In recent years, popular culture and political activism have very much blended together. Some people champion this and are excited to see celebrities with privilege speaking out about social issues, certain political figures, and movements across the globe. However, many believe that actors, musicians, and athletes should stay away from politics because they lack adequate qualifications and speak out for the purpose of branding. But this is a very narrow idea of politics and a very narrow idea of influence.
First, it is important to understand that politics impact the lives of every single American, and perhaps every single global citizen, regardless of government type, party affiliation, wealth, or knowledge. Political science is not just a general educational course — it is the study of who gets what, and how much of it. Politics and government are very different things, and in the age of social media and the idea that everyone can have an opinion, and should voice it, builds this empire of a social movement; this is healthy for both democracy and for informed voters and citizens.
It’s important to consider the role of social media during times like these, especially since there are so many public figures with platforms that amass a major following. What is their role in this situation?
These online personalities frequently use their platforms to share content, which largely influences the users that make up their following. These sites are mainly used for promotional purposes, showcasing a stream of ads that promote certain products or artistic content, including music, movies, and TV shows. Knowing that many celebrities have the power to influence so many users with the swift tap of a screen, they should use their platforms beyond monetary interest to bring light to important humanitarian issues—making sure to educate themselves first as to not spread misinformation or fake news in their platforms. Oftentimes, celebrities with millions of followers have the power to spark conversations around topics that must be discussed in order to change the status quo.
A controversy was reintroduced as an issue in popular culture following the higher frequency of award ceremonies “becoming political.” For instance, The Oscars in 2018 were perhaps the most powerful displays of the “#MeToo Movement.” All actors and actresses in attendance wore black to make a political statement and some even wore pins that read “Time’s Up!” meaning that the time for sexual assault being brushed aside is over. Oprah Winfrey made moving remarks about fighting for a new era where no little girl has to say “me too” again. Critics argue that these celebrities should stay in their corner and leave the politics to the politicians, but that is exactly the idea that sent America in a downward, partisan, and hostile spiral.
In order to create change and make a difference on social issues, everyone must work together to raise awareness about these issues. Social issues are oftentimes the last topic on the agenda in government, taking a back seat to economics, foreign policy, and security. In order to make these issues painfully obvious to representatives, the general public needs to get involved. And who better to ignite the public than the people with the largest followings, the most resources, and the most access to wide-range messaging? People look up to celebrities for more reasons than just why they are famous. And when they use their platforms to talk about issues that affect a wide range of people, everyone benefits. Maybe there exists an issue that one did not know about until he or she read it on Instagram from Ellen, there is nothing wrong with that. This instance proves how celebrities can become the catalysts of change that will ignite reforms in the status quo.
Feature image: JOELE FORRESTER