When Celebrities Talk Politics

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are not intended to represent the position of SMU Her Campus. 

 

Public figures like actors, musicians, athletes have become increasingly vocal about political issues, creating a debate over whether they should use their public platform for political activism or whether they should “shut up and sing,” as some demand. Interestingly, celebrities becoming active in politics is not a new phenomenon. 

Here are a just a few celebrities and athletes who moved into politics:

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger

 

Image via Wikimedia

 

Bodybuilder turned actor turned Governor of California

 

Ronald Reagan

 

Image via Jay Phagan

 

Actor who became Governor of California and then President of the United States

Kal Penn

 

Image via MSNBC.com

 

Actor on shows like House, who then quit to work for the Obama Administration as Director in White House Office of Public Engagement

Manny Pacquiao

 

Image via Wikimedia

 

World famous boxing champion and elected official in Phillippines House of Representatives

 

Cynthia Nixon

 

Image via Wikimedia

 

Actress known for her role as Miranda on Sex and the City and briefly a candidate for Governor of New York

 

Shirley Temple

 

Image via Mental Floss

 

Child actress and then US Ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia

 

These are just a few examples of celebrities in various fields who pursued political careers. Needless to say, being a celebrity does not mean you cannot have a political opinion, be a politician, or serve in public offices. So what is different about Colin Kaepernick? Taylor Swift? Kim Kardashian? When they make political statements, they are endlessly ridiculed and even threatened for using their platform for something more meaningful than endorsing products and selling tickets.  

And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of instances in which celebrities engaged in political conversation. People accuse Hollywood of being too political right now, that nothing happens anymore without political undertones. And don’t get me wrong, I, too, miss the days when an awards show host just joked about the actors in the audience, not about the President, but this is where we are. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Celebrities have long endorsed products and materialist ambitions; they use their platform to sell stuff constantly. So why can’t they use their platform to raise awareness for meaningful causes? 

I think part of the issue is that there is an overabundance of political talk. People now consider party affiliations an essential determinant in whether they’ll date someone – 72% of OkCupid users said supporting President Trump was a deal-breaker in a relationship. We live in a time when politics extend beyond the newspaper or private conversations with confidants. So when celebrities start talking politics, people are simply exhausted by its permeation. People just want one space where politics do not come in, being able to watch mindless gossip shows without hearing about the President’s latest scandal. And the same holds true for athletes, like Kaepernick, using sports to talk politics. Sports fans enjoy a unique camaraderie, so when an athlete challenges that camaraderie by showing fans that they disagree over something, it leads to a scandal. I understand wanting to find topics of mutual appreciation to bridge the divide in our society so anyone who challenges that will upset me. But just as I have political opinions, they deserve opinions too. It is then up to me to decide whether I want to remain connected with someone who boycotts Nike while I now buy more of their products than ever. 

Image via Time

 

But beyond there being too much political conversation, I think the main reason these celebrities are told to “shut up and sing” is because they generally do not support what the criticizers want them to support. Think about it: the GOP uses Ronald Reagan as the epitome of Republicanism, a representation of everything they stand for. I don’t think they minded when Ronald Reagan left a successful acting career to pursue the Governorship of California. Yet they stand up and brutally attack Cynthia Nixon for doing the same thing. Is it a coincidence that Ronald Reagan was a Republican and Cynthia Nixon is a staunch liberal Democrat? I doubt it. Those criticizing celebrities for having an opinion are doing so because the opinion is against them. Kim Kardashian traveling to Washington to lobby President Trump for prison reform was outrageous, but Kanye West, Kim’s husband, meeting with President Trump for no apparent reason is exciting. And even the President himself was a celebrity on a TV show who then moved into politics, yet his supporters defend his celebrity status as a badge of honor. Smell the hypocrisy? 

In 2016, when Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America, he was viciously criticized for his actions, being called traitorous. They said he should just play football and that sports were not a place for politics. I wonder if those same people also disagree with the famous protest during the 1968 Olympics, when African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a black power salute to protest racial injustice. Interestingly, while the two athletes were expelled from the Olympics that year, they went on to continue their successful athletic careers. It seems Colin Kaepernick faced tougher backlash in 2016 than two athletes in 1968. Is it possible we’ve actually moved backward in the path toward understanding? 

Image via Wikipedia

 

Celebrities, as the human beings that they are, have every right to make political statements. If Republicans want to claim that they are merely defending the Constitution and the state of the Union in all of their criticism of Kaepernick and other celebrities, then maybe they should consider what the founding fathers actually wrote:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” (First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, 1791). If those critics want to defend the Constitution, then they better protect all of it, and that means letting people kneel, or protest, or speak out or use their public platform for good.