Celebrity social commentary
The uproar surrounding talk show host Ellen DeGeneres hanging out with George W. Bush over the last few weeks begs the question: why does anyone care about celebrities’ political views?
I don’t mean the question to be dismissive. I actually think it’s an interesting cultural conversation to have – why we feel the need to know celebrities’ political beliefs, why we so adamantly praise them for their political activism or why we criticize them when we disagree with their views.
In fact, I find the answers to these questions so fascinating that they’re in part the basis of my master’s thesis, which, yes, I’m aware is a bit of an odd political science topic. My research focuses specifically on the music industry, though the recent obsession with celebrities’ political beliefs extends to film and television as well.
How I personally feel about the new hyper-politicization in the entertainment industry is complicated. Personally, I can understand people who are affected by Trump’s policies or otherwise just offended by Trump’s behavior in office not wanting to support a celebrity who supports Trump. If entertainers want to let their fans know they want their artistic output to be a safe space and they support their fans who are affected by Trump’s policies, I think that’s actually a powerful way to connect with fans.
I’m more concerned about fans looking to celebrities for substantive policy proposals or political commentary. There’s an unusually high number of celebrities, including George Clooney, who’ve testified at congressional hearings. I’m not doubting that Clooney was passionate about doing something about the crisis in Sudan, but he should not testify before Congress in place of actual policy experts.
There’s also the fact that, realistically speaking, celebrities often don’t have the same concerns as average people. Wealthy celebrities aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. They probably have very good health insurance. They probably don’t have any student debt. Despite how much people demanded Taylor Swift denounce Trump before she finally broke down, Swift has very different day-to-day concerns than all of us. We probably shouldn’t look to her, or DeGeneres, or Clooney, to select our next president.