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In Defense of Celebrities

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

I don’t typically tackle politics in my blog, but since I write about all things creative, I’m going to come right out and speak my mind. I’m tired of hearing people say that celebrities should keep their mouths shut when it comes to political affairs. Why should their opinions be silenced when we’re allowed to express our own?

On Saturday, while protesters were demanding support for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in Washington, DC, Taylor Swift hopped on Twitter and accused President Trump of intentionally trying to influence the November election by dismantling the postal system. She encouraged people across the country to request a ballot and vote early. She’s not the only outspoken celebrity who has used social media to inspire people to take political action, but she’s one of the most recent, well-known, and loved.

As I scrolled through the accompanying comments on Twitter and Facebook, I saw people calling Taylor “dumb,” telling her to “shut her mouth,” and accusing her of trying to manipulate young minds. “Stick with music,” one person wrote, “and stay out of politics. Nobody cares what you have to say.”

Actually, I care about what she has to say, and I think a lot of other people do too. I care not because she’s Taylor Swift, but because August marks the centennial of a women’s right to vote. Women fought long and hard to be heard and to be counted. No woman should ever be disregarded for encouraging other women to get involved in the political process.

The wonderful thing about this country is that we have something called freedom of speech. As a result, anyone can become an advocate. Anyone can take up an issue and march up the steps of Capitol Hill and go meet with their representative to share their story. Anyone can call their legislator’s office. Anyone can send a letter to Congress. And anyone can message their elected officials on social media. As Abraham Lincoln once said, we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Last I checked, celebrities were people too.

Before they achieved fortune and fame, these stars were just like us, struggling to keep a job and make ends meet. Some people believe that once you achieve fame, you become so elite that you can’t relate to the everyday person anymore. To me, that’s ridiculous. Famous people still have family and friends who live and work outside of the industry. Celebrities still bleed red. They’re not immune to illness or tragedy. And they certainly haven’t lost their right to free speech just because they’ve entered a higher tax bracket.

Do you need to be “educated” to talk about politics? Absolutely not. You don’t need a degree in political science to have a valid opinion about the upcoming election – just like you don’t need a degree in environmental science to embrace the issue of climate change or a degree in medicine to embrace cancer research. The average politician working in Washington, DC knows very little about the issues he or she is asked to vote on. Members of Congress rely on professional consultants or constituents in their districts to educate them on the possible outcomes of legislation. That is how the political process works, and it’s open to everyone. By the way, in case you have any doubt about Taylor’s commitment to activism or her accomplishments, check out her Wikipedia page. She may surprise you.

Being an artist may seem like a luxury to some, but it is a job, and it’s a hard job at that. Most of us leave our work at the office at the end of the day, but these public figures have to be “on” all the time. There isn’t any respite from fame. If they get caught wearing a bad outfit, they’ll be publicly mocked in magazines. If they attempt to get close to anyone, their relationship will be on display for the entire world to see. People will start rumors about them. They’ll dig into their past and unearth every bad thing they ever did. Celebs live their lives under a microscope and in front of a camera. So, when they lend their voice to an issue or financially back a political candidate, the media attention surrounding their involvement may propel an issue or candidate further, but it’s also a huge risk for the celebrity. It could mean that they alienate a significant portion of their fan base.

I think we can all agree that celebrities get paid too much, but the vast majority turn around and give money away to charitable causes. Some celebs like Elton John, Michael J. Fox, Bono, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Lady Gaga, and Leonardo DiCaprio (to name just a few) have even started their own foundations. We don’t always hear about their philanthropic efforts because they’re not sexy or salacious, but most are giving away a substantial portion of their salaries to support issues near and dear to their hearts – political or otherwise.

While Hollywood tends to skew liberal, I truly hate that term. I don’t think people should be lumped into factions. People are complex and complicated, influenced by personal experiences. I think most of us land somewhere in the middle between liberal and conservative, but we’re forced to choose sides because strife sells. I could write a whole other blog about that!

Liberalism in Hollywood is counterintuitive given the amount of money people in the entertainment industry make, but I have a theory to support this. Actors, actresses, and even songwriters spend most of their time living in the shoes of other people. They play characters, many of whom go through tremendous struggles. Regardless of their wealth, these celebrities become more empathetic and cultured when it comes to social issues in our country as a result of their character research and immersion. I’d argue that artists understand the human condition better than most of us do.

Finally, contrary to what some might say, when a star speaks out about an issue, there’s no hidden agenda or intent to brainwash followers. They’re simply exercising their right to free expression and seeking affirmation. It’s what we all do on social media every day. While Taylor Swift’s call to action might not have inspired you, it could have inspired someone else to get out the door and vote. Inspiration is not the same as indoctrination. And last I checked, we all still had free will.

To quote the American artist Andy Warhol, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” At eighteen, we can get married, buy a house, join the military, and consent to our own medical care. I would hope if we can do all those things, we can also be trusted to vote independent of our favorite movie star or musician. Just like we can tune out Aunt Sally at Thanksgiving dinner or Cousin Joe on Facebook, if we don’t like what a celebrity has to say, we can turn the channel or keep on scrolling. That’s our right. But we don’t have a right to demand that celebrities stay silent in a broken world that needs fixing. Democrat or Republican, famous or not, we all have a responsibility to do our part to make the world a better place. Let ALL voices be heard.

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