if you look at a movement such as the plastic straw and the naked ballot. Both campaigns that have had much celebrity influence. They bring in a lot of supporters including me. The plastic straw part showed that if you stopped using plastic straws you can help save the ocean and sea life from pollution. Though that subject matter is such a little part of the mass pollution in the ocean that this one movement took away from the overall goal. The same can be said about naked ballot campaign because celebrities were just encouraging people to vote. That is just one piece in true democracy. They never sent the message that people need to educate themselves before they vote and not just vote along party lines. Both issues and campaigns show the short comings that can be caused by celebrity campaigns and how they could damage the whole social issue. Though these internal factors are not the only things that cause problems for celebrities fighting social issues. Many celebrities have experienced push back from the media and politicians. This is mainly because these people do not agree with their stance, so they must attack the person rather than the issue because they do not have a good enough counterargument to show why the social issue is invalid. As a result, this pushback also causes the attention to be drawn away from the celebrities.  

Are there drawbacks truly the celebrities’ fault when it comes to dumbing down and not examining or talking about the full issue. In the article, “Celebrity, Politics, and New Media: and essay on the Implications of Pandemic Fame and Persona,” by David Marshall, he says that celebrities primarily use their capital and fame to bring attention to a certain issue (Marshall). This is in direct contrast to what Steele and Shores think will happen when celebrities are involved in political issues. The main issue is that it comes from opinion and the idea of a role that celebrities are supposed to play. Steele and Shores in my eyes look at it as if the celebrity becomes the public light for an issue and that the main information revolves around them. Though in a different perspective is the celebrity is only there to bring attention and not lead the platform. This would then put the blame for dumbing down and not looking at the full scope of an issue on the fans or audience. This would be due from their lack of interest or pure laziness. This ideology would invalidate the other argument though it mainly comes from perspective and my thinking because yes, a celebrity may dumb down an issue but that may be the only way to reach the public. Though this could also be because of the massive amount of information seen every day. When looking at Marshall’s article again he talks about the word-of-mouth culture and how it is damaging in that aspect. He talks about historic literature that says that this type of communication is dangerous because it can cause a wide range of fantasies (Marshall). Though then Marshall connects and continues this type of communication to be connected to the surplus of information causing people to communicate more through word of mouth rather than reading or learning it themselves because there is just too much. It is hard to figure out whose fault it is for celebrities not successfully examining the full extent of the issue or distracting from the issue.  

Today with all this information it is hard to see what is useful and even celebrity advocates can cause much confusion. The argument against celebrity politics and activism has not stopped celebrities and with the idea of celebrity activism and celebrity politics has allowed for celebrities to create an effective way to enact change. Their ability to vocalize issues and bring them to the for front of political discussion allows them to cause real change that an everyday person and even politicians are unable to do so. When it comes to their activism there are many ways that they create this change. It can be as simple as an Instagram post to speaking in front of congress or getting an audience with the president. There are so many ways that a celebrity can effectively fight for an issue. 

Every election year we see are rise in celebrity engagement in politics. The main cause in the heads of most of them is to encourage people to get involved and vote. This year being an election year it was like any other. For example, there was the naked celebrity movement telling people to vote. It was a weird initiative, but it was memorable and that is the point. That recent campaign was also vague and do not have that much subsidence other than asking people to vote. Celebrities sometimes cause that to happen where there is not much to their efforts and does not necessarily address the whole issue at hand. Taylor Swift’s politics became memorable because of her political statement. She had never expressed her ideology that much throughout her career but in 2018 it was all different. Swift took to Instagram and wrote a meaningful statement about who she was going to support in her home state of Tennessee but also just asked people to educate themselves and vote for who they believe in (Swift). She wanted people to vote smart. She was not trying to get people to vote for who she supported. All Swift wanted was for people to engage before they voted. This effortless statement caught many people’s attention. With her impressive following on Instagram millions of people were able to catch a glimpse. Within a day of posting her message there was a spike in voter registration with 65,000 people registering (Snapes). Taylor swift was able to create so much momentum and influence over a single Instagram post that all came from her outreach.  

You do not have to be a big named actor or actress to make an impact though. Many lesser known celebrities can achieve just as much. A perfect example of this is “Riverdale” star Marisol Nichols. She has been interested in child abuse and children sex trafficking early in her acting career and was hooked with learning and advocating about how widespread the problem really is in the country. Even though she does not have the biggest following around her she was still able to make a huge difference and has not stopped working. With her connections she was able to partner with local law enforcement in California and go undercover to help catch and arrest child predators (Weiner). This part of her life was not made public until recently and shows that the best celebrity politicians and activist know when they need to speak up and when they need to stay out to make sure they do not over shadow the issue at hand. As an actress she does have a little but more pull when it comes to things she wants to get done and partnering with the police was just the first step. In the article it is revealed that she is now making a documentary series about her time undercover and how she is fighting child abuse and sex trafficking while also showing a different perspective in law enforcement that is not seen every day. She wants to show the good that is within the system (Weiner). Nichols story demonstrates the sheer power even a little bit of fame can do to elevate a person above the rest and have not only a better chance but a bigger platform to share what they are fighting for. She also shows that the issue is bigger than her. When it comes to the documentary that she is making she is not only showing her experiences undercover but also want to help law enforcement. Lately especially law enforcement has not seen in the best light and she is using her documentary to give these officers the recognition they deserve because there are just people trying to make a difference.  

The other thing about Nichols is that most of her advocacy was kept out of public lights until recently. This type of ideology is what makes these celebrity campaigns the most successful. A person like Tylor Swift or Marisol Nichols are not looking for the media to support their efforts of even to really know. The press coverage that comes around these celebrities are not the most important thing. This can also be seen in Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian West with their efforts in anti-trafficking and justice reform, respectively. This though is subjective and is not always common with many celebrities because some just support an issue because it is what they must do at the time to make themselves look like a supporter and advocate for change without every really trying to help. Though some like the celebrities I have mentioned and will mention later have all tried their best to focus on the issues and make a change rather than just doing it to make them look better or help to elevate their celebrity status.  

In the case of Kim Kardashian West, she became aware of different problems within the justice system from her twitter feed. In the article “’I Wish I Had Paid Attention Sooner.’ Kim Kardashian West on Her Justice Project and Quest for Apolitical Prison Reform” by Alex Rees they examine the development of her activism when it came to criminal justice reform. She got involved in the Justice Project which is an organization that works on helping people who are wrongfully convicted. The article talks with her about how she has continued her efforts and is still helping The Justice Project. On her first case with Alice Johnson she used her platform to get all the way up to meeting with President Trump and he commuted her sentence (Rees). She used her platform to continue to elevate the media attention around Johnson’s case. Kardashian West knows that she can create massive change with her platform and connection, but she knows it is not always necessary. She has also never wanted to be pictured as the white savior or take credit for any of the work she is doing. The article states this and Kardashian West also talks about how she has never wanted any credit. She only helps when asked and does not speak up in some cases she is working on because she knows when it is not needed (Rees). That is how she is making such a significant impact, she does not want any credit when it comes to helping people, she just wants to help people because they deserve it. She directly says in the article that she is the last push at the end and is just the vessel to get pasted the finish line (Rees). This way she can help the most people without taking away from the lawyers and wrongfully convicted who have been fighting long before her. She is also taking it one step further with recently announcing that she was studying to become lawyer. She is doing what many of the celebrities I have mentioned by going one step further and doing everything she can to help make a difference.  

Now Nichols and Kardashian West are both celebrities that for a lack of better words stay in the shadows because they do not want the credit or overshadow someone else. Though the one celebrity that has done not only the most advocacy but change with their fight would be Ashton Kutcher. He has become the most successful celebrity advocate and one of the originals in the world of celebrity politics. He has changed from just a regular celebrity fighting for change to an expert on anti-trafficking and child abuse efforts. In the article, “Ashton Kutcher Is Fighting Online Child Sexual Abuse With Backing From a $280 Million Fund” by Sushmita Roy they talk about recent success around his foundation Thorn. Though it is only the most recent change in a long fight he has taken up. He first founded Thorn in 2012. In the article the idea for the project was a way to help identify, track and erase child sexual abuse material online. From this they recently got $280 million to expand their tool, which already is in all 50 states and parts of Canada (Roy). This platform has gained much traction and is helpful to law enforcement with the ever-evolving internet. With the platform they can help stop child trafficking. He is also not stopping because he knows child trafficking and sexual abuse is a global problem so, he wants to expand his platform around the world. The main reason that makes Kutcher different from the rest is because he left the more traditional celebrity sector to focus more his advocacy. He has become on of the main faces that are fighting child sexual abuse and has been for years. This elevated status started in 2017 when he testified in front of congress to discuss this issue. Kutcher is not trying to gain any status from fighting for this issue because that is not what is important. The main thing he and all celebrities are trying to do is make a difference.  

Ashton Kutcher, Marisol Nichols, and Kim Kardashian West have shown that celebrities are more than just rich people that do not help people in need. They have shown and demonstrated repeatedly that they create immense change with just a little effort. This does not have to take them away from their original careers but is a way that they can make a change with the ability they have. All of them use their success and fame to help and change the world. From starting a non-profit that now has a web-based system that is used by most of the US to becoming an advocate in prison and criminal justice reform and not stopping there and becoming a lawyer to help even more. And finally, going undercover to help law enforcement. When it comes to these celebrities they have shown and demonstrated that celebrities can make a drastic and lasting change.  

When it comes to celebrity politics and activism there are many shapes, forms, and ways that they can be successful in helping make a change in the world. The idea of celebrity politics has been growing and growing with the world of social media. Celebrities have become more successful in enacting and causing more change than many politicians. This could be because they have less restrictions, but it is from the idea that their mass following is more successful at spreading ideology than politicians. The three of the four celebrities I have mentioned have gone beyond to help but they are all helping. Celebrity politics has allowed them to reach the masses and as a result create a narrative that causes the world to change. Their voice and language have allowed celebrities to be the leaders of tomorrow. They are the people that decide what needs to change by listening to their fans and speaking up when needed. Celebrity politics is extremely successful and there is a true art that comes from it. These celebrities can use their star status and ability to put on a show to elevate an issue to an extent that would be impossible for any regular person.  

Work Cited  

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