Kimberly Hopkin '19
I’m glad we can agree on one thing: treating celebrities’ political opinions like every other citizen’s opinion. To me, that means they should have a free right to assert their First Amendment right on any issue they see fit. If you see a celebrity espousing an opinion that you don’t agree with, then either ignore them or politely engage in some free speech of your own. Think about it, we don’t say “Janet, you’re a dentist – what qualifications do you have to discuss politics?” Why do we get to say, “Matt Damon is just an actor who is unqualified to discuss American politics that he finds important”?
I think the key problem here is that celebrities have a naturally larger audience than Mike from Accounting. I appreciate that turning on the television during the election cycle can sometimes feel like opposing viewpoints forcing themselves into your home. I also understand that some celebrities, like Lena Dunham, can be especially grating because of the delivery of their views. But you can change the channel, you can refuse to buy their movies or albums, and you can donate that money to whichever cause you like. That’s what happened in 2003 when the Dixie Chicks stated that they were ashamed to be from the same state as the President (at the time, George W. Bush). Their records were no longer played on the radio due to listener request. Though they released one more album, they were never welcomed back into the spotlight. At least these celebrities are associating their names and reputations with the movements about which they feel passionate. I think that engenders more discussion and the ability for average citizens to choose whether they want to discredit the information they are receiving based on the reputation of the source.
I think it’s convenient that, during the Election Cycle, President Donald Trump was rebranded as a “businessman” after starring on his own reality show and enjoying celebrity status prior to running for office. But since that’s an extremely touchy subject right now, I’ll discuss other entertainment stars who have thrived using political opinions. For instance, former President Ronald Reagan was an actor before he pursued politics. Whether or not you agree with some of the policies he enacted (or the treatment of minorities under his administration), he enjoys a reputation as a lauded politician. There’s also former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Al Franken, Congressman Sean Duffy (of The Real World fame), and Governor Jesse Ventura just to name a few. I don’t thinkthese politicians’ celebrity status takes away from their political accomplishments; I think it’s a testament to the American political process. That’s one of the best features of the United States; anyone can run for office and change what they don’t like about the government. Having a celebrity who is not interested in enacting any public policy changes decline to run for office does not logically mean no celebrities should be able to run for office. It also has nothing to do with every American’s right to affect the political process through free speech.
I think public perception of celebrities using their status to portray their political views is sharply divided based on whether or not you view the statements as cries for publicity. There are celebrities who use political comments as ways to garner publicity, but I think American political agents also use celebrities for publicity. Both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention booked celebrities to increase interest and viewership of the proceedings. Although Hollywood typically leans towards liberalism, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, and Clint Eastwood have all publicly endorsed previous Republican candidates for the presidency. When people pick and choose which celebrities are allowed to have an opinion, and which should shut up and dance, they tend to choose based on whether or not they already agree with their politics. Therefore, I don’t think allowing celebrities to discuss politics on talk shows, or to post about political rallies they attend actually has a negative consequence on the American political system. Just because something annoys you on TV or Instagram doesn’t mean you have the right to demand they silence their free speech.