Because of their fame, status and fan base, celebrities have a unique ability to reach and influence large numbers of people, bring to light social issues they care about and encourage their fans to care about them as well. Celebrities should use this platform, particularly when they are speaking out about crises that affect the health, safety and future of the global community and the planet. Issues like climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and white supremacy require people to take mass action for change. Sometimes it could be their favorite celebrity that makes them act.
The actress Jane Fonda has been outspoken for decades on political and human rights issues. In the 1960s, Fonda began protesting the Vietnam War and involving herself in the Black Panther Party, a Black power political movement founded in 1966 to combat police brutality. Currently, Fonda is an avid climate activist and has founded the “Fire Drill Fridays” movement where people have the opportunity to come together on the first Friday of every month to protest a different climate-related issue, according to the Fire Drill Fridays website.
She even temporarily relocated to Washington, D.C. so that her protests could take place in the nation’s capital, and she wrote a book titled “What Can I Do?: My Path From Climate Despair to Action,” according to a report from NPR. Fonda has been arrested for the cause, and others joined her in increasingly large numbers, according to an article in The New Yorker. Scientific experts have warned that the climate crisis will have devastating, lasting impacts if action is not taken immediately. Fonda is using her platform to do just that.
Another politically active celebrity is Dolly Parton. Country music singers tend to have a large percentage of politically conservative-leaning listeners, according to U.S. News and World Report. Although her fan base is politically diverse, a large portion of her fans are likely to be conservative. Because of this, she has generally stayed neutral in political controversies such as those concerning Donald Trump, stating, “I have too many fans on both sides of the fence,” according to Reuters. However, Parton took a bold stand and provided funding for the Moderna vaccine and later would post a video of her receiving the shot and singing a rendition of her song “Jolene,” replacing the word “Jolene” with “Vaccine,” according to NPR.
While getting the vaccine might not seem like a political issue, it has been highly politicized within the last year due to misinformation spread by majority right wing politicians, according to The New York Times. With Parton’s strong support of the vaccine, she was able to use her platform to encourage her mixed fanbase to get the vaccine in an effort to help end the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Having more people vaccinated will prevent them from potentially contracting the illness, so having celebrities like Dolly Parton promoting it is essential.
The United States has always been home to a lively political culture, and it has also become home to a large celebrity culture. When celebrities use their platforms to promote their political stances, they encourage their fan bases to take action on important issues such as the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. It can be argued that there are celebrities who use their platform to promote misinformation on certain topics or support political figures who are controversial. However, all people, celebrity or not, hold First Amendment rights. While we may not agree with what they are saying, famous figures should be able to use their stance in whatever way they please. However, when celebrities like Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton use their platforms to speak on vitally important issues of global concern, it can be used as a tremendous force for good.
With the increasing political polarity across the U.S., many celebrities have chosen to speak up on political issues. Celebrities can advocate for candidates and issues on social media platforms and instantly influence fans and followers around the world. Even on serious issues, celebrities are accustomed to living in the limelight, meaning that many participate in activism solely to be supporting the “right side.” Celebrities only further complicate issues by taking a stance in political activism and generating media controversy.
Many can agree that seeing a familiar face advocate for a cause can establish trust and promote action to be taken by millions of fans. With the amount of attention celebrities draw, you are more likely to hear ideas from underqualified stars than you are from an actual expert on the subject. For example, Nicki Minaj fans protested outside of the CDC headquarters in Atlanta chanting, “Nicki Minaj told the truth to me, Fauci lied to me,” after Minaj’s false claims over harmful effects from the COVID-19 vaccination, according to The Independent. This drew attention from many news sources, which enabled more people globally to absorb fake news.
Forbes reports that in a 2018 study, 60% of respondents said they oppose celebrity activism because it only distracts from the actual issue and can heighten political polarity. An endorsement from a celebrity can motivate opinionated voters with contrasting views to vote for an alternate candidate. In 2012, celebrities spoke out against homophobic comments made by the CEO of Chick-fil-A, but the publicity drove the sales up by 12% following the controversy. Celebrities can hurt their cause rather than support it.
Activism online has turned into a competition where social media users want to appear as better versions of themselves to the public. Celebrities merely follow the trend of performative activism in order to stay relevant or be seen as a savior. Rather than sharing important information on a subject or links for donation, many have used movements and political issues as a photo op or to gain media attention. During the Black Lives Matter movement, many Instagram users including celebrities such as Drake and Kylie Jenner participated in posting a solid black picture to show solidarity for the cause, but the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag concealed important information about the movement and links to donate and petition, according to NBC News.
Celebrities should stick to the entertainment industry rather than perform for the political sphere. Fame does not equal knowledge on a subject and celebrity activism only seems to create a deeper divide between social media users. Celebrities should stay out of political activism to prevent controversy by attaching their name to a political issue.
Freshman Kendal Johnson
“Yes. I think that celebrities have a strong platform and there’s a reason they have millions of followers. If they have the ability to share their ideas with other people, they should.”
Sophomore Dylan Goldbeg
“Yes. It depends not on their stance, but on their authority and influence. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but there are both positives and negatives to it.”
Junior Lily Paine
“No. I think a lot of the time when celebrities post about politics, it’s only for support from their fans. And when people with large fan bases participate in activism just for social status, it’s wrong.”
Senior Ilan Bahar
“Yes, but I think they should be just as involved as anyone else would be. They’re just as qualified as anyone else to be involved in activism.”
English teacher Michelle Rogers
“Yes. Change takes sustained effort, so a celebrity or any person who is educated and committed to an issue should voice their opinion.”