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Aliya Shabbir
Honors 205A
October 24, 2018
Inquiry Paper #1

Of Politics, Celebrities, & the Media: Why All Opinions Warrant an Audience

When Meryl Streep accepted the Cecil DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in 2017, no

one anticipated that her speech would criticize the incoming president so directly and place

Hollywood in the fray of Donald Trump-era politics. But ever since film and television first

spread across America in the early twentieth century, celebrities have utilized their platform to

voice their views on politics and prominent politicians in person and on social media. Recently,

Taylor Swift has come under scrutiny for voicing her political opinions in support of Democrats

despite staunchly staying out of politics for over a decade. However, her announcement did more

than just stir up news headlines – it galvanized her followers and led to an incredible surge of

166,000 newly registered voters around the country. This surge in political participation proves

that whether it be for or against a particular position, a celebrity’s voice can lead to the

functioning of a healthy democracy in which every citizen’s views are represented across all

political parties.

A lack of compulsory voting regulations across the United States, unlike in Australia or

Mexico, has led to a voter turnout of 60 percent among eligible citizens, and even lower for

midterm elections. If celebrities including Taylor Swift and Yara Shahidi can organize

movements such as EighteenX18 to inform Generation Z of their duties as citizens, then why

should they be silenced? This generation has the most at stake during the 2018 midterm

elections, and thus must become aware of the current political climate locally and nationally in

order to vote on what policies or politicians who best represent them. And when many of today’s

political leadership consists of elderly heterosexual males at the top of the socioeconomic ladder,
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it’s difficult for legislators to connect with and recognize the needs of their constituents. By

becoming more aware and educated on critical issues, regardless of the source, young adults can

drive their congressmen and elected officials to draft policies that make America a more

prosperous, healthy, and safe nation.

Nevertheless, it’s not just artists who have brought contentious political stances into the

spotlight. Many NFL athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, were heavily criticized for kneeling

during the national anthem to protest the treatment of African-Americans around the country,

more specifically as unarmed victims of police shootings. While their actions may have been

controversial to some, many people agree that it shined a light on a diverse perspective and on

the thoughts of millions of Americans who thought their voices were unheard. In that context, we

can simply view “celebrities” or other prominent figures as ordinary citizens discussing issues

they care about on a public platform. This discussion among citizens is the cornerstone for

holding a civil conversation among our political leaders that must be held on issues that divide us

so deeply. Without allowing these individuals to speak their truth, we can never apprehend and

incorporate their viewpoints, which are necessary for engaging in peaceful discourse and

resolving such issues.

Like every other citizen, celebrities have the right to freedom of speech as outlined by the

First Amendment. Although the First Amendment has and is being hotly debated, there is little

dispute regarding the righteousness of expressing one’s opinion or peaceful protest. In fact, on

both ends of the political spectrum, there are prominent figures who express their satisfaction or

dissatisfaction for their political leadership. In other words, we cannot simply dismiss and

denounce the views of a celebrity just because we don’t agree with their stance. The United

States’ unique democratic component that differentiates it from its totalitarian counterparts is the
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freedom of speech. Enforcing restrictions on what individuals can speak about in public lowers

our democratic standards and sets back centuries of legal and humanitarian progress. Modern

technology, such as social media platforms, should enforce our fundamental human right to free

speech rather than undermine it.

Even though political comments from celebrities have positively reinforced our

democratic principles, they have largely sped up a detrimental drift in the ongoing cultural war.

Our tendency to blindly follow or stray from a public figure due to their art, performance, or

sport can result in irrationally evaluating political issues and centering them around the figure

who states a certain view. Many people, upon hearing that a public figure has sided with a

certain political party, will choose to vote for or against the policies or politicians who reinforce

their preexisting views and further attack the figure who represents opposing views. Thus, they

will begin to view politics not as a forum for advancing democratic and human rights, but as a

confirmation of their opinions on sports, music, film, television – industries that should not bear

any correlation.

Furthermore, upon hearing a celebrity’s word, people will neglect to search for

information sources that are factually accurate or resourceful. While artists and public figures are

excellent at expressing their opinion, people forget to draw the line and believe their opinions as

facts simply because they sound appealing or entertaining. Taylor Swift expressed this principle

most aptly in a statement to Time Magazine – “I don’t talk about politics because it might

influence other people. And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who

to vote for.” In an era when opinions are thrown around as facts and legitimate journalism is

treated as “fake news,” it’s easy to misinterpret the flow of information flooding the news cycle

and social media.

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This perception becomes dangerous when voters take these preconceived notions about

celebrities and their political choices to the polls. In this instance, it becomes increasingly

difficult to separate the art from the artist or the sport from the player, and the voter becomes

confused – should I vote to legalize marijuana because my favorite actress has endorsed its

legalization, or should I vote against it because of its effects when addicted? More often than

not, when people become conflicted between two equally appealing choices, they turn to others’

opinions to validate their own. In this case, they would likely end up voting for the option

endorsed by their favorite celebrity, regardless of how experienced the celebrity may be on the

issue. If their thoughts become increasingly muddled, they begin to advocate for the celebrity

holding a political position instead. These Oprah 2020 or Kanye 2020 “microcampaigns” do

more than pedestalize a figure – they lead the public to believe that because an influencer holds a

certain opinion, they should hold political office, even if they are not qualified. Moreover,

“microcampaigns” are grounded in the impulsivity of a population whose hasty decisions come

from a short attention span. If we allow our unconscious nature and bias to make such critical

choices, our electoral system will disintegrate and become unable to address our societal needs.

Although it is valid to question someone’s voting preferences when tied to their bias of a

celebrity, it is more important to acknowledge that public figures have the same rights as private

citizens and news organizations. In that regard, they should be able to publicly voice their

opinion and it is up to the listener to discern for themselves which position is the most rational. If

people disagree with or are worried that celebrity political statements, such as at the Emmys or

Oscars, are too controversial, they have the freedom to not listen. In the 21st century, there are

ample ways to consume information, and it is impossible to suppress them all without violating

someone’s right to freedom of speech.

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Whether we choose to believe a celebrity’s opinion or not, anyone who feels strongly

about political issues has a right to peacefully speak out or even protest. On the other hand,

anyone who possesses the qualifications to run for political office, has the legal right to run – but

that doesn’t mean we should blindly endorse celebrity candidates without any experience. This is

reflected in our political discourse – the Oprah 2020 movement vanished within 2 weeks of its

initiation, as is the case with many other fans insisting that their favorite celebrity ought to run

for president. Over time, people become aware of what qualities they’re looking for in an elected

official and steer their support away from a celebrity and towards a qualified candidate.

By becoming aware of our biases, we can view a celebrity’s platform as a means for

becoming informed citizens and critically evaluate the influx of information they provide.

Instead of blindly subscribing to their personal opinions, a more thoughtful approach would be to

incorporate it into our everyday dialogue and deepen our perspective on controversial matters.

Unless there’s hatred or inaccuracy in a public figure’s statements, it’s necessary to keep an open

and respectful ear, even if we disagree with the content of what is being said. Hearing and

heeding arguments on both sides of the aisle will enrich our disposition and allow for the onset

of bipartisanship in resolving the issues everyone cares so deeply about.