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Are Celebrities Making a Difference in Politics?

Your vote could be the reason Mark Ruffalo strips down for his next movie.

At least, that’s what Joss Whedon, director of Marvel’s “The Avengers” and “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron,” promised viewers in a celebrity-filled video for Save The Day, his political action committee that strongly encourages citizens to register to vote and use their power at the polls on Election Day.

The PSA features Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, James Franco, Matt McGorry, Neil Patrick Harris, Julianne Moore, Stanley Tucci and more recognizable personalities speaking about every individual’s obligation to vote as the most significant decision they can make about the future of the United States.

As if their appearances weren’t enough, they also stressed the importance of voting specifically to prevent a certain candidate from getting to the White House.

“You only get this many famous people together if the issue is one that matters to all of us…a disease, or ecological crisis, or a racist, abusive coward who could permanently damage the fabric of our society,” the actors said about stopping Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

This is one of many instances of public figures coming together to collectively address matters such as voter turnout, climate change and the environment, police brutality, gun control (many of them were featured in this sobering video made by Everytown for Gun Safety in 2012, which is still relevant today), and social justice issues across the board. In this day and age, when any hot topic is brought up for nationwide discussion, you can bet celebs are involved.

Our society tends to look to celebrities as the ones with the ability to transcend differences in generation, gender, and political party. Their widespread appeal gives them a platform that they can use to raise awareness of issues that they care about and want everyone else to care about too. But do we expect too much from pop culture’s famous faces? Do stars like Kim Kardashian and Demi Lovato have the ability to sway the election just by offering their praises for Hillary Clinton?

It’s highly unlikely. However, similar to when candidates receive endorsements from other politicians, a stamp of approval from a famous personality sends a distinct message to the general public, for better or for worse.

A recent analytics poll published by Bowling Green State University asked 804 people if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate based on an endorsement from a newspaper, celebrity, or interest group. The results found that George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Lena Dunham, and even Queen Bey are more likely to repel voters from a candidate with net losses ranging from 1 to 20 points, compared with gains made by the New York Times and other notable newspapers. Even if the effect is negative, people still pay attention to Hollywood’s opinion on politics and the pressing issues of our time.

One student feels that political involvement from famous people can make a difference, but only in certain conditions.

“I think it shouldn’t matter but they have an impact,” said Sarah Levine, 21, a junior neuroscience major who has a passion for politics. “I feel like it [is] just name recognition but if a celebrity is actively engaged they can make a difference, and it [also] relies on whether the media covers it or not.”

Actress Shailene Woodley is a perfect example of one celebrity whose activism is currently making headlines. Woodley was arrested on October 10 for protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, a proposed 1,200-mile oil pipeline that is currently in construction. When completed, the pipeline will run through a section of the Missouri River in North Dakota and contaminate the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, with dangerous implications for the environment and climate change.

Woodley has been making visits to the protest line since August but made headlines a few weeks ago when she used Facebook Live to post a two-hour video broadcast of her experience, including her police arrest, to the public. Her star power served as a catalyst for people who suddenly paid attention and shared their outrage on social media. #FreeShailene trended on Twitter while she was held in jail, and the hashtag is still used to discuss her upcoming trial, where she could face two months in prison.

In an article for TIME, Woodley addressed the details of her arrest and stressed the need for increased visibility of Native American communities.

“Treaties are broken. Land is stolen. Dams are built. Reservations are flooded. People are displaced. Yet we fail to notice. We fail to acknowledge. We fail to act. […] It took me, a white non-native woman being arrested on October 10th in North Dakota, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to bring this cause to many people’s attention,” she wrote.

Shailene Woodley’s arrest unfortunately shifted the focus from environmental concerns and the future of the Sioux tribe to just her role in the protest, but there is no doubt that her status as a famous actress still allowed her to make more people aware of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From police brutality and institutional racism to the fossil fuel industry, actors and other well-known personalities are becoming more involved in important conversations in society. Whether this is a responsibility of the rich and famous or it makes no real impact in the long run, one thing is clear: Hollywood cares about our nation’s future, just like the rest of us.

A senior at ASU, she is studying Nutrition Communication online. She works for a dietary supplements company, loves dark chocolate, french bulldogs, and competes in beauty pageants. You can find her on twitter & instagram @missmorganerin. 
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